Martin Guitars at the Met

CF Martin guitar, circa 1837-39, serial #1188, photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of ArtStarting this week, and running through the end of 2014, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is hosting a special exhibition of historic guitars from C.F. Martin.

Drawn from their own inventory of classic Martins, ones donated from the company’s collection and from a number of collectors, 35 rare and special guitars will be on display in the The André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments at the Met.

The focus of the exhibition is on the very early luthiery of Christian Frederick Martin, prior to the development of the large body dreadnaught and orchestra model instruments that are so familiar today. In fact, these may seem almost prehistoric, though most are between 150 and 190 years old.

In the catalog for Early American Guitars, The Instruments of C. F. Martin, the Met shares this thumbnail biography of the man who changed the guitar world forever.

1834 CF Martin guitar, displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, photo by John Sterling RuthBorn in 1796 to a cabinet maker in Markneukirchen, Saxony, Christian Frederick Martin learned to build guitars in the style of Johann Georg Stauffer in Vienna. Due to the restrictive guilds in Markneukirchen, Martin left his country in 1833 and settled first in New York City, then moved to Nazareth, Pennsylvania. In the United States, he encountered the Spanish-style guitar of the type that was made in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia. In a remarkable period of about 20 years, Martin went from building guitars in the Viennese tradition to encountering and copying Spanish-style guitars, to developing an original design that borrowed from both traditions and ultimately set a course for all American guitar-making that followed.

A pair of special educational programs for the public have been scheduled at the Met to highlight the exhibit. How Did They Do That?Early American Guitars for all ages on March 8 and 9, and a Sunday at the Met presentation on March 16.

The installation was organized by Jayson Kerr Dobney, Associate Curator in the Department of Musical Instruments.

The following photos are shared courtesy of the The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Thanks to Naomi Takafuchi for her assistance.


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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.