From left to right: "The Red Violin" by Paul Chaffee, untitled by Linda Bronner, untitled by Kellie Schneider
(Click on thumbnail to start slide show.)

Photos by Avram Golden Photography
Article by Jeanne Lesinski

Amidst music, food and fine company, violins by local artists will go on the auction block on Tuesday, October 26 when the Saginaw Art Museum will host  the Symphony at SAM: Violin Art Party to celebrate the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra's illustrious 75th Anniversary. Over the last two months artists James Hughes, Kellie Schneider, Sally Allen, Alan Maciag, Paul Chaffee, Linda Bronner, Cinda Schantz, Eric Schantz, Paolo Pedini, Sage Morley, Sher Gem, Kara Brown, Liz Largent, Sarah Clark, Geoff Pelkey, Tisch Mikhail Lewis, Jay Graham and Steven Magstadt have brought music to life in a special way.

SBSO Executive Director Dan McGee, creator of the event, ordered online what are known as white violins, that is, unfinished wooden violins. Then he contacted the arts departments of local colleges and asked Saginaw Art Museum's Ryan Kaltenbach to help him find artists willing to make their own kind of music with them—visual music. Unlike similar events held elsewhere in the country where the parameters for creativity are rigid, Symphony at SAM event organizers gave artists free reign. "We wanted to put as few restrictions on the artists as possible," McGee said.

Buzz on Facebook testified to the excitement of these artists as they let their creative juices flow. Many used various paint techniques to create works in their iconic styles, while several others assembled mosaics (Sally Allen, Linda Bronner, Steven Magstadt, the last not photographed), and one, a sculpture (Jay Graham, not photographed).

Executive communications consultant Paul Chaffee took a distinctive approach to collage. Chaffee, who specializes in using plants, explained: "I deconstruct organics, anything that grows, and preserve it and put it back together in abstract shapes." Inspired by the legendary Red Mendelssohn Stradivarius violin that virtuoso Elizabeth Pitcairn will play at the March 26, 2011 SBSO concert, Chaffee decided to collage his violin with red foliage and petals. Among the different kinds he used on "The Red Violin" are three sorts of poinsettia leaves and rose petals on the body, and red-fringed carnations on the fingerboard. Although Chaffee doesn't treat or varnish the organics, they last a remarkably long time because of the expertise and care he puts into the drying process. Though not shown in the photo above, "The Red Violin" rests on a golden base whose organic shape thematically echoes the curvaceous shapes of the violin and the plant matter adorning it.

Geoff Pelkey, Castle Museum exhibits coordinator, was also inspired by music, but in a much different fashion. With "Requiem" he tried to capture the ethereal quality of music ("It's in the air—no one can see it") through a performance or a ritual that he documented with photographs. His "violin" is made up of three elements: on the left a photo of the untouched white violin in its specially shaped box, in the middle a vial of ashes, on the right a photo of a violin going up in smoke. Pelkey likens the work visually to a story or the movements of a symphony: "It has a beginning, middle and end." The violin fingerboard became the bridge holding together the photos and the vial of ashes that, like memories of a fine performance, may rest in listeners' memories.

At the Violin Art Party, five of the violins will be sold at live auction, while others will be raffled. They are currently on display at the Saginaw Art Museum through Sunday. Admission to the museum is free. The museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday, but will reopen at 6p.m. for Tuesday's festivities, which include refreshments and the jazz fusion sounds of Bryan Rombalski & Three Worlds.

Advance tickets for $40 are available at the SBSO Box Office, Jake's Old City Grill, Crumbs Gourmet Cookie Cafe, The Red Eye and Golden Gallery. A ticket will cost $50 at the door. Proceeds from this fundraiser will benefit the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra.

© Jeanne Lesinski, 2010