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Painted pianos project for downtown Aztec gaining traction

Idea was introduced by City Commissioner Rosalyn Fry

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • At least four painted pianos will be stationed at locations throughout downtown Aztec.
  • The pianos have been donated by local citizens.
  • Local artists are painting the pianos.

FARMINGTON — Even though the COVID-19 shutdown has thrown a kink into her plans, an Aztec city commissioner continues to make progress on a project designed to bring a splash of art and music to the city's downtown district.

For the past several months, Commissioner Rosalyn Fry has been working on a plan to bring a handful of pianos to locations throughout downtown, where they would be stationed outside businesses willing to accommodate them. The pianos would be painted by local artists, and visitors to the district would be invited to play them.

Fry said she got the idea a couple of years ago after visiting Portland, Oregon, where her son lives in a suburb. She recalled with delight how she stumbled across a scene on a downtown street in which several pedestrians were gathered around a piano painted with a raccoon motif. A local musician was seated at the piano and was playing classical music while members of the crowd took selfies with him or shot video of his performance.

Artist Timithy Gordon displays the piano he is painting in his home workshop for a project envisioned by City Commissioner Rosalyn Fry.

"I thought, 'Huh — I wonder if we couldn't do that in Aztec,'" Fry recalled.

After returning home, Fry wrote a post on Facebook explaining her desire to bring the painted pianos idea to Aztec. She said she would happily buy the first piano herself and donate it to the cause.

It didn't take long for the idea to catch fire. Fry said four pianos were offered for donation in short order, and several local business owners expressed a willingness to serve as a host site for an instrument.

Timithy Gordon adds detail to a piano bench he is painting in his home workshop in Aztec.

Progress has slowed in recent weeks as the coronavirus pandemic reached New Mexico, but Fry is confident the shutdown is only a temporary impediment to completion of the project. Initial plans called for the first piano to be unveiled in the downtown plaza by the end of May or early June, and Fry said that ceremony has been delayed indefinitely.

"We'll have to see what the status is of the (shutdown)," she said. "We're trying to work out those details."

The pianos won't be put in place, unveiled and made available to the public until it is safe to do so, she said.

"Our plan was for people to come up and play them," Fry said. "But we're kind of challenged by the situation, and we want to make sure we follow the appropriate rules to make sure we're safe."

Timithy Gordon's painted piano features scenes from Aztec Ruins National Monument, including this depiction of the Great Kiva.

In the meantime, local artists are being lined up to treat the instruments as they would a canvas, with Aztec painter Timithy Gordon already well on his way to covering the first piano in Aztec Ruins imagery.

"It's just beautiful," Fry said of Gordon's contribution to the project.

Artist Timithy Gordon says he initially wasn't eager to paint one of the pianos included in City Commissioner Rosalyn Fry's project, but he later warmed to the idea.

Gordon, a member of the Feat of Clay artists co-op gallery in downtown Aztec, was skeptical when Fry approached the group to ask if any of its member artists would be interested in taking part.

"At first, I was, 'Neeaaahh' about it, but then I got to thinking about it and thought, 'What the heck, why not?'" he said. "I called her and told her I'd do it."

Gordon said it took him a month or so to figure out how he wanted to represent Aztec on the piano to which he was assigned. He finally settled on the idea of painting scenes from Aztec Ruins National Monument on his instrument.

Artist Timithy Gordon adds detail to a piano bench he is painting in the workshop of his Aztec home.

"There's nothing in Aztec as synonymous with Aztec Ruins as Aztec Ruins is," he said.

But his work was only beginning. Gordon estimated he has spent four to five hours a day working on the project since late March. First, he had to sand down the piano to remove the outer layer of lacquer so he could repaint the piano with watercolors. Second, he added a layer of primer, then he sketched out the scenes he wanted to paint after visiting the ruins and spending several hours photographing them.

When he is done, the final step will involve adding a clear outer finish to protect the wood and the paint from the elements.

Fry said all the pianos are playable, and anyone who wants to sit down before one of them and pound out a tune will be welcome to do so. The locations where they will be stationed haven't been determined yet, but Fry said it is likely one of them will be put in the plaza just north of Rubia's Mexican restaurant, and a handful of other businesses throughout downtown have expressed interest in having one.

Artist Timithy Gordon displays a photo of a window at Aztec Ruins National Monument that he will paint on the right side of his piano.

The pianos will each have a cover custom made for them, and Fry said plans call for them to be stored inside each night and wheeled outside the next morning. The pianos will only be placed outside during good weather, she said.

Portland isn't the only city that has launched a painted pianos project, Fry said, noting that various communities around the world have adopted the idea, including several towns in Colorado. She expects the idea to be well received in Aztec as city officials continue their efforts to rejuvenate downtown.

"I'm very excited about the response we have gotten," she said.

Fry expressed her gratitude to everyone who has been involved in the project, especially those who have donated the pianos – Tracy McGinnes, Angela Wennerberg-Jenkins and Annette Tidwell Abend. Abend donated an antique player piano that Fry was able to trade to the Aztec Senior Center for two regular pianos.

Scenes from Aztec Ruins National Monument are featured on a piano artist Timithy Gordon is painting for a project envisioned by Aztec City Commissioner Rosalyn Fry.

She said if the project proves to be popular and more donors come forward, other pianos will be added.

The project has come at minimal cost to the city of Aztec. Lowe's Home Improvement store donated the paints the artists are using on the pianos, and the artists all have agreed to paint the pianos at no cost. Fry said the city has set aside $2,700 for the project to get the pianos tuned, pay for the covers and even hire professional musicians to play them when they are dedicated.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com.