Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rolls-Royces, Sun Kings and Teardrops

This week, we finally made it to the Guitar Heroes: Legendary Craftsman from Italy to New Yorkshow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I was beyond excited! The museum allows you to pay whatever you want to get in. They make "suggestions" (an adult entry is suggested at $20 per person), because the actual cost to provide what they do to the public, costs about $45 per person, but you can still pay what you'd like.

When we got there, we were fully willing to pay the suggested $20 per person, but the girl at the desk charged us the student rate; $10 per person. Sweet. Then, because Ed paid with his American Express card (we're on a point gathering spree, paying for everything we can with the card just to rack up points), we were given the audio guide to the museum for free. Yay! We learned, on our visit to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC that the audio tour is SO worth the money, so we were thrilled.

This is the entrance to the area where the show was being held. Notice the "No Cameras" sign to the right. Notice also how I snuck pictures. And the museum staff were like sentries on a wall; they were watching like hawks. These were taken with my iPhone because it was easier to conceal than my regular camera, so forgive the quality.
The first luthier featured in the show was John D’Angelico. He's the one who made the guitar my grandfather had and was the one I was most excited to see. The guitars in this case were made by D'Angelico; the one on the right was owned by Chet Atkins. D'Angelico's were sought after by musicians. Atkins compared his D'Angelico to owning a Rolls-Royce.
This display was one of my favorite. Mostly because it showed photos of John D'Angelico and Jimmy D'Aquisto, his apprentice. I love the fourth photo, which shows D'Aquisto on the left and D'Angelico on the right, standing in front of D'Angelico's shop at 40 Kenmare Street (which, by the way, we drove by....number 40 no longer exists at that location). The workbench below is original, from D'Angelico's shop, later passed on to D'Aquisto when he bought the shop.
There were so many beautiful pieces in the show; lutes, violins, guitars, mandolins, a harp guitar. Many from the 16th, 17th and 18th century. You can see select objects from the show here. Pretty amazing stuff.

The second luthier featured in the show was James D’Aquisto. One of the highlights of the show for me, was a short minute and a half video that was playing on a continuous loop, showing Jimmy D'Aquisto building a guitar. The precision, the many steps, the sheer skill and natural talent that it took to make it was evident in less then the two minutes it took to run from start to finish. He said of D'Angelico, and this is verbatim from the video clip, "As a teacher, you know, he'd show you something and he'd say, 'This is how I do it, you can do it either my way or your own way, but it better come out as good or better than I do it.' I guess I molded to actually the way that he would have wanted me to be."

His mentor taught him well, as the gallery held some of the most beautiful guitars built in the traditional style of D'Angelico, but also some more modern creations, which were introduced in D'Aquisto's later years of guitar building. Part of the D'Aquisto gallery included these blue guitars. The description of how these guitars came about is: In the late eighties and early nineties, a very different type of collector was evolving. One of the great collectors of that time was Scott Chinery, who commissioned many instruments from James D'Aquisto, but one of them he required to be blue. He asked D'Aquisto to do anything he wanted, as long as it was an eighteen-inch body and it was blue. After D'Aquisto died in 1995, Chinery found twenty-two luthiers and challenged each of them to build a blue guitar, as a sort of tribute to Jimmy D'Aquisto and his work. The entire collection was published in a book by Scott Chinery and also exbited at the Smithsonian Instituion.

For a little more about the Blue Guitars, check out these videos on YouTube. Watch Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

The last luthier in the show is John Monteleone. He is the only one of the three featured who is still alive. I've had the pleasure of having a brief correspondence with him and he was extremely helpful in filling in some blanks regarding the guitar that my grandfather had.

The guitar below is said to be the most famous guitar by John Monteleone. It's called the Sun King and has been on the cover of Guitar Maker magazine and in the Classic Guitars 2004 Calendar. One of my favorite displays in the show were the Teardrops: In 1957 the musician Pete Girardi, who played in a group called The Teardrops, commissioned John D’Angelico to build a guitar that would be unique to his act. The resulting “Teardrop” has all the decorative appointments of a New Yorker model guitar plus a large protruding fin on the lower right corner. The one-of-a-kind instrument became a much sought-after collector’s piece and an icon of guitar building. The collector Scott Chinery acquired the instrument and in 1993 challenged James D’Aquisto to do his own interpretation of the famous form. D’Aquisto’s instrument has all the features of his Solo model along with the protruding fin. In 2007 Monteleone was presented with a commission to build his own interpretation of the “Teardrop.” His instrument has his signature scroll body, balancing the fin of the guitar.

In this photo, from left to right, are the teardrop guitars made by John D'Angelico, James D'Aquisto and John Monteleone.

This exhibition is the only time that all three “Teardrops” have been together. Beautiful, aren't they?

I felt really specialy knowing that I was seeing these guitars at the only time they were all in the same place; it was a culmination of the finest luthiers of my time. I don't really get to many exhibits, of any kind really, but I would like to make it a point to do more of this in the future. Based on the feeling I had looking at these instruments, I understand why people love to go to museums and like to look at items they're interested in. It's fascinating. It gives insight to those who came before us. It opens your eyes. These three guitars were the last ones you saw before exiting the exhibit hall and it was a perfect closing display.

I left there feeling connected; to my Italian heritage, to people who create magic and memories with their music and to my grandfather. I felt how I thought he must have when he bought his guitar, held it in his hands, played it. Elated. He had no idea he was holding in his hands the work of a master. A future Guitar Hero.

I envisioned him walking out of D'Anglico's shop that day, February 27, 1954, and walking into his home with his newest acquisition. Thinking about how the two-hundred dollars he paid for both the guitar and the case. Wondering if he made the right decision. If it was worth the money.

It was.

Through the creation brought forth by John D'Angelico's hands, my grandfather made a lot of people happy playing that guitar. He left a treasure trove of memories and a legacy of music.

To hear performances using the instruments from this exhibit, click here. And if you want to see the show, there's still time. It runs through July 4, 2011.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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6 YEARS AGO: Sorry, no post for this day.


Gil said...

Loved this post! It shows your true love for our heritage! I listened to a few of the songs and have bookmarked the link for future pleasure....

Pat said...

nice pictures. I like to break the minor rules too. No pictures, pssh.

Andrew said...

Putting your electrical or guitar within a show cupboard with a hinged glass door front protects it from the mud drawback and conjointly from any wandering hands which may wish to select it abreast of a whim and begin fiddling with it.