Joe Robson [Violin Varnish, Ltd.] makes varnishes, grounds and colors, and varnishes violins and violas in his shop in Trumansburg, New York. He graduated from Hobart College with a degree in Philosophy and Political Science. Realizing the lack of paying jobs as a philosopher, he also learned carpentry while in college. Joe opened a cabinet shop in 1974. His work as a cabinetmaker led him to the study of traditional wood finishes. In 1992, Joe and his wife, Esther, established Tried & True Wood Finishes; a line of environmentally safe linseed oil furniture finishes that grew out of this research. They manufactured and sold these products for 22 years. In 1996, Joe was cooking varnish for a dining room set when a violin maker stopped in his shop to see a machine he had for sale. Smelling the varnish cooking, the violin maker asked, "Why aren't you doing this for us?" Since then, Joe has been involved in the research, history, and development of finishes for the violin.
Joe has taught the understanding and application of violin varnishes for many years. He has taught students at the Chicago School of Violin Making and the North Bennett Street School. He organizes and teaches, with co-teachers Marilyn Wallin and Todd Goldenberg, Artistic and Practical Violin Varnishing, an annual workshop held at the Chicago School of Violin Making.
He is a member of the Violin Society of America and has presented numerous papers for their journal and as a speaker at the annual conventions. Joe is also a participant at the Oberlin Makers' Workshop.
Joe has published several articles and editorial reviews for Strad Magazine, including the current "Scarlet Fever": the research and development of the Stradivari Cochineal Varnish.