Published by The Bitter Southerner, Out September 1
For over fifty years Freeman Vines has transformed materials culled from a forgotten landscape in his relentless pursuit of building a guitar capable of producing a singular tone that has haunted his dreams, including a series using wood from a tree used for lynchings. Following his museum debut in February 2020 in the group exhibition We Will Walk: Art & Resistance in the American South at the Turner Contemporary in England and spotlights on Forbes.com and in the Guardian, Freeman Vines’ work and words will be featured in his new book Hanging Tree Guitars. The book also features tintype photography by Timothy Duffy and a reflection by renowned self-taught visual artist and musician Lonnie Holley.
An artist, a luthier, and a spiritual philosopher, Freeman Vines’ life is a roadmap of the truths and contradictions of the American South. He remembers the hidden histories of the eastern North Carolina land on which his family has lived since enslavement. From tobacco barns, mule troughs, and radio parts he creates hand-carved guitars, each instrument seasoned down to the grain by the echoes of its past life.
“Vines’ work is rooted in the black southern experience [via a] tangible, horrific link between the artist and America’s recent past.”
The book features photographs of Vines’ sculptural works, mostly guitars, some of which are made from the wood of a tree that was purportedly used to lynch Oliver Moore in 1930. Though it may never be conclusively established that Vines’ wood actually came from the tree on which Moore was hung, Vines believes his guitars and the music they make give expression to the spirit, and agony, of those who died, helping to defuse the terror that his community has lived with for generations.
“Vines is a total original. His guitars are ritual objects with holy powers.”
–Alan Gurganus (NY Times Bestselling author)
Hanging Tree Guitars is a collaboration between Freeman Vines, photographer Timothy Duffy, and folklorist Zoe Van Buren. Duffy’s photographs, which were on display at the New Orleans Museum of Art last year, are juxtaposed with Vines’ own words from years of interview audio.
Van Buren writes, “Vines and Duffy have since embarked on a relationship of artistic exchange that has transformed their respective bodies of work.” Duffy says that he planned for his shoots for six months just absorbing and taking in Vines and his work.
Vines’ first solo exhibition will premiere in his home community at the Greenville Museum of Art in June 2020 and will also be accessible as an online exhibit. The exhibition received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts and will tour nationally for the next five years.
As founder of the N.C. based nonprofit Music Maker Relief Foundation, Duffy has partnered with Vines since 2015. The foundation has provided Vines a proper studio in which to work and medical treatment for his diabetes. Music Maker’s mission is to help elderly musicians in need while educating the public about America’s musical heritage. Music Maker’s exhibitions have reached over 500,000 people with installations in more than 50 museums and cultural institutions nationally since 2014.
“Hanging Tree Guitars is a haunting book that blends the eloquent voice of Freeman Vines with photographs of his guitars – some carved from a tree where a black man was lynched. The book is a grim reminder that race defines both Freeman Vines’ life and our own. Tim Duffy’s photographs bring a dreamlike quality to the book and underscore its timeless power.”
–Dr. William R. Ferris (Grammy winner & former chairman of the NEH)