Instruments by Art
By Deborah Young
Walk through the front door of Meyer Music in Overland Park, KS, and you will see Marley there on your right. He’s a massive sculpture, about 6 feet tall and 165 pounds, crafted from discarded musical instruments. His head is a violin. The locks of his hair are guitar strings and chains from bass drum pedals. His eyes are conveyor ball transfers (the steel balls used to move industrial conveyor belts). His thighs are saxophones, his legs and feet trumpets.
In the spring of 2016 Marley was just a vague idea in the mind of his creator, Robert Hurlburt, a production designer for Hallmark.
One of Hurlburt’s Hallmark colleagues asked him and other coworkers to create art pieces from unplayable instruments for an annual auction hosted by Band of Angels, a non-profit partnership formed by Fox 4 News and Meyer Music. Band of Angels provides band and orchestra instruments for children in need.
Last year when Hurlburt went to Meyer Music to select instruments for his sculpture he had the vague idea of making a jazz man. “I didn’t need him to be bigger than me or actual size. I just thought a musical instrument character that’s standing there or running or doing something,” he said.
Initially Hurlburt chose one bass guitar for Marley’s body, but he decided the body would be too flat with only one guitar. Hurlburt’s nephew donated another bass guitar, which he decided to use. Then he had to figure out how to join the two guitars to create the body.
He used a snare drum to connect the two guitars.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be weird to have these bass guitars looking as though they had been rammed right on through a snare drum but the snare drum still works?’ Hurlburt said. “So then it was, ‘How do I cut everything away and deconstruct it then build it back up, reconstruct it, and put the drum heads back on?’
“Probably the hardest part was just trying to make that torso and neck area work, and once it was working I was home free,” Hurlburt said. “Now it’s just, ‘What crazy looking head can I put on this guy? What kind of effect on his forehead?’”
Once Hurlburt had made the head and attached the hair he thought it looked like dreadlocks and decided to name the sculpture Marley (after Jamaican musician Bob Marley). Marley took about 70 hours to complete, Hurlburt said. The media used for Marley included wood, bakelite, copper, brass, aluminum, and steel, epoxy, plastic and acrylic.
Tammy and Rick Haddix took a simpler approach to creating their instrument art. They prefer to keep the instruments intact and highlight each instrument’s natural beauty.
Like Hurlburt, Tammy works as a Keepsake artist for Hallmark. Her husband Rick is an electrician and likes to create wood objects in his spare time. Tammy and Rick bounce ideas back and forth, and work as a team to develop artwork for the Band of Angels auction.
Tammy said that when she goes to Meyer Music to select raw materials she waits for something to speak to her. In 2015, one of the objects that spoke to her was a drum set. “When I was looking at the instruments I saw this drum set,” she said. “I had done an ornament in Keepsakes (that) was a music shop and in the window was a snowman made out of a drum set.”
She decided to create a life-size version of the drum set snowman, with clarinet arms, a handmade hat of foam, and a scarf. The drums are bolted together so that the snowman will stand, and the snowman’s clarinet arms were made so that they can be bent slightly.
The couple also created a bassoon lamp in 2015. They cleaned up the instrument, left it whole, and Rick wired it.
“We like to make things that are kind of functional,” said Tammy. “The snowman was not. It was more decorative. But things that are functional really seem to sell well at the auction.”
Last year, Tammy and Rick took four pieces to the auction: a banjo with a wooden stand, a cornet lamp, a trumpet lamp, and a violin decoupaged with violin sheet music and mounted on ceiling tile. Tammy chose decoupage for the violin because the instrument was badly worn.
When Tammy first saw the banjo it was in pieces, or she thought it was. There was a separate Bacon banjo resonator. Tammy thought Rick might use it as a base for the banjo, but Rick didn’t want to drill holes in the resonator. They connected the resonator to the banjo and replaced the banjo’s torn head with a new one. Rick also created a stand made of cherry wood with a walnut wood inset and put a light on the top of the stand.
“The instruments are so beautiful by themselves,” Tammy said. “They’re like pieces of art by themselves so it’s almost our chance to show them off as an art piece.”
Both Tammy and Hurlburt said that the allure of the Band of Angels auction is the uniqueness of art made from musical instruments and the various ways artists find to repurpose the instruments.
Deborah Young is a freelance writer from Overland Park, KS, who has an interest in all things musical. She also composes music and plays keyboards. She can be reached at: email@example.com.