"In 1979, during a time of great stress, [Ed] Stilley prayed and received a vision: God agreed to take care of his challenges if he would devote himself to making instruments and giving them away. Although he had no experience as a luthier, he experimented with varied materials and techniques and created more than 200 instruments over the next 26 years. Rather than seeking payment or recognition for his work, his instruments bear witness to his profound faith. Using a router, he inscribed each instrument with the words “True Faith, True Light, Have Faith in God.” He hopes that the recipients of his instruments will experience spiritual renewal as they discover and share the joys of music.
Each instrument is like a crazy quilt comprised of rough sawn wood scraps gleaned from a local sawmill. Stilley frequently chose to work with oak, walnut, linden, pine, and cedar. He often made tailpieces from old door hinges, constructed nuts and saddles from a steak bone atop a stack of dimes, and made frets from brazing rods cut into short pieces. He also arranged hidden treasures inside each sound box such as door springs, saw blades, pot lids, metal pipes, a chainsaw sprocket. Together, such elements function as resonators that enhance and extend the instrument’s sound. Some instruments were left natural but most are finished with red barn paint.”
-"True Faith, True Light: The Folk Instruments of Ed Stilley”
Photographer Tim Hawley has taken x-ray photographs of the insides of Stilley’s instruments, making visible the objects Stilley placed inside them for unique resonance. Musicians Kelly Mullholan and Donna Stjerna of the folk duo Still on the Hill were gifted instruments by Stilley, and play them for audiences. Of Stilley, they say: “Rarely do we encounter a spirit so pure in purpose, an imagination so unbridled, and a heart so wide open.”