Artists pull strings for symphony

Fund-raiser: Artists tune up their creativity to benefit the Annapolis Symphony.

February 05, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Hey diddle, diddle, a pineapple on a fiddle? An angel, a bird or tropical flowers -- on violins?

In the same spirit of whimsical fund-raising that brought cows to Chicago, lizards to Orlando, Fla., and giant fish to Baltimore, Annapolis will soon see the work of local artists on violins.

The violins are not oversized, nor fiberglass, and most of the artists -- 10 in all -- say they are shying away from kitsch, but the idea of the project sponsored by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra is basically the same.

The artists all start with a real violin -- sanded and with its strings and other hardware removed -- and are all charged with turning it into a visual masterpiece.

The finished violins will then be restrung and shown this spring at galleries and events in Anne Arundel County. In June, before the violins are raffled off to raise money for the Annapolis Symphony, they will be displayed at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.

"It is a fresh new way to give visibility and raise funds for our education and outreach programs," said Pamela Chaconas, the Annapolis Symphony education director who borrowed the idea for the painted violins from the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.

Chaconas recruited some of the artists from the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, where the symphony also has its home. And Bonnie Roth Anderson, who has a studio at Maryland Hall, said the idea of collaborating with the symphony inspired her instantly.

"I firmly believe that the arts are connected," she said. "Painting and music have been an inspiration to people all over the world. It is very easy to lose the cultural arts that feed our souls, so we need to focus attention on it whenever we can."

With that in mind, Anderson chose to illustrate the idea that music is food for the soul: She painted a large pineapple with an apple and grapes on the back of the violin and folk-art-style hearts around the violin's sides.

Annapolis artist Lee Boynton said he took inspiration for his violin from Claude Debussy's symphony La Mer, which means "the sea" in French.

"I am envisioning the overall symphony of the sound of the ocean and the beauty of standing on the shore and feeling the emotional rush of the wave," he said. "I want to capture the essence of what I feel and see, in my mind, in the music."

For most of the artists, painting on a violin -- with its curvy shape, S-shaped sound holes and long neck -- presented a challenge beyond that of a blank canvas.

When artist John Ebersberger, an Annapolis portrait and landscape artist, was approached by Chaconas to paint a violin, he thought she meant a picture of a violin.

"Then I realized what she was talking about," Ebersberger said. "I couldn't get excited about it. I couldn't plug into it."

It wasn't until he started thinking about the form of a violin and the design possibilities inherent in its shape that he agreed to do the project. "There is a delicacy there that needs to be appreciated with the violin," Ebersberger said.

Ebersberger chose to paint on the front of the violin an elegant angel whose large white wings follow the curves of the instrument. He plans to leave most of the rest of the violin unpainted, to preserve the rich, red-brown glow of the wood.

Several artists said they were mindful of what violinists, composers and symphony fans would think about the way they carried out their artistic visions on the beloved instruments.

Artist Nancy Hammond said she felt "horror, sheer horror" when she was asked to paint a violin, which unlike Baltimore's fiberglass "Fish Out of Water" has an artistic significance of its own.

"People make great music with these instruments, so you could offend someone terrifically if you didn't handle it right," said Hammond, whose Annapolis gallery, Nancy Hammond Editions, will stage the first showing of the violins from March 10 through 17.

Though Hammond won't reveal details of her plan for the violin, she promises that it will be "refined."

Violin lovers, be assured: The Annapolis Symphony has not enlisted artists to deface fine musical instruments. The violins were all in bad shape and not worth repairing, Chaconas said, and were donated to the symphony by the Music and Arts Center of Severna Park.

"We have taken something that would not be used, and it is being turned into a beautiful masterpiece," Chaconas said.(Raffle tickets will be sold at the violin viewings and at the Annapolis Symphony office beginning in March. For more information about the painted violins project, call 410-269-1132.)

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