In tune, visually
Pianos become public art in FD Fine Arts project
It’s been a long time since the old upright piano that was brought to Soldier Creek Winery Friday morning by a crew of volunteers has had an in-tune note played on it — it sounds worse than the tinkly old saloon piano in a spaghetti western.
And that’s only if you play around the four keys that simply don’t work at all.
While the old wreck might be beyond tuning, it got a new lease on life as a canvas for artist Meg Beshey, of Fort Dodge, as part of the Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association project to turn old pianos into art in the community.
Beshey admits she can’t tune a piano nor, jokingly, can she “tuna fish.”
“I can paint a piano,” she said.
The process began with a good scrubbing to get decades worth of dust of the surface. That was followed by a sanding to give the paint something to adhere to.
“It just got a scrub down,” Beshey said. “It was a little aromatherapy. We know it’s made of pine — piano pine. It was happy, finally, somebody gave me a bath.”
Getting the acrylic craft paint to stick requires a coat of primer.
“It’s secret piano primer,” Beshey said, “that Meg found in her basement this morning.”
Beshey has a little experience painting on something other than canvas or paper, but Friday marked her first time painting on a piano.
“It’s my first, I think so,” she said. “I’ve done trucks. I’ve done cars. I’ve done walls, and I’ve done a sleigh.”
Besides a large collection of paint and brushes, she was prepared to go Picasso.
“I’m wearing my super cool artsy shoes,” she said, showing off paint-decorated canvas shoes and paint-splattered pants. “I’m promoting the arts all over me.”
Beshey is happy to be able to help with the project.
“It’s a very retro thing to do,” she said. “It brings it back to life instead of being lost in storage.”
Soldier Creek Winery co-owner Tammi Secor tried out the keys as the piano was being covered in primer — she was the one who discovered the four non-working keys.
“We’re thrilled to have it here,” she said. “We’re a musical family.”
There are no plans to have it tuned or repaired, she said. They are going to enjoy it as it’s intended — as art.
One thing that might eventually occur, because they do, after all, serve wine, is that someone may use it as a giant coaster.
Amanda Secor may let that slide.
“On this piano,” she joked, “it might be allowed.”
Jeremy Ober, of Barnum, was the guest artist Friday night for the vineyard’s weekly Vineyard Vibrations. As he began playing, Beshey painted.
“I’ve played in places where they were painting,” he said, “but not a piano.”
As he shared his creative process with the audience, he also anticipated the finished result.
“I’m anxious to see how it’s going to turn out,” he said.
Beshey got some help.
Jillian Leman, 8, of Fort Dodge, was among those who lent a hand. She worked carefully and managed — for the most part — to avoid getting paint on herself. Though she enjoyed the experience, she has no plans to continue with anything even remotely like it at home.
“It wouldn’t work out so good,” she said.
Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association Executive Director Shelly Bottorff was on hand to watch the progress.
She said the pianos are donated to the project and that in addition to being great art, they also help the previous owner dispose of them in a way that keeps them out of the landfill.
“As a piano teacher,” she said, “I get calls all the time about old pianos. Some are beyond tuning. It’s a big, bulky piece of furniture if it’s not being maintained.”
She said the group has six pianos lined up that can be painted and placed. The first piano can be seen at Creative Cakes in the Crossroads Mall.
While the vineyard plans on keeping its piano art, new owners are not obligated to have them on permanent exhibit.
“The goal isn’t as a forever home,” Bottorff said. “If they want to keep them, they can.”
Beshey holds the philosophy that the more painted pianos there are, the merrier.
“Eventually,” she said, “pianos will be everywhere looking artsy.”