Working in the City: Richards, Fowkes & Co.

Building the King of Instruments

By Gray Bennett | Photography By Trevor Long

As a fully qualified pipemaker with Richards, Fowkes and Co., Andy Wishart helps to build and repair pipe organs for churches and universities all over the United States and England. Read on to learn more about the work he does to build organs and share the passion he has for his unique craft.

brown university organ

It’s not every day you meet someone with 40 years of experience building the King of Instruments, but for Andy Wishart, pipe organ building is just another day at work. At 15 years old, Wishart was recruited from his high school in Leeds, England to become an apprentice under F. J. Rogers, and he studied the beginning-to-end organ building process for five years. “Pipe organ building takes patience, dedication, and hands-on skills,” Wishart explains. “My grandfather was a skilled woodworker, so I think some of those qualities are in my blood.”

Wishart worked with F. J. Rogers for an additional 15 years as a fully qualified pipemaker, and his work earned him a worldwide reputation. In his early 30s, a handful of organ-building companies in the United States tried to recruit him, and he was simultaneously offered the opportunity to buy his organ company in England, but ultimately decided against it. It was 2004 when Wishart made the bold choice to move to the United States and accept a job offer from Richards, Fowkes & Co., a small organ building company based in Ooltewah, Tennessee.

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pipes for organ

Today with Richards, Fowkes & Co., Andy Wishart has helped build and repair over 16 pipe organs for churches and universities all over the United States and England. Not surprisingly, these mechanical instruments are extremely complex to build by hand, and having knowledge of the building process is rare. “Time, skill, and fine materials make the instrument come to life,” explains Wishart. “The process is all handmade. Each organ is carefully designed for its location.” Wishart says the process requires thousands of detailed parts, and it can take up to a decade to design, construct, and tune one organ. “The building process is passed down by each generation of organ builders. We use tools that have names inscribed on them from pipe organ builders in the 1800s,” he says. “There’s a lot of history behind what we do.”

Wishart says his favorite organ he has ever worked on is a nave organ in Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio. The instrument is a three manual and pedestal instrument of 58 stops that required 10 years of work from concept to completion. Installed in March of 2021, Wishart notes how rewarding it was to see people marvel at the sheer size and careful design of the instrument. “I love seeing how people react when they first see the instrument in their church or university,” he says. “People come to tears because it always looks better than the drawing.” Richard, Fowkes & Co. has built organs for many other notable locations such as Trinity Church Wall Street All Saints’ Chapel in New York City and St. George’s Hanover Square in London, England. Most recently, Wishart helped build and install an organ of 5 stops for Brown University.

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andy wishart

“Time, skill, and fine materials make the instrument come to life. The process is all handmade. Each organ is carefully designed for its location.”
– Andy Wishart

In his work, Wishart not only impacts the lives of those who enjoy organ music in churches and university concert halls across the United States and England, but he also continues the legacy of pipe organ builders throughout history by teaching his own apprentices today. He hopes to inspire people to have patience in their work and to be proud of what they build. “The instruments I’ve built are memorable,” he says, “but the people impacted by our organs and the stories of those who have helped me to get where I am today are the most memorable to me.”

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