Jowi Taylor with the Six String Nation Guitar made from materials gathered from every province in Canada. Photo courtesy of Doug Nicholson/Six String Nation
Imagine running your fingers over Maurice The Rocket Richards Stanley Cup ring, touching Pierre Trudeaus canoe paddle or resting your hand on the lighthouse at Cape Race. Sounds like quite the journey, right? Now, imagine connecting with all those touchstones at once, within a single handspan. You can do just that on the Six String Nation Guitar, being displayed and played Sunday evening at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival.
The guitar is a six-string, made from 60 pieces of wood, metal and other materials gathered from every province in Canada. But its also an icon of a grassroots movement meant to string Canadians together.
Jowi Taylor, once the host of CBC Radios Global Village and a frequent radio host and producer, is the man behind the guitar. He explains the projects genesis, In 1995, the Referendum was upon us, or at least upon the people of Quebec, and they were being asked to choose between a narrowly defined version of Canada versus an idea of Quebec thats pretty strong. Like all Canadians, I had this sort of vague feeling that although we may not be able to define it well, there is something that Canada means. And if anything, it has to be a broad definition, not a narrow definition.
So, I wanted to do a project that expressed that. Something that would include everybody. That would include big stories and small stories and every part of the country. I wanted something that expressed that the whole country had to be there in order for it to function.
Then fate made its entrance in the form of a chance meeting with Nova Scotias master luthier George Rizsanyi. So I said, George, do you think you could build a guitar using wood from every part of Canada? And he said Id love to, Taylor says.
Representing a cross-section of the stories of a nation, then, was the goal for sourcing the guitars components. Some were meant to be national touchstones like Trudeaus canoe paddle and a bit of Louis Riels schoolhouse; things most people would know about. But, Taylor says, he wanted to make sure I didnt tell Canadians a story they already knew. I wanted to make sure it revealed parts of the country and character that maybe people werent familiar with, so maybe it would be a way to help people know Canada better.
From Newfoundland and Labrador, four fragments have been gathered. A piece of wood from the cabinet that houses the motor that drives the light at the Cape Race Lighthouse. A sliver of the Christmas Seal, that great ship used as a mobile TB clinic in the 1940s through 70s. Then theres a detail on the pick guard that is stained with red ochre from Conception Bay, plus Labradorite from Nain on the third and ninth fret.
At an event like the folk festival, the guitar has two purposes. One, it gets placed into the hands of local musicians who bring it to life and add their layer of story to it. Two, Taylors crew takes portraits of everyday folks with the guitar, which they send back to the people for free via e-mail. At this point weve done about 42,000 images of about 4,200 Canadians holding this guitar, from coast to coast.
Has Taylors goal of unity been achieved? Perhaps its too soon to tell. But, hes personally very pleased by it.
The response from people is just amazing, just astonishing. People get it. They totally get it. They see themselves reflected in it; they see the country reflected in it.
See Jowi Taylor and Six String Nation Guitar at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival Sunday
at 11 p.m.
For more, go to www.nlfolk.com or www.sixstringnation.com.