Above: Luthier Klarissa Petti finished constructing her first instrument, a cello, in just 15 months. Photograph courtesy of Alexander Albrecht.

KLARISSA PETTI CAME TO THE UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO for the only college program in the country where students make violins, violas, and other stringed instruments. Little did the cello major know she’d take over teaching the class her senior year when her professor retired. Seven years later, she’s at the head of the class while continuing her own studies as an apprentice to Taos master luthier David Caron.

Carving a niche: Petti finished constructing her first instrument, a cello, in just 15 months, then went on to create two violins before graduating. Now her cellos bring $25,000 each, her violins about half that. “I’ve got a half dozen instruments in process right now. I want to eventually get to the point where I have customers lined up two to three years out.”

Beautiful music: Petti sold her second cello to her first music teacher. “For me, the greatest joy is having my instruments played by a true artist, not just a musician. My UNM professor Peter White once said, ‘We’re making art upon which more art is made.’ ”

Finding flow: Each cello takes 500 hours to complete. How does she pass the time? “It’s a meditative process. I listen to classical music or podcasts and ruminate about life. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about my students—who is at what step in their process—and planning the next class.”

Going with the grain: Finding the perfect pieces of wood for an instrument is as much an art as making or playing one. “When you tap or rub them, some pieces sound more alive than others. With flamed maple, it’s largely about beauty—the beautiful stripes that move in the light so that it looks alive. With spruce, I look for straight, evenly spaced grains, not too thin or wide.”