O Beautiful for Heroes Proved

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life.
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

Your prayers and your alms are come up for a memorial before God.

Acts 10:4b

Photo taken in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, 2014

From the Studio: Attracted to Music

Welcome back to my piano art studio. Today I’d like to share with you something simple yet practical.

Hundreds upon hundreds

Every piano has 88 keys, right? And every key has its own corresponding hammer. And I have disassembled 25 pianos to date. Excuse me a moment while I do the math…. Yes, that equals 2,200 hammers that have passed through my hands.

But wait… there’s more! A few technicians have given me old parts by the boxful. Add to that the hammers I’ve purchased to meet some special need, and the number above could easily be doubled. No matter how you look at them, that’s a lot of hammers!

What to do with them

Hammers have appeared in a good many of the mixed media art pieces I’ve created, as well as several of the home decor items. The reason for this is that they are easily recognizable as coming from a piano. Not everyone knows their proper name, but pretty much all know how they are used in a piano: to strike the strings and start the vibration that makes music.

Apart from key chains, of which I’ve made more than 1,000 to date, I’ve really found myself attracted to the idea of making magnets. Okay, that was corny, I admit. But you would’ve said it too.

The process

As simple as magnets appear to be, they do take a bit of time to put together.

  1. Separate the bridle strap from the bridle wire.
  2. Unscrew the hammer from the action assembly.
  3. Remove the bridle strap from the hammer with a box cutter.
  4. Scrub the entire hammer thoroughly with a wire bristle brush to remove dirt and dust.
  5. Cut the head away from the shank. (And while I’m at it, also cut the butt [i.e. “chicken”] from the other end of the shank.)
  6. Sand all cut edges.
  7. Set aside the largest hammers to be made into magnets; store all the remaining pieces to be used later in other crafts.
  8. Choose the more attractive side of the hammer head and use E-6000 adhesive to glue the magnet button to the opposite side.
  9. Clamp magnet and hammer head for good adhesion; let the adhesive set.
  10. Print out the half-sheet “Story Behind the Art” for hammer magnets.
  11. Fold the half sheet to fit both it and the magnet into a small zippered pouch.
  12. Add personalization whenever requested. Sometimes I practice first on another hammer head, particularly if I think it’ll be hard to fit the phrase or name in the available space.

How to use them

The button magnets I utilize are nice and strong, making these devices useful for holding whatever you wish to display, whether it’s tickets to the next ball game, a photo of your loved one, or your kindergartner’s artwork. Use them on any magnetic surface:

  • refrigerator
  • locker
  • file cabinet
  • mirror
  • dry erase board

Hammer magnets can also serve as keepsakes or mementos when you ask me to write names and dates on them. A piano teacher could give a magnet to each of her students, personalized with the date of their piano recital, which the student could then use in their locker at school. It’s a thoughtful and affordable gift on any teacher’s budget.

And this gift idea works well in the other direction too—from the student to the teacher. What mentor wouldn’t be thrilled with a magnet she can proudly display that bears her name and the phrase “#1 Piano Teacher”?

How can I make it mine?

The hammer magnets are available in my shop to purchase individually or in sets of eight. Personalization is optional, but it is free if you choose to do so. I know you feel drawn to go check them out, so I’ll see you soon at Etsy!

♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬

Thank you for joining me on this tour of the studio. I look forward to seeing you on the next one. Until then, I invite you to check out photos of my other work in the gallery. Enjoy the rest of your day!

From the Studio: Variations on a Theme

Welcome back to my piano art studio. Today I’d like to share with you a piece that may possibly be described as a “happy accident.”

The theme

In a previous article I told you about “Middle C,” which is made using the keys C, D, and E, with the sharps between them, mounted to a piece of wood cut from the piano cabinet, and framed with the key extensions. This is the theme for what would turn out to be a variation.

When I make “Middle C,” I usually make them in batches of five or more. They sell quickly, so I like to have several on hand. I start by cutting the wood to the 7″ x 10″ pieces, then I sand each one until the edges are nice and smooth. Next, I select the key extensions that will form the frame around the edge of the wood, measure, mark, cut, and sand them. When that is done, I select the flanges and letoff buttons that I wish to use for these pieces and check to be sure their a good fit. Then, when all the pieces have been assembled, I take them outside to apply a spray varnish.

The variation

The key extensions are cut specifically for each individual piece of wood, since exact measurements may vary a little from one to the other. For that reason, I like to stack them together with the boards to which they were cut.

