Alistair Hay, founder of Emerald Guitars, travelled to the Tibetan region of China to have one of his custom guitars decorated with Eastern philosophy art for a customer in Chicago.
The Donegal-based luthier, who has been building carbon fiber guitars for customers all over the world for 15 years, called upon the assistance of an old friend living in China for the job of beautifully decorating this one-off nine-string guitar.
Alistair first met Canadian artist Kristel Tenzin Dolma Ouwehand in Donegal over two decades ago while she was travelling the world funding herself through her art. When Alistair received a request for one of his guitars to feature Eastern philosophy art, the Donegal man, as always, went the distance for his customer. In 1992 Kristel had left Alistair’s St Johnston home leaving him with a painting which had a profound effect on him and became a symbol for his own personal journey.
Alistair said: “She came and stayed in our house for a few days and in return she painted a picture of a horse for me. It was a beautiful picture depicting the horse with a flowing mane and tail galloping in the wind and it has held pride of place ever since.”
For Alistair, Kristel was the only person who would do this unique project justice and so, accompanied by cameraman, Alan McLaughlin, he set out for China last month.
“What is so exciting about this project is that it was a lot of different life experiences of mine coming together to allow this to happen. It brought a story full circle; that first connection with Kristel, all those years ago, reconnecting with her in her new home in China and creating a very special piece for one of our customers,” said Alistair.
The Amdo Art Project, located in the monastery town of Labrang, hosts eight full-time students, young Tibetans of nomadic decent, who join the academy for a five-year term honing their skills as artists under the tutelage of Kristel. The artist took the brief outlined by Alistair’s customer and completed a beautiful mural on the guitar, taking inspiration from various sources.
Alistair said: “Brendan had a vision for a guitar with Asian artwork depicting his favorite philosophers. We chose a Shan Shui-style with a river running through it as the central theme. The inspiration for the river design came from a 300-year-old mural inside the Labrang monastery, giving it a strong local connection. The artwork, philosophers and styles span various different cultures reflecting the global nature of this guitar spanning three continents in its creation. Water, being the central theme, became very significant as this guitar led to us being able to help install water facilities for the academy.”
While Kristel decorated the guitar, Alistair and Alan showed their appreciation for their hosts’ hospitality by assisting in doing much-needed plumbing work.
He said: “When we arrived the academy’s whole courtyard was dug up to lay in water pipes as part of a group water scheme. Their plan was to simply add an outside tap and replace their pit toilet with a flushable toilet.”
Over the course of nine days the hands-on Donegal men helped not only add a new sceptic tank, but also means for further facilities, including a kitchen sink, shower, washing machine and solar-powered hot water.
“I have always said we are not just a company that makes guitars, we’re a company that makes stories. We always work with our customers to make a memorable experience and create something special for them.”
Now back home, Alistair will complete the unique guitar before its new owner visits Donegal in person to pick up his masterpiece in the coming months.
“Brendan was looking for a special instrument that reflected his life and music. Little did he know how much impact the building of this guitar would have on so many lives,” he said.
For more information about Emerald Guitars please visit their website at www.emeraldguitars.com
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