Celebrating the essential human quality of creativity

Canadian Luthiers Strike a Chord in Kleinburg

by Janet McLeod-Wortel

Harmonics, Canada Style

Picking Kleinburg for a day-long road trip is always a good choice. Right now it is a great one.

The town can always boast of good restaurants, shopping, hiking, the September Binder Twine Festival and of course the renowned McMichael Canadian Art Collection. But right now the McMichael offers an historic chance to see an exhibit, custom-built to resonate internationally.

Seven top Canadian guitar builders have celebrated the Group of Seven painters—and Tom Thomson—with a lineup of masterwork guitars. From the fantastic to the natural-and-naked, these guitars would tempt any musician to get them out of the case for a try. For everyone else, the first temptation is to pick a favourite.

And yet there is one more masterpiece in the room, one that cannot be seen or heard. It is the Canadian art form of artistic camaraderie.

“We’ve always egged each other on and helped each other,” said Linda Manzer, the show’s visionary.

A celebrated guitar builder herself, Linda began her career in the 1970s with a group of about seven pioneering guitar makers under the tutelage of Jean Larrivée, creating a guitar structure and sound unique to Canada.

Four years ago Manzer was at a Group of Seven show in Ottawa. “This little link went off in my head and I started thinking about all the things we had in common with the group,” said Manzer.

She thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we did, as a group of seven guitar makers, an homage to the Group of Seven painters and that way people around the world could know more about these painters that are much loved in Canada?” The idea had resonance. Not only did Manzer convince her now-accomplished guitar colleagues to jump into the project, she found the perfect venue and partner in the McMichael gallery.

Each guitar maker (properly called a luthier) has designed an instrument to honour one of the Group of Seven. An eighth guitar is a collaborative effort in homage to the painter Tom Thomson.


The Guitar Project, McMichael gallery, Kleinburg

A custom-designed display shows off the craftsmanship on all sides, with working drawings and paintings that inspired the builders. A documentary video by Riddle Films shows the making–and playing–of each guitar. Bruce Cockburn, Jesse Cook, and Don Ross are some of the talent featured.

Some builders pulled off astonishing craftsmanship. The guitar by Jean Larrivée and his team features an interior, honouring the art of A.Y. Jackson, inlaid with over two thousand pieces. The J.E.H. MacDonald tribute guitar, by Sergei de Jonge, uses birch bark for a world-first in materials. The Varley guitar, by Grit Laskin, boasts a gorgeous group of portraits along the fretboard.

The parlour-sized guitar made by luthier Tony Duggan-Smith in homage to Arthur Lismer incorporates a second group of strings and sculptural body, making it look the most alluring to hold.

Manzer’s own guitar, celebrating Lawren Harris, steals the show: harp strings on a second neck convey an effect that’s both spiritual and abstract.

Guitar by Linda Manzer

The sound of George Gray’s guitar, honouring Johnston, impressed with clarity and warmth in its character, like that of an old friend met by chance. Arguably the best-sounding guitar may be David Wren’s, honouring Franklin Carmichael with fully expressive rich top and bottom tones.

Every guitar in the show is special, but the masterpiece is their message together, which speaks of the creative power of camaraderie and how it shapes and enriches a cultural landscape.

The show ends on October 29, leaving the interesting question of where the Guitar Project goes next. Instruments don’t fit into art storage warehouses as easily as Group of Seven sketches, which too often disappear into the safety deposit boxes of private investors. The Guitar Project is a ready-made tool to shape not only the McMichael’s identity but that of Canadian culture internationally.

The original vision of the project calls for its own road trip.

Sarah Stanners, Chief Curator of the McMichael, says plans are underway to use the guitars in their musical afternoons. They also welcome “partnerships with agencies or organizations that are focused on music,” said Stanners. Because the McMichael commissioned the guitars and owns them, the show may go on tour internationally.

Elsewhere in Canada, a similar concept guitar called the “Voyageur” might provide a road map. Billed as the Six String Nation Guitar, it was imagined in 1995 on the eve of the Québec referendum.

In a melding of history and craftsmanship, the guitar and case are built of 64 pieces of Canadian culture, including wood from Wayne Gretzky’s hockey stick, Karen Kain’s ballet costume and Haida Gwaii sacred Golden Spruce. With the wide appeal of guitar music, it is an ambassador at festivals and schools, spreading an appreciation of a Canada that is better for its unity.

So pick a day to get up to see The Guitar Project and pick a favourite! Getting to Klienburg this fall is now even easier. The Sunday Art Bus from downtown Toronto—a mere $10—has extended its run to the end of October.

Janet McLeod Wortel is a modern Christian copywriter and writer. Her words are built to inspire, enlighten or sell, always with the reader’s interests at heart. If clear, honest, friendly copy is what your business needs, just respond today in the Comments section below or visit Janet’s LinkedIn page. Because good business thrives on good copy.

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New Human City Team