William Sidney Mount (1807-1868), was a man of many talents. As well as being a fine artist, he was also a musician, composer and collector of the folk music of early America. And if that is not enough to impress......, he also invented
a type of steamboat paddle wheel, a unique two-hulled sailboat, a traveling painting studio on
wheels and a hollow back violin, named the "Cradle of Harmony".
Mount was an accomplished violinist and flautist, and was often invited to play the popular jigs, waltzes, and reels of the time at parties and dances. He assembled a large
volume of dance tunes adapted for fiddling. In his notebooks, Mount would often write down many these tunes that he learned as he traveled and wandered about and the notebooks are a treasure trove of early American folk music. Mount also imported many types of traditional musical instruments from various parts of the world, such as Irish flutes.
The desire for a more powerful sound in a dance
hall led him to work to create a new design for a fiddle. In his 1852 patent,
Mount claims to "have invented a new and improved mode of constructing
violins and other stringed musical instruments by which a greater
strength of the parts is secured with a greater lightness of the
material composing the instrument, and at the same time a superior
quality and greater quantity of tone and sound are obtained." He displayed various models of his new violin design in 1853 at the Exhibition of Industry of All Nations in New York's Crystal Palace.
William Sidney Mount's musical talents were often combined with his talents as a painter. Many of the artist's paintings make visible, at times in an almost audible way, his unique blend of art and music.
Mount also participated is some of the non-traditional spiritual movements of his time, among them spiritualism and séances. According to Mount, he was able to communicate with deceased members of his family and also some of the great artists of the past. It is said that Mount felt that Rembrandt, a great Dutch painter of the 17th century, was helping him with his painting skills through the séances.