The Story of the Curiouser & Curiouser Piano
In 2013, The Kretzer Foundation funded an event called Keys to the Cities in Palm Beach County, Florida. They commissioned 16 juried artists to revamp discarded pianos to give them a new lease of life. I was one of the artists, and I chose an upright piano to build my design: The Curiouser & Curiouser Piano.
My Original Design
Here’s my original concept art for the piano, sketched by hand, then scanned and partially rendered in Adobe Photoshop, using a Wacom Cintiq Tablet.
The actual piano I ended up painting, was a Wurlitzer console style, which is not as high standing as the piano I designed for. It also had some unique features, like long, pillar-like front legs. So my actual design changed somewhat from the original concept.
Building the Framework
It took 2 months to complete the piano, start to finish. After receiving the piano, courtesy of Kretzer Pianos, I began updating my concept to include hidden doors that could be opened to reveal various surprises. With the help of Rick Nuthman in the workshop, we also designed a new music stand to match the theme, and added a solid back to the piano….something more viable to paint a mural on, since the piano back was mostly fabric.
Painting the Piano
I masked the piano keys with tape, then primed the piano with flat white emulsion before beginning the design. I painted 2 coats of primer and let it sit for 2 days before beginning to paint my design. I like to do this to make sure it has dried off properly before getting it wet again with more paint and water.
I loosely sketch my artwork with watered down paint to start. Then began under-painting it with flat color. Under-paint gives even coverage to the top coat of paint, and the colors you use emanate through the top coat, so even though you can’t see under-painting properly when a painting is finished, it is still affecting the final look.
I pre-mixed several colors that I knew I would need in volume. Paint color is very difficult to match exactly after you have hand mixed a batch. So this saved me time later when touch-ups were required.
I painted a mirror gold and fixed it to the underside of the piano, along with a secret door where a giant Alice is peeking.
The music stand became an orchard of heart shaped trees bearing heart shaped fruit, with the Queen of Heart’s card soldiers picking the fruit. There’s a tiny secret door on the console, which can be opened to reveal a potion pot.
I painted more of the Queen’s card soldiers playing around on the sides of the piano, just for fun.
Alice is featured on the main back panel, with Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dee, The Caterpillar, and The March Hare. The Queen’s castle is in the background, and a giant mushroom houses a secret door that contains a copy of Lewis Carol’s book, “Through the Looking Glass”, featuring all the Alice in Wonderland characters.
The Mad hatter is featured on one side of the main body of the piano.
The Queen of Hearts is featured on the other side.
I put the Cheshire Cat’s smile on the lid of the piano, so that when it is lifted, he appears in the sky above Alice on the back panel.
I painted a maze on the piano seat and rendered the legs gold, to match front legs of the piano.
When I finished the painting, I glazed the piano with a clear, gloss, weather resistant varnish. I let the varnish dry for 3 days.
The piano was unveiled, along with 15 others, at a grand ceremony in West Palm Beach Bayfront Pavilion. The event was attended by several Mayors, many guests, and all 16 artists dressed in the theme of their pianos. Of course, I went dressed like Alice.
A local youth band performed at the event, and 16 Kretzer pianists opened the ceremony by playing all 16 pianos in synchrony.
My piano went on display for 2 weeks outside the West Palm Beach Library, where kids played it, and on it.
Unfortunately, the lid of the piano was left up during a rain storm, and the piano inside was destroyed beyond repair. Happily, because I primed and varnished the piano properly, the external body was left intact and all my artwork remained in perfect condition.
The staff at Kretzer Piano decided to restore the inside of the piano, and begun the lengthy process of removing the insides, with the intent of installing an electric piano. Some local students joined the staff to help with the process.
The piano remained in Kretzer Piano’s show room in Jupiter, waiting for a new voice, but at least got to stay on display while the right shaped keyboard is found to reside in it.
In 2016, the team at Kretzer Piano finally found the right electric piano to fit in the Wurlitzer body of my Alice piano and work begun on the restoration. Since being fully restored, the piano has begun a life of being played and displayed around Palm Beach Country. I’m so grateful to the Kretzer team for giving my work a second lease at life. I’m sure the Wurlitzer body would be thankful for all its revamps if it could talk. It certainly has been through a lot!