Fancy Fiddles For the ASO

You may have seen fish out of water in Baltimore, or cows on parade in Chicago, even embellished pigs in Seattle, but in Annapolis, you should be on the lookout for painted violins. These fanciful works of art are the products of the Painted Violins Project whose goal is to produce visibility, publicity and financial support for the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.

The funds raised from the raffle of these violins will benefit the ASO and its education and outreach programs and the thousands of children in our community each year by way of its Adopt-a-School program, Music Van, Instrument Donation Drive, and Education and Family concerts, all programs that have achieved national recognition.

The violin project is the brainchild of the ASO's Pam Chaconas,who took her cue from the success of a similar effort by the guild of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra in Florida. "What we really wanted to do was to find a way to give more attention to our programs and develop new partnerships with local artists and galleries. I think the artists are very in tune---no pun intended---with this idea. They understand the importance of promoting the arts, which are always in jeopardy and should be part of the core curriculum."

Using violins as their canvases, 10 local "artists of note" volunteered to transform violins into unique works of art. The 10 violins were actual instruments played by students and were donated by the Music and Arts Center of Severna Park, a major sponsor of the project. With help from volunteers, the Music and Arts Center prepared the violins for the artists by sanding down the varnish to the natural wood, and cleaning and removing strings and chin rests from the instruments. The strings were replaced when the artists finished painting the violins.

Says Music and Arts Center manager Shelly Mick, "It was hard to visualize [the finished product] until [Pam] showed me the pictures from the Jacksonville Symphony. I spent a good amount of time getting the violins ready and really enjoyed it."

Bud Billups, chairman of the board of the ASO, admits to his own lukewarm response to the idea at first. "Initially, I didn't have a great deal of excitement about it. I didn't understand it very well---it was foreign to me. But the more I learned, the more exciting it sounded. I think it's a fun project for a lot of people."

The artists themselves, of course, had a variety of responses to the idea of using a violin as their canvas. Elizabeth Dax of Niermann Weeks, a company which specializes in heavily antiqued custom painted furniture,was not unfamiliar with the technique of painting on wood. "I looked at the [violin's] shape and curves and wanted to make it look like a well-worn, much-cherished little gem," says Dax. "I used these whimsical Italian motifs and subdued my colors and put lots of glazes on and aged it a lotto look very rich, very Italian, very old."

In contrast, Joanette Egeli, a child's portrait painter accustomed to oil on canvas---and opposed to using acrylics, had technical concerns about the permanence of oil paint applied to the acidic qualities of the natural wood. The quality and excellence of the finished piece were important to her.

Artist Nancy Hammond, whose favorite medium is colored cut paper, recalls thinking, "What will the violinist think? I had just heard a radio program where they interviewed a wonderful violinist. He just couldn't stand to see the abstraction of the violin in any form and feared that artists tortured the instruments. I knew then that what I did would be incredibly respectful."

Watercolorist Pat McHold, however, sees the language of the visual and performing arts as interchangeable. "When I'm painting or doing any sculpture, I think about rhythm and tempo and spaces, about what the loud sounds and quiet sounds are and what is emphasized and what isn't."

For Myra Copus,who has developed a unique watercolor technique, the idea became even more interesting when the violin was delivered. "I could picture it in a more tactile way. I was painting Christmas balls at the time and the first thing I thought of was the Nutcracker. I was thinking Old World, Mozart, Salzburg, old Russian boxes---creating that kind of beauty."

Phyllis Avedon, whose major focus is portraiture, lived in the tropics for 13 years. She used the vivid colors of tropical flowers as her inspiration to create a differet kind of beauty.

Bonnie Roth Anderson usually works in oils and pastels for her commissioned portraits. She recalls, "We (at Maryland Hall) were very excited when we heard about it---it's so different from what we usually do. My first thought was that this is going to be so much fun, and I had an idea right on the spot! I always say that artists have more fun than anyone else---this is true for musicians as well. Isn't it nice that we can collaborate?"

Oil painter John Ebersberger eased the transition from canvas to violin by fitting his turn-of-the-century design to the actual shape of the violin. "The neck of the violin comes down so far into the face that it's like having a canvas with a big black line [bisecting it]." By incorporating the violin's s-curves and f-holes, he dovetailed his design with the instrument's sensual shape.

Gerry Valerio, long-time book designer now painting full time, has worked closely with the ASO over the years, creating educational brochures, posters and seasonal publications. When asked if he thought the idea would work, he replied, "I had a pretty good idea that the painters would be enthusiastic about the project, although it would be an enormous challenge." Gerry spoke of the transition from a two-dimensional canvas to the three-dimensional violin. "What I found interesting is that you have to change your normal concept of the surface to adapt to the limitations of the instrument-the scale, the shape [of the violin] as a human torso."

Lee Boynton, artist-in-residence at Maryland Hall for 22 years, also had a long-standing relationship with many in the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra---musicians, conductors, board members. "They all supported me in the past and this was a wonderful opportunity to pay them back." The symphony is an important focusing element at Maryland Hall. People who come to the performances also visit the galleries---this is how Maryland Hall was orginally conceived. Lee travels all over the country doing workshops and observes that Maryland Hall is the only venue which houses the visual and performing arts under one roof. "We have the unusual and unique opportunity to network and work together in projects just like this." And, he adds, "I have been in my studio many times when the symphomy is rehearsing. I open my door and marvel at the luxury I have."

The violins are exhibited in various venues for several months. Raffle tickets are available at most of the exhibit sites and through the ASO office. The violins can be seen at Maryland Hall during ASO concerts, at the ASO's major donor party and at a variety of receptions, galleries, bookstores and other retail establishments throughout Annapolis. The violins will travel to Quiet Waters Park in April as part of the reception for the student art exhibit and to Anne Arundel Community College in May. They will also make their way to the new Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts in Brooklyn Park and to the Rural Heritage Society at the Captain Salem Avery House in Shady Side. "I thought it was really important that we bring the violins as far north and south in Anne Arundel County as possible," says Pam Chaconas.

"Do you want to see one?" she says, anxious to show off one of the "beautiful musical masterpieces" she envisioned. She disappeared, then reappeared with violin in hand---transformed into a beautiful and unique work of art.There is something so fundamentally appealing about the shape of a violin and all the pleasure its music brings that it's not difficult to understand why this unusual idea has been so successful. It looks like everyone involved in this project has had a lot of fun and that the ASO's education and outreach program has truly found a
new way to excite the imagination of all generations.


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