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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) has announced its upcoming exhibition, Historic Strings: The Guitar in American Artscheduled to be on display at the Richmond Museum from October 8, 2022 to March 19, 2023. Storied Strings is the first exhibition to explore the symbolism of the guitar in American art from the early 19th century to the present.

“We expect that Storied Strings, an exhibition that will bring to the fore one of America’s most quintessential emblems – the guitar – will have broad appeal and resonate with our visitors,” said Alex Nierges, Director and CEO of VMFA. “Through this multifaceted exhibition, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will highlight the outstanding work of a variety of artists, designers, creatives and musicians from across this country.”

Curated by Dr. Leo G. Mazow, VMFA’s Louise B. and Curator of American Art J. Harwood Cochrane, Storied Strings will trace how the guitar, as a visual motif, has long enabled artists and their subjects to engage with themes and tell stories that would otherwise remain untold or under-told.

“As with music, the guitar in visual art is both a companion to the storyteller and a tool through which themes are explored. The guitar is uniquely capable of symbolizing both poetic and prose themes,” said Dr. Mazov. “Because of its portability and relative affordability, the guitar appears in countless settings and situations. It often intersects with issues of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and disability, including blindness.

Consisting of 125 works of art created over almost 200 years, Storied Strings will include paintings, drawings, watercolors, photographs and sculptures by prominent American artists such as John Baldessari, Romar Bearden, Thomas Hart Benton, Elizabeth Catlett, William Merritt Chase, Thomas Eakins, William Eggleston, Robert Henry, Lonnie Holley, Francis Benjamin Johnston, William H. Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Annie Leibovitz, Charles Wilson Peale, Ruth Reeves, and Julian Alden Weir.

In addition, 35 guitars will highlight the exhibit, including instruments made by Fender, Gibson, Gretsch and Martin. The guitars featured were played by pioneering musicians who helped shape the American sound, including Lulu Bell, Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker, Freddie King, Les Paul and Brian Setzer.

Audio-visual pavilions with music and filmed performances will further enhance the visitor experience. A window overlooking an impressive, fully functional recording studio, installed in the exhibition in partnership with In Your Ear Studios, will allow visitors to see guitarists of national and regional prominence as they record songs that demonstrate the instrument’s power to tell stories. Among the musicians confirmed to record at the studio are Tommy Emmanuel, Nels Cline (Wilco), Stephen McCarthy (The Jayhawks) and Yasmin Williams. The resulting videos of their performances will be posted regularly on the VMFA website and YouTube channels Richmond Sessions ’22–’23.

A comprehensive 276-page exhibition catalog will be available for sale in the VMFA Shop, online at www.VMFAshop.com and distributed by Penn State University Press. Created by Dr. Mazow, the catalog will feature color images of each artwork in the Storied Strings and include insightful contributions from Jason Kerr Daubney, the Frederick P. Rose Curator of Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Dr. Phil Deloria, Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History at Harvard University.

For more information on Historic Strings: The Guitar in American Art and exhibition-related programs, visit VMFA.museum.

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