GLENS FALLS -- Musician Stephen Gallucci might one day be named the patron saint of American pianos.
“This piano was thrown in a back room ready to be junked. It was on its side, and the lid was cracked,” Gallucci said, lovingly admiring the now restored baby grand, a Bradbury built in the 1930s in New York.
The piano, which has a temporary home at UnCorked Glens Falls, is a link to the golden age of American piano manufacturing, which started in the Victorian age and lasted for more than 50 years. During the heyday of the industry, thousands of small firms produced millions of pianos. In fact, Americans supplied more than half the world market for pianos, and domestic sales were as high as 364,000 instruments per year.
Today, most of the instruments have either been destroyed or are destined for landfills.
But Gallucci has another vision.
Working with Glens Falls artist Esmond Lyons, he hopes to bring a greater appreciation to the musical artifacts — one piano at a time.
“Esmond and I got into restoring lesser-known American piano brands because we both were appalled by people junking them. For example, if they were not Steinways or Mason & Hamlins, they would just get thrown out. To me, all of the thousands of American piano companies that existed are just as important, and they all have something unique to offer,” he said.
The refurbished Bradbury will find a permanent residence in the fall. The piano is being raffled as a benefit for Art in the Public Eye, and the winner will be announced in November during the nonprofit’s annual autumn party.
“The piano is beautiful and uniquely restored,” said Liz Wilcox, president of the arts organization. “We will be planning a few events during the year to showcase the piano by having musicians play it.”
Before iPods and even vinyl records, pianos were the center of entertainment in most homes.
“This piano represents the last epoch of self-sufficiency in America,” Lyons said. “We just want to find a really great home for it. I want it to go to someone who has an aesthetic awareness. We think music and art are good buddies.”
As an artist who has spent most of his life working with his hands, Lyons appreciated the instrument’s lines and craftsmanship.
“This is a fairly rare piano. This is a piece of history that needs to be honored,” he said.
Gallucci carefully refurbished the vintage piano, and Lyons finished it with a decorative paint job, including landscape tableaus and vinegar graining.
“You’re looking at about 12 to 14 coats of paint,” Lyons said as he ran his hand across the surface. “This is the first piano I’ve painted. The design is from my repertoire of reproduction work I have done in the past. It’s intended to match the period.”
The painted scenes are immediately recognizable as the Adirondacks, although Lyons said he didn’t base the work on any specific locales.
“I have millions of images of the Adirondacks and Lake George in my mind,” he said.
He also added a touch of whimsy to the piece.
“I like to put in a few quirkier things of my own, like a female Flamenco guitarist,” he said.
The ornately painted instrument had a grand public debut during Memorial Day weekend. Jonathan Newell performed his original composition, “The Discovery of Isaac Jogues,” a piece written to honor the discovery of Lake George in 1646 by the French Jesuit priest, on the piano in a concert at Sacred Heart Church in Lake George.
“That whole day was a blessing. It was a great crowd — and a great instrument,” Newell said. “Sacred Heart didn’t have a piano, and Stephen (Gallucci) wanted to hear it in a real setting — and it happened to have Lake George images painted on it by Esmond Lyons. The piano easily cut through the 10-piece chamber orchestra I had assembled and had a beautiful tonal quality.”
Bradbury pianos may not be as cherished as Steinways today, but the brand certainly struck a cord with musicians during the peak of their production. In the 1920s, “The Blue Book of Pianos” praised the instrument.
“One of the great names in the American piano industry ... it attained to a place very high in the world of art,” a passage states. “It is an instrument of the highest grade. The materials which enter into its construction are of the finest, the scale is recognized by experts to be of peculiar sweetness and power, and the Bradbury has been the favorite with numberless critics and pianists.”
Gallucci and Lyons also have collaborated on the restoration of a Franklin piano, which was built in New York City before the mid-1930s.
“I’m trying to resurrect American pianos,” Gallucci said. “I’ve inherited these trades and crafts, and it’s becoming a dying art.”