“Freeman Vines has been building guitars for fifty years, and no two of them are alike. While a commercial guitar company like Gibson or Fender seeks uniformity in their instruments, Vines seeks singularity. He doesn’t force his raw material into a predetermined form. Instead, he follows its lead. He closely considers the unique qualities of the wood and allows his own artistic spirit to connect with its character and its history.
“This material might be an old mule trough, a torn down tobacco barn, or a broken piano. Or it might be a hanging tree.”
That hanging tree is said to be the black walnut at which Oliver Moore was hanged in 1930, the last official lynching in Wilson County. Folklorist and photographer Timothy Duffy, founder of Music Maker Relief Foundation, has spent years with Vines, chronicling his craft. Hanging Tree Guitars emerged from Vines and Duffy’s collaboration with folklorist Zoe Van Buren.
A review at the Foundation’s digital exhibit of Vines’ work: “To meet Freeman Vines is to meet America itself. An artist, a luthier and a spiritual philosopher, Vines’ life is a roadmap of the truths and contradictions of the American South. He remembers the hidden histories of the eastern North Carolina land on which his family has lived since enslavement. For over 50 years Vines has transformed materials culled from a forgotten landscape in his relentless pursuit of building a guitar capable of producing a singular tone that has haunted his dreams. From tobacco barns, mule troughs, and radio parts he has created hand-carved guitars, each instrument seasoned down to the grain by the echoes of its past life. In 2015 Vines befriends photographer Timothy Duffy and the two begin to document the guitars, setting off a mutual outpouring of the creative spirit. But when Vines acquires a mysterious stack of wood from the site of a lynching, Vines and Duffy find themselves each grappling with the spiritual unrest and the psychic toll of racial violence living in the very grain of America.”