Bloomington's Dale C. Evans can't run away from it ... either his past or America's past.

Not that he'd want to.

Especially since it's his passion for history that led from one thing to another, and another.

But the fact remains: The area's best-known — maybe its only-known — purveyor of what he calls "archaic instruments," isn't purveying them anymore.

That home-based industry ("Dale C. Evans Hammered Dulcimers") was recounted here some 20 years ago in a profile by our retired and greatly missed colleague Nancy Gordon, Pantagraph traditional music-lover par excellence.

"It's the stringing that's tedious," he confided. But those tedious strings make "a happy sound, fun to watch being played."

Evans may not be stringing them now, but he IS playing them, witness his upcoming Veterans Day program with singer-songwriter Hannah Kerrigan in the McLean County Museum of History, "Music from the Great War," at 1 p.m. Saturday, which follows the museum's annual 11 a.m. Veterans Day Ceremony.

The duo, with Evans on something highly esoteric called a "banjulele" (yep, banjo-meets-uke), will offer a program of WWI-era songs designed to "sell the war" to a nation not wanting even a sample of it.

Also on view will be a portion of Evans' prize collection of historic sheet music of the era, from long-forgotten ditties like "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier" to marathon champs like George M. Cohan's "Over There" and Irving Berlin's "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning."

And he's also bringing along his (working) 1923 Victrola, all the better to spin some waxen 78s ... if not for dancing, definitely for our historic edification.

But: "No, I stopped building them around 10 years ago," says Evans.

"Them" are the estimated 270 dulcimers he hammered together over a 15-year-stretch of productivity.

In addition to those, he became proficient at creating such instrumental esoterica as a hurdy-gurdy, the French instrument that looks like a watermelon, packs a keyboard like an accordion, sounds like a bagpipe and sports strings like a fiddle.

Be the first kid on your block to own one! But only if you have $4,000 in your piggy bank. (That pricey tab a testament to the required skill and, above all, time: 200 hours vs. the 35-ish for a hammered dulcimer).

Evans got into instrument-making through the back door of history.

"It all comes from my love of history, especially American history," he says today. "It's been the well that I've dipped into for everything I'm interested in."

That would include his main calling as an artist, which sent him the Herron School of Art at Indiana University for a Master of Fine Arts degree and today sees him teaching watercolor classes at the McLean County Arts Center.

He got out of the instrument-making business 10 years ago, he says, because "running a business and making the product yourself and then marketing it gets to be a bit much. I've always worked on a shoestring wrapped around my wallet."

As mentioned, he still plays his beloved "archaic instruments," including the 70-year-old-ish banjulele he found at Gridley Antiques in Bloomington and which we'll hear at Saturday's performance (he's also built them from scratch).

Evans' creations, he says, remain out and about in the world ... alive, kicking and making music for someone somewhere.

All told, "It's an art form," he says of making instruments. "And I'm an artist who likes music, and a challenge. So it was perfect for me."

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com 

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