I'm currently consulting with the Tampa Bay History Center as they move to a new building and design their permanent exhibition program. A new facility will open in December, 2008 and one area of the Museum, entitled Cigar City, will chronicle the establishment, growth/decline and enduring heritage of Tampa's cigar making industry.
Cigar City will exhibit this piece of folk art: a hand-made guitar fashioned from a cigar box, recycled mandolin pieces, and some piano wire. As the exhibition developed, this item became one of my favorite objects due to its emotive potential.
Representing the intersection of industry and immigrant life in Tampa during the city's cigar-making heyday, visitors will be invited to contemplate the "voice" of this simple instrument:
- Who may have assembled the guitar from the basic materials that were found in any of the 300 cigar factories that once formed the growing "skyline" of Tampa?
- Who's tobacco-stained fingers, weary from a day's work of rolling over 1oo cigars, may have still found the energy and dexterity to navigate the narrow neck of the tiny guitar?
- Who may have been drawn by the music, perhaps to one of the accommodating porches of the simple, white cassitas that the factory owners built for their growing workforce?
- Did the guitar help to celebrate a Spanish wedding? Did it usher in a new generation of Italian-Americans at a baptism? Did it participate in a street-side demonstration of a burgeoning force of Cuban insurrectos?
- And finally, who recognized that this seemingly unimportant piece of "tramp art" was a witness to Tampa's history and had the foresight to know that, as a powerful storyteller, it deserved to be kept among the prized items in the Tampa Bay History Center's collection?