News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Mandolin maker makes part-time homein Sisters

After the success of the My Own Two Hands auction that went virtual this year, Sisters Folk Festival is putting on another virtual auction raising money for supporting the arts in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The auction will be running from December 1-5, on an online bidding website.

The Festival notes that, “The Winter JAM (Journey/Adventure/Music) Auction and Fundraiser will raise money for critical mission support. Since the pandemic hit in March, SFF has continued to offer — and even expand on —its traditional programming, with the notable exception of its largest annual revenue-generating event, the Sisters Folk Festival, which had to be postponed due to COVID-19.”

One of the auction items is a handcrafted two-point style mandolin from Berkeley, California, luthier Milton David McClaskey. Featuring a claro walnut back, Adirondack soundboard, curly red maple neck and ebony fingerboard, the 2018 mandolin is in like-new condition, and includes a hard-shell case.

McClaskey splits his time between Sisters and Berkeley. He and his wife, Audrey, own a vacation home in the Crossroads neighborhood that they rent out in the off-season when they aren’t there. They discovered Sisters through hosting house concerts at their home in the Berkeley area. They have hosted 123 shows at their home since 2007.

“We would hear from these musicians passing through about Sisters all the time. We also met (Sisters singer-songwriter) Beth Wood having her at our house, and she told us about Sisters,” said McClaskey.

When McClaskey and his wife finally made it up to Oregon, they saw how different the Sisters Folk Festival was from other traditional folk festivals — given how integrated into the community it is — and they fell in love with the town.

“It was the first place my wife and I said ‘we could live here,’” he said. “It’s only been a couple years for us, but we’ve received a warm welcome,” he said.

McClaskey grew up in rural Wyoming with five brothers and sisters and “has always been a builder of things.”

He said, “I learned a lot by trial and error — my siblings and I can laugh about some of our experiments, particularly those involving the family home — but along the way, I gained confidence, a variety of skills and a love of woodworking and projects.”

McClaskey has had a lot of different jobs over the course of his life. From working in his father’s flower shop as a boy, to working in a French restaurant’s kitchen, to owning his own woodworking shop building travel exhibitions for trade shows near Berkeley.

“That work eventually led me into work with museums, initially for natural history museums and visitors’ centers and later for science museums. I worked with people who were subject-matter experts, so it was a really interesting time. This ultimately morphed into project management and a career-planning exhibition for hands-on science museums,” said McClaskey.

His work spanned across working behind a desk, to working with his hands — coming full circle back to building when he decided to build his own instrument after learning to play guitar and mandolin.

Every year, McClaskey and his family went to a summer camp, called Cazadero Performing Arts Family Camp, that focuses on integrative performing-arts programming. This is where McClaskey felt inspired to learn an instrument. He first learned guitar, and then mandolin, as it was easier to take with him on business trips.

During his mandolin classes and lessons, his instructor told him he needed to get a better mandolin as he had gotten a $100 inexpensive, imported A-style mandolin.

“Nicer mandolins are really expensive, so I picked up a book called, ‘Constructing a Bluegrass Mandolin’ and taught myself how to build one,” he said.

McClaskey says that it is a part-time occupation for him that he pursues as he has the time and the attention required to be able to focus on it. Being retired now, he has been constructing his own instruments for eight years.

“It comes as a surprise that you can build one yourself. It brings together music, the craft of it, and science as well,” he said. “There is no better feeling and few things as satisfying as hearing the voice of an instrument you have created — unless it is seeing and hearing that instrument in the hands of someone who knows how to make it sing,” he says on his website.

McClaskey has also built a few instruments with his son, who is a musician, and enjoyed sharing in that experience with his son.

McClaskey’s decision to donate a mandolin to the Sisters Folk Festival for the JAM auction comes from wanting to offer his support of the community arts.

“I made the offer of the instrument to SFF and (former SFF development director) Steve Remington because I wanted to support this festival and the work it supports in the community — the luthier program and the songwriting academy, as well as the festival itself. And for me there’s a difference between simply donating money and giving something that has a more personal cost or is more of a personal investment,” he said.

For more info on Milton David McClaskey and his instruments, visit his website,

The JAM auction event runs December 1-5 online at

There, you can preview the items as well as register to bid. On Friday, December 4, there will be a free livestream celebration at 6 p.m. featuring performances from Judith Hill, Thunderstorm Artis, AJ Lee and Blue Summit, John Craigie, Kristen Grainger & True North, Jenner Fox, and more.


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