From Gibsons to Garth Brooks’, National Cowboy Museum’s “The Guitar” exhibit showcasing variety of instruments
Curator Don Reeves show the artwork on a Gibson Elvis Presley tribute guitar on The guitar is part of the new exhibit “The Guitar: Art, Artist and Artisans” opening today at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. (Photo by Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman)
From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
Exhibit brings music to the eyes
The only instrument whose master players gain “god” status takes center stage this weekend at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
The special exhibition “The Guitar: Art, Artists and Artisans” opens today, showcasing about 50 instruments, from historic models dating to the 19th century to elaborately tuneful tributes to music legends. The public is invited to a free preview of the exhibit from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday at the museum.
Guest curator Don Cusic hopes the show captures the imaginations of museum visitors, just like guitar-slinging heroes from Elvis Presley and The Beatles to Brad Paisley and Kings of Leon have ensnared the passions of music-loving teenagers.
“Guitars are cool,” said Cusic, a professor of music business at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. “The guitar is the most popular instrument in America; more people play the guitar than any other instrument. …
“The guitar is the basis of most of the records made today and what you hear on the radio.”
Just as the instrument’s musical influence runs the gamut from country and folk to rock and pop, the exhibit offers a wide range of specimens, from elaborately decorated Gibsons paying homage to Elvis, B.B. King and Les Paul to guitars played by country music stars Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Lynn Anderson, Eddy Arnold and Marty Robbins.
“Some of these guitars are used like a canvas for an artist,” said Don Reeves, the museum’s McCasland Chair of Cowboy Culture. “Then, there’s the high artistic craftsmanship in the creation of some of these guitars, as well as the music these musical artists make.”
The exhibit includes millions of dollars worth of instruments and traces the iconic relationship between cowboys and guitars. Reeves pulls on thin cotton gloves as he gingerly lifts a simple wooden C.F. Martin, a rare early model from about 1840.
“Cowboys did not ride up the Chisholm Trail with these strapped on their back. The rough life a cowboy did not lend itself to this. What you had at most of the cowboy ranch dances were the banjos and fiddles. At the time, this was much more popular down in Mexico,” he said.
The show also includes new Gibson acoustic guitars that recreate historically significant models like the now-scarce Super 400 arch body.
“It was the guitar that Roy Rogers made famous as a singing cowboy,” Reeves said. “A lot of people when they think of the American guitar, they think of cowboys. They think they go together. What really created that were the singing cowboys of the 1930s and the 1940s on radio and then … movies and television.”
Many artists use the guitar as a canvas to honor the connection between cowpokes and the instrument. The Gibson Western Sky model is decorated with polychrome carvings of a bucking bronco and climbing roses, while El Reno resident Bobby Boyles, owner of Oklahoma Vintage Guitar, has loaned a Washburn on which he painted a praying cowboy.
On the other hand, Muscogee Creek artist Dru WhiteFeather honors his American Indian heritage through his artistic guitars adorned with paintings, tooled leather and beadwork.
Dallas artist Amanda Dunbar, 27, explores her love for bling through her line of Precious Rebels guitars, which are encrusted with colorful Swarovski crystals she painstakingly places to create intricate designs. A dozen of her guitars are arranged in a large shimmering chandelier that is a centerpiece of the show.
“I kind of like to bridge that gap between fashion and music and visual arts and sound and light,” said Dunbar, who plans to visit the exhibit, in a phone interview. “I just have such an appreciation for music that it just seemed like a really cool idea.”
Of course, no guitar exhibit would be complete without featuring favored instruments played by Oklahoma music stars. Gill loaned the museum the first guitar he ever remembers seeing, which belonged to his late father Stan, while Keith contributed a worn acoustic model he used as an up-and-comer playing the club scene. From Brooks, the exhibit includes a Takamine with his signature sound hole shaped like a guitar body.
“I am excited to have anything of mine in the Cowboy Hall of Fame. I believe I have a career because of the men and the women who wear the hat. This is truly an honor,” Brooks said in an e-mail.
“The Guitar: Art, Artists and Artisans”
Where: National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, 1700 NE 63.
When: today-May 9.
Preview: A free public preview is set for 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday.
Information: 478-2250 or www.nationalcowboymuseum.org.