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Local Artist Pen Morrison Celebrates Guitar Pickers and Their Guitars

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One of the most pleasant discoveries at last weekend's iFest was the guitar sculpture of local graphic designer and political junkie Pen Morrison. A Yankee who came south to college and fell in love with all things Southern -- especially blues and gospel music -- Morrison began the "Guitars" series with a piece she contributed to a benefit auction.

That piece led to her first commission.

"Someone from Whole Foods saw the piece I did for KPFT. In fact, Sandy from the "Dead Air" show bought it. So suddenly I found myself looking for a perfect subject for the new Whole Foods store."

"I wanted to do something locally oriented, and Lightnin' had lived in Fourth Ward for a time, so I just thought he was the perfect subject for the commission," says Morrison from her studio on Ashland in the Heights.

"And I found that lyric, 'If you steal my chickens you can't make 'em lay,' and thought there was something political and forceful in that statement. I like my art to say something."

The first female to take woodshop at her high school -- "I destroyed many a band-saw blade" -- Morrison, who worked closely with City Councilwoman Eleanor Tinsley during her council tenure, carefully researches the guitars before she traces them on sheet metal and cuts them out with a plasma cutter.

"I want the shape of the instrument to be as exact as I can get it," Morrison explains. "I had to really dig deep to find out the guitar that George Harrison used when writing 'My Sweet Lord.' And I really loved that National Steel that Son House played."

Along with the Hopkins piece, the series contains pieces on Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Son House, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins, T-Bone Walker, Johnny Cash and two different George Harrison pieces. She says she has Texas Johnny Brown and Milton Hopkins on her to-do list.

One of Morrison's big supporters has been local artist Carlos Hernandez, whose Day of the Dead Rock Stars series was featured in the latest edition of Texas Music. Hernandez helped arrange a Morrison show at Cactus Music.

"The guitars are very much my homage to the old-school blues guys," says the feisty Morrison, who was the first female to take a weight-lifting class at University of Florida. "There's a dignity in what they did. They never really got their proper due and they would've done it whether they got paid or not. It was who they were, and that's something I want to show respect for."

Because the guitars are made of metal, Morrison is often asked if the pieces are suitable for outdoor art. Simple answer: no.

"These are really indoor sculptures," Morrison explains. "The guitar is steel, but other parts are wooden. So they aren't designed for standing up to the elements."

Morrison also has a gospel series titled "Bibles." The centerpiece is always a cover from an old bible.

"That's my tribute to the great female gospel singers," she explains. "That music, that spirit, it just moves you."

Morrison, who has had a long career as an ad agency art director, will have the entire guitar series on show again this weekend in the fine arts area behind the courthouse. Prices range from $450-900.

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