There’s very little left of the old piano in Patricia Burnett’s basement studio.
And what remains looks more like a skeleton that has been picked over by scavengers than a once-elegant musical instrument.
It was a bit of a mercy killing, really. By the time the Langley artist got her hands on it, the piano, built in the mid-1800s, had played its last note thanks to a broken soundboard.
But, thanks to Burnett, it’s life was far from over.
A pianist, singer and visual artist, Burnett saw potential — if not in the piano itself — in its collection of parts, at least.
She had the donated instrument brought to her south Brookswood home studio three years ago, where she “went at it with vice grips and a saw,” dismantling it to create dozens of one-of-a-kind retro jewelry pieces.
The first parts of the piano to catch her artist’s eye were the genuine ivory keys. Today, a piano’s white keys are usually made of a plastic called bakelite, she explained, but when Burnett’s instrument was built, ivory from elephant tusks was still the material of choice.
“By reclaiming the ivory, I’m giving it a second use,” she said.
And in doing so, she said, she’s paying “tribute to the poor elephant that gave its life and (offering) a reminder of why we don’t use it anymore,” Burnett added.
From its keys — both ebony and ivory — to its copper wire and its actions (wood pieces) Burnett has used almost every part of the piano to create necklaces, earrings and brooches.
Once she has stripped away the last usable piece, the artist plans to make a jewelry display from the frame.
And she can certainly use it. Her studio is part workshop, part jewelry store. Across from the piano’s dismembered remains are numerous tables and shelves, all piled high with completed pieces that marry metal and glass, ivory, paper, wood, crystal and leather, to create wearable original art.
“I like to use as many natural products as I can. I think it displays better,” she said.
She’s used autoharp, cello and trumpet pieces as well. “I like to use really old instruments,” explained Burnett.
“I look at everything on the instrument and see what’s moveable and check the weight of it.”
“But I’m focusing on pianos, because I feel that’s my instrument. It’s what I play.”
It can take up to 10 hours to make a special piece, but on average, Burnett’s practised hands spend about four hours on each one.
With some, she includes tattered bits of old sheet music. For others, copper wires are pounded out and shaped into intricate designs.
“Six years ago, I had never strung a bead,” Burnett said.
“I’d always been a musician. Also, a hoarder of old jewelry and collectibles.”
Since she draws, paints, plays both piano and guitar, sings and teaches music history, jewelry making seemed like a logical next step for the artist.
Her business, Funky Cool Patina, also offers a ‘Patina Punk’ line, which incorporates chains and pieces of old watches for an industrial flair. She also creates Asian-themed pieces and ‘50s and ‘60s-inspired ‘retro’ jewelry, among other lines.
But she’s not afraid to admit to playing favourites.
“With my musical stuff, I think I’m finding my place now,” she said.
It’s a natural fit for someone who grew up in a musical household, with no fewer than five pianos for Burnett, her sisters and her mother to practise on.
As a teenager, she went on to study classical piano in Victoria, amidst opera singers and violinists.
“At 17, I finished school and went on the road with a rock and roll band.”
Junction travelled across North America for eight years before becoming a house band at Newlands Golf and Country Club for another quarter century.
And, as a single mother, Burnett taught piano during the day and sang in the band at night.
“Music has kept coming into my life,” she said.
And it looks as though it will keep on coming.
Right now, there is another donated piano waiting in Aldergrove to be picked up.
“All (the owner) wants in trade — because it was her grandmother’s piano — is a piece of jewelry.”
Anyone who ends up purchasing jewelry made from the piano will learn its history, because Burnett includes a written background with each creation.
“Once I started putting them out there, I wanted to give the story (behind each piece) — its age, what part of the instrument it is,” she said.
She’s also begun to do custom work for people with a specific vision.
“Some people ask me to make a piece with a certain word on it.”
With the the Christmas season approaching, Burnett, who displayed her work at the Langley Arts Council’s temporary gallery on Fraser Highway in the fall, is gearing up for a busy couple of months of shows and fairs.
But beyond that, the artist has big plans to get the word out about her collection.
“I want to go on Ellen — I think she’s great,” said Burnett, with a grin.
“I’m making her a necklace with tennis shoes.”
To view Burnett’s jewelry collection, visit funkycoolpatina.com.