Opening of the Freeman Vines exhibition in Portsmouth – The Virginian-Pilot

A new exhibition has opened at the Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center showcasing luthier Freeman Vine and the haunting guitars he carved from the wood of a ‘lyncher tree’ used in the murder of a black man a while ago over 90 years old.

The de Vines family grew up on land in eastern North Carolina, where his ancestors previously farmed and were plantation slaves. Despite the lack of formal education, the family produced many musicians.

Vines’ siblings, the Glorifying Vines Sisters, toured as a gospel group, and he traveled playing guitar. During a stop on the gospel circuit, Vines heard a sound that would haunt and eventually consume him.

“It’s a tone where you’re part of the sound — it turns you into part of the music, like a vibrating string,” he told Smithsonian Magazine in 2020.

Vines began making guitars in an effort to recreate that sound, using recycled materials from old buildings and wrecked items.

At Vines, every tree has a soul, and its wood carries its spirit, evoking the history of its use. This spirit is expressed in every guitar made by Vines. He says that unlike a Gibson, for example, with an even sound, his guitars all have a sound of their own.

Vines once bought two planks of a black walnut tree, all that was left of a ‘hanging tree’ – also known as a ‘lynching tree’ – where a black man was killed 90 years ago . The energy of these boards touched him deeply.

He later met photographer and Music Maker Relief Foundation founder Timothy Duffy — another life-changing event, he says.

Tintype photographs of Duffy de Vines and his “Hanging Tree Guitars” will be on display at the exhibition and featured in a new book.

As for Vines, it continues its 50-year quest for “the sound” – a personal tone and a sonic identity all its own.

The exhibition was organized by the Music Maker Relief Foundation.

The Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center, housed in the 1846 courthouse, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, call 757-393-8543 or visit www.portsmouthartcenter.com.

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