John Watson receives 2020 Curt Sachs Award

July 13, 2020
John Watson
John Watson

The American Musical Instrument Society has awarded John Watson its 2020 Curt Sachs Award. The award, named for one of the founders of the modern systematic study of musical instruments, recognizes individuals who have made significant lifetime contributions to the goals of the society.

Watson is an internationally respected builder and conservator of historical keyboard instruments. As a maker of early keyboard reproductions from 1974 to 1995 and a conservator in private practice from 1977 to 1995, he joined Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1988 as conservator of instruments and associate curator of musical instruments, retiring in 2016. Since retirement, he has continued his work as a private conservator and scholar.

The instruments he has conserved, restored, or built over his career have revealed previously unexplored aspects of historical design, construction, and performance. For example, closely observing tool marks and other evidence, he has done path-breaking research on the methods that historical instrument makers used.

He has edited or written three books, 22 articles, and five reviews. His books, Organ Restoration Reconsidered (2005), Artifacts in Use: The Paradox of Restoration and the Conservation of Organs (2010), and Changing Keys: Keyboard Instruments for America 1700–1830 (2013), are statements of enlightened approaches to the conservation of musical instruments. He has been an international advocate of restorative conservation, a concept and approach he introduced. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works honored him with its Conservation Advocacy Award in 2016 “in recognition of his substantial efforts in public outreach and advocacy.”

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