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Life of St. Clair Fiddle Maker Recalled

Former Beaver Creek resident of St. Clair County, Ernest Mostella will be remembered for the unique fiddles that he made.

Ernest Mostella plays a tune on one of his hand-made fiddles. At the time this photo was made he was 80-years old.
Wayne Ruple

Aside from his job with the Ashville Street and Sanitation Department, Mostella "witched" for water and coal, peeled apples with his chainsaw, handcrafted in wood and made his fiddles.

Mostella credited his talents to his "Uncle Jerry" who was, he said, one of the first 20 slaves to be brought to this country.

He gave credit "to the old Massa up above" for his "witching" ability, saying, "It's just a gift. The old Massa fixed it like that. Everybody hadn't got the gift."

Before his passing, Mostella carved his handmade fiddles from poplar, walnut and field pine. "Most of the old fiddlers like to play a walnut fiddle. I can make one in a a day and a-half though it is kind'a tedious work," he said.

"You get you a block of wood from right down there at the roots. It's tough down there, so you cut it with a power saw. You file the teeth might nigh square. You cut it out and make the fiddle and you cut the body out about a quarter of an inch thick. You cut out this neck and the poplar top you put on with a glue. You take the white of an egg and mix it with sawdust to make a glue," he explained.

Mostella said the more "S" cuts in the top of the fiddle the better the sound. He used nylon strings and cedar keys because "they never slip."

He added, "I've been makin' violins, oh, I guess around 65 years. It runs in our family. we had an uncle - Uncle Jerry - he made them. He' uz one of the first 20 slaves brought into this country. He'uz 129 when he died.

"He didn't have anything but a chisel, but when it was made, it was made. He let me cut out tow or three, and after he passed, people still wanted stuff like that. I'd make those and baskets."

Mostella made his baskets from small strips of white oak. "You weave'em with your fingers and you use the forked leaf white oak. You cut your strips and tear 'em apart and start weaving."

He explained his talents of water and mineral "witching". "You take a two-pronged piece of apple tree limb and you hold it like this" he said as he demonstrated with his arms.

"That water'll turn it. There was a white fellow by the name of Mr. Smith and I would draw it (water) for him. You take a silver dime and put it in a slit of a cherry root. You put the dime in the split and hold it between your fingers and it'll bounce and tell you how deep that water is."

In an interview many years ago before his death, Mostella said there was more than just water underground in St. Clair County.

"You go across from Gallows Hill here to Pell City and there's oil. Some folks don't believe it; they say it's water. But one of these days somebody will find it. It's the same way about findin' coal. Now just anybody can't do it. There's gold over there around the Coosa River but it'll take an expert to find it. It's in black rock. I found it down there. It's way down under the earth but someday somebody might get it. It's down around Horton's Bend right on the river.

"Why there's stuff in Alabama that they don't know anything about. Now I've been up there on the side of Blount Mountain and I've been up there and witched for lead. You can go in them cliffs and there's natural outcroppings. It's about 90 percent lead.

"Down on the other side of Branchville there's copper there. It's around Copper Springs, and you can go there and that water tastes just as bitter. I've been and found all of it, and you can take a stick and it's a different feeling."

Mostella said he had worked with several coal mining companies and helped them find veins of coal. "The Lord meant for people to find it 'cause it'll come to the top of the ground. You've got to have patience. If you ain't got no patience you can't do it" he added.

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