As one of the founding members of the...
Vintage Steel: the Art and History of the American Steel String Guitar
posted by John Thomas
“This is what it’s all about. A night like this.”
It’s about 10 pm and I’m just leaving an event that was supposed to end two hours ago. But, as Kerry Triffin adds, This is the sort of event you never want to end.” Triffin, along with his wife Elizabeth Orsini, owns the world's coolest furniture store, Fairhaven Furniture in New Haven, Connecticut, which also houses River Street Gallery. Tonight's event, held in the Gallery, didn't end until Kerry's other obligations in life intervened and he graciously shepherded we attendees out into a lovely fall evening.
The River Street Gallery is the brainchild of its Director of Kate Paranteau, who is also the Director of one of the leading lights in New Haven's art community, the Creative Arts Workshop. Some months back, I was bold enough to approach Kate about helping me bring to reality my labor of love over the past half-decade, an art show that came to be named, “Vintage Steel: the Art and History of the American Steel String Guitar.” As the title suggests, the “art” in the show consists of X-rays of historically significant guitars.
I began to think of presenting the images in this fashion when I started to believe that they might have artistic value, even when considered apart from their musical context. But, my thoughts would have remained hypothetical without Kate's vision and the creative talents of another of New Haven's artist luminaries, graphic designer Lesley Holford. The two hundred, or so, people attending the reception have seemingly confirmed my hypothesis and, by all accounts, made this one of the most successful private gallery art show openings in recent New Haven memory.
Instruments depicted in the X-rays include Martin guitars from the 1830s, Orville Gibson’s hand carved, pre-Gibson Company creations, the early twentieth century work of the enigmatic Larson brothers, and a gaggle of harp guitars. The oldest is that early Martin and the newest a 1946 Gibson.
Taking center stage, metaphorically, tonight, were the X-ray images, presented in sizes from 10 inch by 10 inch detailed studies to two feet by three feet poster presentations of ornate headstocks, swooping curves, and arcane construction details. I spent six hours the day before the opening with legendary art show installer Dwight Pederson. He arranged the images so that they complemented and challenged one another, but still “are able to tell a story.”
Taking the literal stage were some of the region’s finest musicians. Indeed, closing the evening’s musical presentation were two of my all-time favorite musicians and human beings, Jonny Rodgers and Eric Dawson Tate. Jonny is a great guitar player, incredible composer, and astounding performance artist. Check out his wine glass playing (really!) here. Eric is a fabulous guitar player and an in-demand recording engineer who is fresh off of working on the soundtrack for the new Bruce Willis, Sci-fi vehicle, Looper. More importantly, he is co-producer and engineer for the Kalamazoo Gal/Banner Gibson sessions.
Check out the photos and if you like what you see and you are within travel distance of New Haven, Connecticut, please visit the exhibit, which runs through January 11, 2013. Have the patience to wait? No problem; the show will be going on the road in January. Stay tuned for details and a touring schedule. Connecticut is too far to visit and patience is not one of your virtues? Again, no problem. Get thee to a book store and pick up the current issue of Fretboard Journal. Or, best, subscribe.
Kerry Triffin, Elizabeth Orsini, and the River Street Gallery for offering space and support.
Kate Paranteau for artistic direction and inspiration
Lesley Holford for graphic design and bar tending
Dwight Pederson for framing and installation
Jonny Rodgers, Eric Tate, Dale Fairbanks, Sarah Whitaker, Martin McCann, Richard Brooker, Sean Needham, Jeff, Marilyn Catasus, and others (send me your names! It was a busy evening and I lost track of those who took turns behind the microphones) for playing music
Phillip Rosenthal, Marilyn Catasus and Kerry Triffin for photography
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