American luthier James McKean was among the first group of students at the first violin making school in America, founded in Salt Lake City in 1973. After graduating in 1977, McKean moved to New York City, where he spent the next four years working under the noted luthier Vahakn Nigogosian learning the techniques of repair, restoration, and set up. In his own workshop, opened in 1981, McKean became a prolific maker of violins, violas, and cellos, which have earned him numerous awards in international competitions. Since 2006, he has continued to build instruments from his workshop in Westchester County.
As corresponding editor to Strings magazine, McKean has written extensively on all aspects of the violin over the past thirty years. His articles have also appeared in The Strad, and his memoir, Art's Cello—about building a cello together with New York luthier Guy Rabut in memory of their colleague Arthur Toman—was selected by its publisher, Kindle Singles, as one of the twenty best books of the year.