Francie Klopotic stands in front of her Van Gogh inspired piano at Augusta University. Charmain Z.  Brackett/Augusta Good News
Francie Klopotic stands in front of her Van Gogh inspired piano at Augusta University. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

Gogh play the newest painted piano

Inspired by Vincent Van Gogh, Francie Klopotic created one of her more challenging art pieces at the end of 2023.

On March 20, her painted piano found its new home outside Augusta University’s Washington Hall.

“Starry Night is my favorite Van Gogh painting,” said Klopotic, who incorporated its familiar swirls as well as a portrait of Van Gogh and some of his signature sunflowers into the piano’s decor.

She also added a few puns in her piece by painting “Gogh play music” on the outside of the fallboard and “Lend me your ear” on its inside.

The trickiest part came in painting Van Gogh’s likeness, she said.

“When I’m doing portraits, I’m used to moving my canvas around,” she said.

FILE ART: A festival goer stops to play the painted piano outside the Miller Theater at the Arts in the Heart Festival on Sept. 16, 2023. Mike Adams/Augusta Good News

The Jessye Norman School of the Arts started its painted piano project, originally called Project Forte, in 2018. The roots of the project go into research that Gary Dennis, the school’s executive director, did while working with the Greater Augusta Arts Council.

“We saw all of these public art projects and painted pianos was one of them. They had painted horses in Aiken; why not pianos in Augusta?” he said.

He was further inspired by artist Troy Campbell, who did an exhibition at the J.B. White’s Building using a deconstructed piano.

But it was stoked by Jamie Garvey at St. John United Methodist Church across Greene Street from the school when she called him and said she had two 125-year-old pianos that were heading to the landfill unless he wanted them.

 With some help, Dennis rushed across the street and pushed the pianos into the confines of the school where they sat for about a year.

A couple of the painted pianos found their way outside the school building on the corner of Greene and Eighth Streets. Dennis said the building didn’t have any identifying features and people were curious as to what went on inside. The signature pieces gave at hint into its arts’ mission.

From 2018 to 2023 more than a dozen pianos were painted and placed around town. Some still remain, such as the ones at the Miller Theater, Cyber Center, Augusta & Co. and Doctors Hospital. Others, such as the James Brown piano that was located outside the Book Tavern before the business moved, have been decommissioned.

Calvin Cotledge plays the saxophone in front of the painted piano at Augusta & Co. on April 2, 2023. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

“The James Brown piano got a lot of wear and tear. I have 100 or 200 videos of people coming up and playing it. It’s gratifying seeing someone enjoying it. It adds a splash of color too,” he said.

When the piano is decommissioned, its panels are removed and some have received a third life as benches, he said.

Dennis said he thought the Staci Swider piano that was dedicated in January 2023 would be the last, but the opportunity to commission three additional pianos came through a Porter Fleming Foundation grant in 2024. Klopotic is one of three artists to be commissioned. Other pianos will be painted by Tripp Gustin and Adeana Berry.

“The thing I’ve always loved is this walks the walk of our organizational mission. When we tell a kid, they can make a living being an artist we want to take every opportunity we get to commission an artist,” Dennis said.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at charmain@augustagoodnews.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.

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