While music created by guitars has been providing artistic pleasure to millions for many years and through many musical genres, the beauty and artistry of the guitars themselves are finally getting their due, thanks locally to a new exhibit at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art.
Medieval to Metal: The Art & Evolution of the Guitar allows visitors to study and admire the instrument itself as a piece of art and sculpture, one to be admired even momentarily disconnected from the music it creates.
Bringing this exhibit to Fort Wayne has been exciting for Charles Shepard, president and CEO of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. It was inspired by a similar exhibit he visited. Immediately afterward, he began looking for a traveling exhibit that might come to our city.
“I often look for exhibits that are not necessarily the norm for us, that are a bit of a stretch,” Shepard said. “I had seen another exhibit and thought it was great and started looking online for a guitar exhibition that would travel. I found a guitar museum in New York and decided to call them up.”
Shepard likes to find things outside the box but wasn’t sure if this would be a good fit for Fort Wayne.
“I started to think, ‘Maybe my taste is just odd,’ so I called up Jeff Radke at Sweetwater and asked, ‘What do you think?’ He said it sounded great. A lot of people really appreciate guitars from a sculptural perspective because they really are beautiful works of art in themselves. And I’m glad I asked Jeff, because he ended up loaning us a beautiful guitar to add to the exhibit.”
Radke echoes that appreciation for the guitar as a visual piece of art in describing the instrument he loaned the museum.
“With a Brazilian Rosewood neck and fingerboard and Western Big Leaf Maple top, it’s an incredible and wonderfully playable instrument,” Radke said. “But beyond that, when I first saw the Dragon 2000 at the NAMM — National Association of Music Merchants — show in 1999, I was blown away by the inlay. It’s playable art.”
Sharing this exhibit in Fort Wayne especially made sense to Shepard because of the arts community in the city and the entire region.
“Fort Wayne is such a musician’s town,” Shepard said. “There are so many musicians here and so many opportunities for performance, not to mention all the new venues that keep opening. And of course, we have Sweetwater itself here. Plus, you look at the success of Middle Waves. Who’d have ever thought that we would have something like that around here, so that’s been pretty cool.”
Shepard is also thinking about another possible guitar exhibit, hoping to one day entice Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay into sharing some of his enormous collection for an exhibit.
He hopes that this is the first of many opportunities to look at the guitar as more than just a musical instrument.
But for those who can’t stand the thought of looking at beautiful guitars without getting their hands on one, Shepard has good news.
“There will be three guitars, two electric and one acoustic, which will be set out for people to play. So there will be an opportunity to strum a guitar when you visit the exhibit. I’m really looking forward to all of the musicians in the area coming by so we can hear them play these beautiful instruments. I also think it’ll be fun when some of our school groups come in because it’ll be a great chance for some of these kids to get to touch and strum a guitar.”
The exhibit opened on September 29 and remains through January 6. This Friday, October 12, Paul Reed Smith visits for an evening that highlights Smith’s influence on the guitar industry as well as his extensive knowledge of guitars. Tickets are $8 for FWMoA Members and $15 for non-members.
The museum will also host an exhibition tour from Sweetwater Sound Senior Sales Engineer Greg Baum on December 6 at 12:15 p.m., which is free with museum admission. On October 11, November 8, and December 13, the museum will present free pop-up guitar performances in the exhibition featuring local musicians.
But don’t feel the need to wait for one of the special events. The chance to behold the majestic guitar should be reason enough to stop by.