One day, while in the process of making a fresh batch of Middle C’s, a brand new idea came to me. To keep from them, I had arranged the key extensions in such a way on top of each panel that they formed a sort of diagonal, rather than leaving them along the edges. It struck me that this arrangement was actually quite beautiful and could stand on its own as unique design. Then, rather than using keys to complete the view, I placed a hammer across the whole.

It wasn’t long before I realized that these too could be customized, by adding an ivory keytop tail in the space beside the hammer. This opens the door for a myriad of possibilities.

The name

Since this design is a variation of that used to create “Middle C,” I decided to call it “Variations on a Theme.” In fact, I’m listening even now to Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Opus 35. In my mind, I see the name written on one of the many albums my mother had in her collection.

The finish

As with the “Middle C,” on the back I add a half-sheet “Story behind the art,” a sawtooth hanger, and two felt bumpers on the bottom corners (a.k.a. key rail punchings), and with that the piece is finished.

How can I make it mine?

Variations on a Theme” is available in my shop.

♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬

Thank you for joining me on this tour of the studio. I look forward to seeing you on the next one. Until then, I invite you to check out photos of my other work in the gallery. Enjoy the rest of your day!

From the Studio: Middle C

Welcome back to my piano art studio. Today I’d like to share with you a piece that has come to mean a lot of things to a lot of people.

A new backdrop

Years ago I decided to create some pieces mounted on wood from the piano case rather than a stretched canvas. After all, I had lots of wood at my disposal. To begin with, I took a footboard (the panel at the bottom front of the piano, which conceals the strings and the workings for the pedals). I measured the board to see how it could be equally divided, and the result was a stack of smaller pieces measuring 7″ x 10″. I’ve used these measurements ever since.

Also in good supply, at the time, were keys I had taken from off the pianos. In particular, I had several sets of C, D, E, and the sharps between them.

The surplus was due to the fact that I had made quite a few pieces called “Keyed Up,” each of which incorporates two groupings of F-A and only one grouping of C-E. So I decided to showcase these small sets of keys by framing them in the extensions I had cut off of them.

A slight problem

What I didn’t realize was that piano keys are not a uniform thickness from one end to the other. Most of them appear to be, but when placed end to end, I could see the differences. That meant that could almost never have a clean corner on my frames. So I fixed the problem by adding embellishments to each corner, namely, a flange and a let-off button. They covered the imperfections nicely and added a bit of interest in the process. The felt on the letoff buttons can vary in color. In fact, I have found various hues of green, gold, red, and white. I usually incorporate the felts, to add a tiny splash of color; but sometimes I use letoff buttons that have lost their felts, and I think it looks good that way too.

A fitting name

Because this key display always incorporates and begins with the C note, I decided to call it “Middle C.”

A personal touch

The idea to turn “Middle C” into a commemorative plaque started with a custom order. The long-time organist at a particular church was getting ready to retire, and the congregation wanted to recognize his many years of service. Together my customer and I came up with a way to do this.

Since then, many other Middle C’s have been graced with a personal touch to commemorate an anniversary, retirement, or other special occasion.

To repair keys that had lost their ivories, I had purchased several recycled ivory keytop tails (the long skinny part of the ivory key) and heads (the shorter, fatter portion of the key). As it turns out, the tail fit perfectly on the bottom of the frame.

Since ivory is translucent, I paint the back with white so the wood won’t show through. And before adding the inscription, I trace the shape of the ivory tail onto a paper sack and practice writing in that space so I’ll know exactly how I want it laid out. When I’m satisfied with my draft, I then do it again on the ivory keytop tail. I first write in pencil, then go over it in ink. When the ink has dried, I seal it with two coats of varnish. Then when the varnish has cured, I glue it down to the frame.

Whether the “Middle C” is personalized or not, on the back I add a half-sheet “Story behind the art,” a sawtooth hanger, and two felt bumpers on the bottom corners (a.k.a. key rail punchings), and with that the piece is finished.

How can I make it mine?

It’s hard to keep these in stock, as they are one of my best sellers. But as long as I have one available for sale, you’ll find the “Middle C” here in my shop. When you get there, select the option that works best for you, whether standard or customized. Because of their popularity, I always keep this listing active, whether I have any completed Middle C’s in stock or not. When made to order, they usually take me a week to build; but if you find one in stock, you can have it in just a few days. In fact, I’m working on three of them right now: one to fill an order, and two more for you to choose from.

♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬

Thank you for joining me on this tour of the studio. I look forward to seeing you on the next one. Until then, I invite you to check out photos of my other work in the gallery. Enjoy the rest of your day!