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Jack Hall

The Matchstick Man

by Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder

"I just don't know. All I did was sit down with a big pile of matchsticks and made myself an instrument."
-Jack Hall

When Jack Hall was in his early twenties, he was a sailor working aboard the tramp steamer Eastwick, in the English channel. When not on watch duty, Jack started picking up discarded matchsticks and gluing them together in interesting patterns in order to pass the time. Now, we can all understand the desire to create objects that please the eye, but Jack's vision went far beyond.



Dear Jantje,
I have inherited an amazing self-taught folk art collection created in the 1930s. The collection was featured recently on the new Ripley's Believe It or Not! series aired on TBS. The segment focused attention on Glen Campbell who played and praised the 1937 one-of-a-kind acoustic guitar, saying, "I couldn't believe it. It's a marvelous work of art and as good as any instrument I've played of this era." There are 26 pieces including 13 musical instruments in the collection. Some of the non-music related functional pieces from the period 1932-1935 include: a windmill, a lighthouse, a clock and various incredibly decorated drawer chests and boxes. All of them as with the musical instruments are in perfect working order.
Signed, Tony Hall

He not only created items out of burnt matches - a windmill, a lighthouse, a clock and numerous boxes - but with no musical background and no training in woodworking, this amazing man attempted - and succeeded - in creating a collection of thirteen working musical instruments.

He began asking family and friends to collect and save burned matchsticks, and soon he amassed over 20,000. When his ship was in port, Jack would visit music shops where he could research and make notes of the weights and sizes of certain instruments. With the piles of matches around him, Jack started his first instrument - a violin.

To create the curved surfaces of the instruments, each match had to soak to the point where it would willingly bend into the proper shape, then each one was bent by hand. We can only imagine the countless hours and patience it took. In the true tradition of a folk artist, Jack used the tools at hand, a knife, straight-razor, glue and a file, flat-irons, firebricks, pans full of hot water and anything else that could be used to give the violin the proper curve and hold its shape.

In a three year period from 1936 to 1939, Jack created not only a violin but an acoustic guitar, two mandolins and a tenor banjo. Not content to stop there, he also created cases for his instruments, using matchboxes that people collected and sent to him.

The war interrupted the creativity of Jack Hall and after his discharge from the army in 1945, he never seemed to find enough time to do his art, save for a recorder and a ukulele. The most remarkable thing was that through all the years of making these instruments, Jack had never heard his own creations played by a musician.

For many years the collection was stored in an attic. Then, in 1976 a Radio Brighton reporter/musician heard rumors of the collection. Jack was contacted and after the instruments were dusted off, they looked and sounded incredible.

In 1991 - several years after they had been played for the first time - Jack's instruments were played live on BBC Television by a quintet of professional musicians. Both the musicians and audience were amazed at the sound his instruments produced.

Jack Hall passed away in 1993 at the age of 86 but he left behind a collection which is not only treasured by his son Tony, but by all who have heard, seen and played them. Today the collection is loaned out for display and performances at festivals and museums.

Thank you Tony Hall for preserving the great work that you inherited from your remarkable father.

You may write to Tony with comments about his father's work at tony_hall@lineone.net


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Text © Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder; Photos Reprinted with Permission

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