John Watson Receives the Curt Sachs Award for 2020



AMIS is pleased to announce that John Watson is the recipient of the Curt Sachs Award for 2020. The Sachs 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.

John 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 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 and, as always, has remained a supportive colleague to many in this Society.

The instruments he has conserved, restored, or built over his long career have enjoyed great musical success, revealing 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.


As a passionate advocate for the preservation and study of musical instruments, 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 important statements of enlightened approaches to the conservation of musical instruments. Indeed, 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 (AIC) honored him with its Conservation Advocacy Award in 2016 “in recognition of his substantial efforts in public outreach and advocacy.” Likewise, the American Musical Instrument Society has benefited greatly through his service, particularly his work to make the Clinkscale Database of Early Pianos publicly accessible online.


His long work as a maker of of keyboard instruments, his lengthy service as a conservator and curator helping history come alive at Colonial Williamsburg, his thoughtful contributions to conservation philosophy and documentation, and his continuing contributions to AMIS make John Watson a fitting recipient of the 2020 Curt Sachs Award.


Cleveland Johnson, Curt Sachs Award Chair 2020 Sabine Klaus William Hettrick

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