Carson Valley luthier, Nelle O'Neill, was awarded a gold medal for one of her violas at the recent convention and competition of the Violin Makers Association of Arizona International in Tucson.
She is the first woman maker to receive this honor in the 54-year history of the association.
"I was overjoyed of course," the 78-year-old said. "It's the only gold I've ever won. I've won silvers, but never a gold."
Her award-winning entry was commissioned for Mckenna Oh, principal violist of the Reno Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra.
Made from Oregon fig leaf maple and Colorado spruce, Nelle spent 200 hours cutting, shaping, varnishing and making tonal adjustments to the viola.
"It was good, but I didn't think it was anything special," O'Neill said of the finished product. "You never know what the judges are going to think. They look at your work differently than you do."
O'Neill was a public school orchestra teacher for 30 years before deciding to make violas and violins as a second career.
Her instruments have won numerous awards over the past 10 years including silver medals in both the 2010 and 2011 competitions.
"I'm delighted I can augment our income with something like this," she said. "Winning the gold gets your name out there."
She studied with master luthier Edward Campbell for many years at the Chimneys Workshop for Violin Makers sponsored by VMAAI. She presently is working on commission only, with the waiting period for one of her custom made instruments ranging from six months to more than a year.
"I think I'll do this until I die," O'Neill said. "It's a wonderful thing to do, and certain things get better with age because your knowledge and experience keeps getting better."
Her violins and violas have found homes in many locations throughout the U.S. with one in Switzerland and another headed shortly to Ireland.
O'Neill and her husband, John, own and operate Carson Valley Violin School.
For more information, visit O'Neill's website www.Music-FoodFortheBrain.com/vio.html