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Featured Story: Reduce, reuse, rock on
Guelph Guitar Project tunes into local culture
By Johnny Roberts
Documenting history can sometimes involve remanufacturing nature — or, in other words, putting the pieces back together again. But what if those pieces are what some would call garbage? A University of Guelph researcher has discovered that by collecting unwanted materials and combining them with valued objects, something beautiful, educational, meaningful and even musical can be created.
Integrative biology professor Doug Larson spent more than 1,000 hours collecting discarded materials in and around the Guelph area for what’s become known as the Guelph Guitar Project. It’s an initiative designed to spread knowledge of culture and to help us see ourselves reflected in just about anything.
Larson is visiting elementary and secondary schools in Guelph to share with them the stories behind the instrument’s construction. “This guitar invites stories to be told that would otherwise be lost.”
He says this is important not only for music but also for explaining culture, history and research — something that resonates even more given that a lot of the guitar’s 3,500 pieces (many of which he calls “cultural artifacts”) had been discarded.
Among the instrument’s many pieces are:
* a nail from the University’s first gymnasium (placed in the headstock of the guitar);
* part of an 1877 advertisement for Sleeman Breweries (headstock);
* the plastron (stomach plate) of a wood turtle once studied by professor emeritus Ron Brooks of the Department of Integrative Biology (pickguard);
* a leather desk blotter from the Ontario Agricultural College (guitar strap);
* a regimental belt buckle from the 11th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery (guitar strap); and
* leftover fabric from Biltmore hats (guitar strap).
The guitar body contains various wooden materials, including pieces of the Priory, the first building constructed in Guelph, and part of a tree that was planted on the University’s Johnston Green in 1880 and was killed during a storm in 2007. A large section of American chestnut was donated to the project by integrative biology professor Brian Husband and his graduate student John Gerrath, who have done extensive studies on the tree.
The most recent addition to the guitar is a diamond donated by Greg Buzbuzian, co-owner of Knar Jewellery. The nearly flawless gem, which came from Canada’s first diamond mine, the Ekati Mine, is now part of the guitar’s headstock.
Larson says each piece tells its own tale about the evolution of culture, art history, biology and physics, all of which are related to U of G and the city of Guelph.
“I believe the arts and sciences to be the same thing. They shouldn’t be divided into separate planes of knowledge. Rather, they should be perceived as two equal entities that can be connected to one another.”
Among the many contributors to this project were the University of Guelph through Prof. Steven Liss, associate vice-president (research services); the City of Guelph; and John Sleeman of Sleeman Breweries Ltd.