Last night when we arrived in Raleigh, there was a flurry of activity by the statue of Sir Walter Raleigh in front of the Raleigh Convention Center. Bland Hoke and his team from Wyoming were setting up a temporary art installation that is all about banjos.
Hoke took a big stack of banjo parts and created a shell around the popular Raleigh icon, made entirely of cast off banjo necks and rims. His project, which he calls Banjostand, also incorporates a small stage perfect for jamming or congregating during the World of Bluegrass.
The project was prompted by a call for submissions from the Raleigh Arts Commission last year, offering a $25,000 grant for a temporary art exposition to tie in with the city’s support of the IBMA convention and festival downtown. Bland’s specialty is making art pieces from materials that would otherwise be discarded, and he struck gold when he got in touch with the folks at Deering Banjos.
He said that he started by contacting all the exhibitors who were listed in the 2013 WOB directory, asking if they might have any components or materials suitable for a display like this. Hoke hadn’t yet formulated his final design, but knew that what the city was after was an artistic theme to “activate” Sir Walter and make him jump out of his spot on this busy downtown intersection. He thought maybe he could do something with picks, until Deering told him they had several hundred banjo parts that they needed too recycle.
A trip to Deering in San Deigo, CA determined that they had 500 necks that had been rejected for banjos, plus a big pile of rims. Nobody at Deering had wanted to throw them away, so they had been collecting dust at the Deering facility for up to 10 years or more!
Now he had his materials, but still needed to complete a concept and get it approved by the Arts Commission. Bland said he had a vision for a band stand, and it won him the commission.
“In every rendering of Sir Walter Raleigh, you see two things. There always a feather in his cap, and he’s always wearing a ruffled collar. I saw the banjo necks as the feathers, and the rims as the collar.”
They fabricated the metal supports in their Wyoming shop, and then broke it all down to fit in a rental van for the long drive to North Carolina.
Hoke was trying to finish the last few details of installing the piece this morning – painting the stage deck, attaching skirting to the stage, and setting up lighting – but was consistently hampered by eager looky-loos who wanted to ask all sorts of questions. Eventually, he put up some caution tape so they could finish their work, but it didn’t help.
The entire piece had never been fully assembled before, and Bland and his crew told us that they haven’t even counted the necks and rims yet. He’s hoping someone else will do so and let him know.