Sept. 30, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Capitol Hill Craftsman Caught Between Art and Law

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
David Berkowitz tests one of his creations. The guitar-maker says current laws regarding the materials used to make the instruments are poorly defined, difficult to understand and unrealistic.

Although he has found other artist-craftsmen in the District, such as the nearby cabinetmaker with whom he often shares tools or the colleagues he has when he works as a stagehand at theaters in the area, Berkowitz laments the capital city’s approach to art.

“Washington is odd,” he said. “Washington likes to be photographed next to the arts, but they don’t embrace the arts the way New York [City] embraces the arts.”

He expresses the same sort of ambivalence about the environmental activists who are pushing to protect native species using the Lacey Act.

Stuart L. Pimm, the Doris Duke chair of conservation ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, has called Madagascar “the worst country to be a tree.”

“It’s convenient for the environmental community to talk about Madagascar because it’s a very good example of what’s going wrong,” Berkowitz said. “By the same token, the environmental community is not talking about what is being done right.”

Berkowitz pointed to India as an example. There, he said, the wood is usually harvested and exported with the consent of the Indian government, with the legal proviso that the 10 mm pieces of wood will not undergo further processing. Because the fingerboards are often thinned when added to guitars, something Berkowitz said had not been a problem in the past, the Lacey Act views the wood as not in compliance with Indian law and therefore prohibited.

That means guitar-makers or owners in the United States are expected, in effect, to enforce the laws of another country that the other country doesn’t itself enforce.

“You can’t expect grandma buying her grandkid a guitar to know all the laws of foreign governments in terms of what materials were in something,” he said. “That should be focused on importers and manufacturers.”

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