Art Guitars Strike a Chord Within


Rich fabrics and swirling paints span across wooden guitar bodies in colorful patterns, creating music inside the soul instead of at strumming fingertips. These old guitars that no longer play are given new life by being transformed into stunning wall art through stitching and brushstrokes. To artists Judy Gottesman and Christi Barrett, all that these worn-out instruments need is a fresh coat of paint.

“I don’t want to waste a new guitar,” Judy, an artist based out of The Old Firehouse Gallery in Edom, said. “They always have to be broken. So, I’ve had people bring them to me from flea markets, and I’ve had friends find them in the gutter or with the trash. I can use almost any of them. I can use all kinds of found things that people throw away for contrast.  It’s a lot of fun just to see what I can do with something that is trashed.”

Both Judy and Christi were inspired to pursue musically-themed art pieces by Northeast Texas festivals. After being pressed to visit the festival by a friend, Judy found artistic freedom in the truthful folk music played at the Wildflower Art & Music Festival in Richardson and began to create “ArtSong,” her art guitar and poetry series, to convey the truths of life using her aptitude for sewing and writing. After being a busy massage therapist in Dallas for 20 years, Judy was able to regain confidence and precious time for herself through her new art series.

“It all started with Wildflower in Richardson,” Judy said. “It’s a wildflower festival that they have every time in May, and they invite people to take old guitars and make them into art. So, I went ahead and did one and it was so beautiful. I was just captured by it, myself. I really love all of the art guitars, and they all really have their own sort of feel to them.”

Christi discovered her knack for musical art when she was asked to paint a guitar to be displayed at The Forge during Ben Wheeler’s June Bug Music Festival. She felt that the request allowed her to unleash the creative energy in her imagination. Her one rule for creating the series was that she was not to follow any rules while she worked on her art. Christi threw caution and conventionalism to the wind as she began painting for herself instead of others.

“Back in June, they decided to go ahead and put some of the local artists’ artwork up at The Forge for the June Bug Festival,” Christi, an artist that studios out of Athens’ Gallery 211, said. “Of course, being the June Bug Music Festival, we wanted it to be music-themed. I already had an old guitar that was given to me, and a violin was given to me because they knew I wanted to do a music series. That’s where the music series was born.”

For Christi, taking her quirky, music-themed paintings from canvasses to guitar bodies, violins, and drum heads was a smooth transition. Christi’s life has been filled with music since she was very young. Christi’s relatives learned and played music by ear when she was a child and she listens to music while she paints. So, although she cannot sing or play instruments herself, Christi found it natural to incorporate a musical theme into her artwork.  

“I wouldn’t say it’s out of the norm for me because I actually did go through a mini music series,” Christi said. “I want to say it was the fall of last year that I started it. It was to help raise money for my son for a saxophone he wanted. He needed help getting the money for it, so I started a mini series. The paintings were simple and just funky and I could do them in an hour. I just had fun with it. That stuck in me, that I had so much fun doing it, that when the theme of music came about, I was naturally drawn back to it in a sense. That’s when I really started coming out with these wild, wild ideas and having a blast doing it.”

Judy was faced with some difficulty when she created her first piece in her “ArtSong” art guitar series. She found finding fabrics that conveyed what she wanted and sewing them onto the guitars in unusual shapes to be a challenge.  Yet, because she has an artistic gift that enables her to see how colors and textures should be used together, Judy found that the pieces gradually became effortless and enjoyable for her to create.

“I always have difficulties with something in the design, so it does take me outside of my comfort zone,” Judy said. “I’m not using a pattern that anyone else makes. I had to surmount all these things that weren’t working the way I wanted them to. It worked. A lot of times, the guitars come together on their own and they coalesce into what I want to work with. I love that part about it, that I don’t have to think that hard. I am more bold to try something new every time, and that’s been a freedom for me that I really enjoy.”

Judy has used her newfound artistic freedom to create art guitars that utilize unusual mediums, such as handmade cotton ties and button down shirts and the chain used for countertop pens, which she purchases in a bright copper color. She has even dedicated a cloth-covered, whimsical art guitar to her dog, Enzo, who is also known as The Firehouse Dog. To add further depth to her pieces, Judy writes poems to accompany each guitar she decorates. The message that Judy wants to convey varies with each guitar that she creates in the developing “ArtSong” series.

“It (an art guitar) could do anything, mean anything,” Judy said. “I would say that the message is more about the beauty, probably. Usually, it has peace in there somewhere. There’s a lot of love in it and a lot of focus on it. I am a poet, and I think folk music is very much about poetry and meaning, deep meaning. That’s probably the biggest hook into this, is that I am able to express, in more than one way, the meaning of love, or peace, or the positive aspects of living.”

Christi surprises herself daily as she uses bright shades of acrylic paint to depict the lighthearted scenes and swirling piano keys that characterize “Music To My Ears.” As her music series evolves, Christi hopes that her new paintings and painted instruments will reflect an upbeat optimism to her customers and those who view her work in local galleries.

“To me, music is everything in this world,” Christi said. “My music is upbeat, so the following pieces that will be coming up, I’ve already decided, are going to have the happy, sunshine songs in them. So, it will be like, John Denver and “Walking On Sunshine” by The Waves. I’m not looking for world peace and all that stuff. I love that, but I think my art is just more my way of expressing my love for the world. That’s about as deep as it gets. I love life, I love to be happy, and I want others to be happy. So, I hope that’s what they get from it when they see it.”

Christi’s nature- and music-inspired “Music To My Ears” artworks can be purchased through her website, Facebook account, The Forge and The Walking Horse Gallery in Ben Wheeler, and Gallery 211 in Athens. Judy’s colorful “ArtSong” pieces can be viewed and purchased at Edom’s The Old Firehouse Gallery. Artworks from other local artists are on display at The Old Firehouse as well, and the gallery also hosts concerts, shows independent films, and even offers massages.

“Being at The Old Firehouse is a different way of living, in a sense, for me,” Judy said. “I’m used to being very scheduled and I’m not now. That’s partly why I started doing these guitars, because I needed to do something with my hands. I needed to do something with my head and my heart. Art takes my talents and immerses them into what I’m trying to accomplish. It absorbs me.”

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