April 18, 2013
Outside the wind chime maker’s workshop, on the rolling high plains east of Colorado Springs, the gusts get mean. They shove you around like a drunken crowd and, once you’re safely inside, press against the big barn door till it creaks.
Inside the wind chime maker’s workshop, the air is still and the chimes hang silent.
“We don’t hang them outside because it’s a little windy up here,” said Doug Mellberg, owner of Cathedral Wind Chimes. “If they’re outside on a day like today, it could get annoying.”
A former race car driver who competed in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in the 1970s, Mellberg now works from home rebuilding old Saturns and constructing metal, stained glass and wood wind chimes. He started Cathedral Wind Chimes in 1980 and during peak times can produce dozens a day, selling them online with the help of his wife, Denice.
“It’s just a fun business, and we love the creative part of it,” Mellberg said. “It’s really satisfying when you go into a new or different town and you see one of your wind chimes hanging on someone’s porch.”
Generally, wind chimes are constructed of suspended tubes, bells or other noise-making objects that produce notes when hit by a striker that’s set moving by a dangling “sail,” or wind catcher. The ancient Greeks were the first to study the relationship between a vibrating body and musical notes, realizing that sound varies based on the material used, its length and width. The ancient Romans called their chimes tintinnabula and hung them in gardens and porticos to scare off evil spirits. Chimes hung in Asian pagodas were meant to scare away birds, as well.
Today, the devices aren’t usually intended to frighten.
“Wind chimes are serene and soothing. I like the melodies, the sounds,” said Anna Carrillo, a Woodland Park-based fused-glass artist who owns Mountindesigns studio and sells her work online.
Chimes have earned plenty of haters, though.
A 2009 survey by a British market research company found that wind chimes were the country’s most despised garden accessory. One anonymous contributor to an online wind chime etiquette discussion board was so annoyed by the neighbor’s wind chimes that she/he crept next door and sprayed the device with shellac.
To avoid potential aural discord, Mellberg enlisted the help of a professional musician friend, the late Sam McFadin of rock band Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids, when he initially set out to tune his “bells.”
“He just had an ear for it,” said Mellberg, who sells chimes in three sizes, each based off prototypes tuned by McFadin to produce an appealing grouping of notes, no matter the order struck.
Carrillo tackled her art’s requisite musical challenge by herself.
“For me, since I don’t have a musical ear, it really has been trial and error,” said Carrillo, who makes all her chimes using copper tubing, tuning while she goes. “I just love copper, I love the way it sounds, I love the way it weatherizes over the years. There isn’t really a formula I follow, other than to make them calming and serene.”
One thing that rings true for both artists: the Colorado look has market cachet.
“The more Colorado the look, the better they sell,” said Mellberg, who uses rough-cut beetle-kill pine, polished alloy conduit tubes and small chains to secure his creations so they can stand the test of time, whether displayed inside or out in the elements. “They’re strong, like Colorado.”
While still a popular spring and summer adornment for porches and gardens, chimes have found a growing market as memorials. Mellberg and Carrillo make personalized chimes, with messages and images added to the wind catcher. Mellberg recently finished a personalized chime for a woman who wanted to celebrate the life of a beloved horse.
“We didn’t realize we were inadvertently getting into the funeral business,” Mellberg said. “But people seem to like it. Every time the chime rings, they’ll think of you.”
Contact Earls: 636-0364