Painted Pianos Popping up on Main Street

Written by Kay Boothe

November 11, 2021

Roosting on a string of pearls, female birds patiently wait for another player. Credit Cathrine Parker

By Cathrine Parker

Inspiration can happen anywhere and that’s how a new public art installation of painted pianos popped up in Taylor, Texas.

Doug Moss of Public Sketch Development Group, spent over 30 years working in New York City as an architect. During the summer, the city hosts an outdoor exhibition of artist-created pianos across the city’s five boroughs. Sing for Hope encouraged people to sit, play and sing in park settings.

While in Taylor on an ongoing project, Moss was offered a free piano. At the time, he didn’t have plans for it so it sat in storage for over a year. Then in 2020, another piano popped up.

Then driving down Main Street, Moss saw another piano sitting outside the Karch Music store. Moss approached the owner, Klay Karch, the former bassist for the Kevin Fowler Band. Without a purpose, that piano made three.

Not just for the young, the young-at-heart enjoy the pianos popping up in the historic Taylor downtown.

Bringing the People Back Safely

In conjunction with the Taylor Public Arts Advisory Board, Moss wanted a way to bring people back to downtown Taylor after a year of quiet streets. As an outdoor installation, people can enjoy the pianos in a way that feels comfortable for each visitor.

“People are ready to get out,” Moss said.

The pianos were created by local artists and sit within walking distance of each other. Located under sidewalk canopies, each piano offers a seat along with weather-resistant sheet music.

Like any piece of art, B Shawn Cox signed his work. Credit: Catherine Parker

With a historic downtown and a rich sense of history, Taylor appeals to artists and start-ups, families and retirees. Boasting a residential area dense with historic homes, residents enjoy first name friendliness with the conveniences of living in the shadow of a large city.


Painted Piano Project in Taylor

In 2019, a group of civic minded residents came together as the Taylor Public Arts Advisory Board. According to Richard Stone, the Chair of the Taylor Public Arts Advisory Board, the goal of the board is to “foster the arts.”

With plans in place, the group had high hopes for 2020. Then events started cancelling like an avalanche. The group, like most, had to regroup and wait it out. Soon Moss reached out for assistance with his trio of pianos.

As an public arts installation it allowed for current safety concerns and the Painted Piano Project started to materialize. Of course, then another piano was pulled out of storage in downtown. Almost like the pianos were playing tunes on the wind inviting other instruments a chance to be enjoyed.

According to Stone, the Taylor board mirrors programs in other central Texas communities. Other communities found “public art serves economic development as well as artistic”.

The project aim to offer a “sense of place, sense of history and sense of humanity,” Stone said.

Birdsong by Judy Blundell

Painted in oils, like a fine arts piece, the birds on the Birdsong Piano offer backup for budding pianists. credit: Catherine Parker

Each piano offers a unique artistic impression under the eyes of its painter. This particular piano fell off the back of a moving truck and found itself in a nearby alley. After collecting dust for several years, it found its purpose—celebrating women for Women’s History Month in front of a building renovated under the watchful eye of a woman designer.

With a blue sky background, a wise tree offers supports for a collection of female birds, some roosting on a string of pearls. The woodpecker represents Emmeline Pankhurst, who organized the women’s suffragette in the U.K. The blue bird represents the Vice President Kamala Harris. The cardinal is Michelle Obama. The kingfisher is Greta Thunberg, the teenage environmental activist from Sweden. The hawk is U.S Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The piano was painted in oil in the plein air method, meaning created outdoors by Blundell, an oil painter was also trained in architecture. Find her piano next to the Texas Beer Company on 100 block of 2nd Street at Main Street.

Graeham Piano by Nick Ramos

Nick Ramos wanted a fun and approachable design to appeal to kids. credit: Richard Stone

The boldest Piano on Main is a traffic stopper, at a popular highway intersection. Since the painted piano was literally a block from Taylor’s skatepark, its artist wanted to “make it fun.”

Nick Ramos, originally from Brazil, spends the majority of his day in front of his computer creating one-of-a-kind graphics for cities and nonprofits. So when Doug Moss approached him, Ramos was all in.

According to Ramos, his antique piano had a floral detail on the front panel that seemed distracting. So he decided it needed a pair of glasses and the design grew from there. Ramos “wanted to appeal to kids and make it approachable.”

Behind the Buddy Holly glasses glare blue eyes under the wave of orange and cadmium yellow hair. With a pair of audio engineer headphones, the character of his piano looks like it could have been found on pages of the comic book.

According to Ramos, the piano might have wanted to play mischief during its transformation. For several days during its outdoor painting process, the wind blew out of the north. At times so strong, it was literally blowing the paint off the brush. At one point, Ramos had to chase his roll of paper towels down Main Street as it unrolled. Clocking a total of 24 hours over four days, Ramos interacted with curious pedestrians and waved to cars that sometimes honked.

“I realize that art is a luxury and art is important,” Ramos said. Find his piano at the intersection of 4th Street and Main Street.

A Piano by B Shawn Cox

Kids especially gravitate to the exhibition, like Maddie Ford who sits and plays. Credit: Catherine Parker

Not working in the Taylor area, like the other artists, B Shawn Cox loaded up his art kit and supplies, like a public arts pioneer out to paint a piano in an unfamiliar small town. Originally from the west Texas town of Monohans, Cox has lived across Texas from Houston to most recently Austin.

He arrived in Taylor and found his piano in front of a recently renovated vintage building with a modern women’s boutique sporting a pop of pink neon in its window.

Not knowing what to expect, he had grabbed a few fabrics from his studio. On site, the paisley upholstery fabric offered a vintage feel. As is his artistic style, Cox uses fabric as a base then then paints over it.

“I felt blessed to have this site, it felt good,” Cox said.

Over two days, he piano came together. First, he attached his fabric then saturated it with matte media, a product used to encapsulate the fabric in plastic, making it more weather-resistant. Followed by the base coats of color, pulled from the fabric on the piano, and amped up according to Cox.

The following day, he used a stencil to dot his piano with a fern-colored paint. Though the wind had another idea.

“I realized I am a fair weather outdoor painter,” Cox said, referring to the mean March winds that the artists encountered. “The dot is out of place because of the wind so I celebrated it.”

Pulling a color from the neon sign above, the pink polka dot proudly lives on the edge of the piano. Cox referred to the pink dot as “a happy little accident”, much like the legendary TV artist Bob Ross said.

Find his piano in front of the Frills Boutique at 100 E. 2nd Street.

51/58 by Adam Davenport

Adam Davenport shows off the Van Halen-themed piano he painted in front of Karch Music in downtown Taylor. The work is one of four pianos which will be on display Thursday beginning at 5 p.m. as part of Third Thursday. A group of pianists will be playing those pianos, which are scatters along Main Street, beginning at 5 p.m.

A bronze sculptor, fine art oil painter, and outdoor muralist Adam Davenport came to the Painted Piano Project with pragmatic experience. Since his piano was outside an independent music shop, he had to find inspiration from music. Drawing upon the music of his youth, he wanted to honor Eddie Van Halen, who passed away in October 2020.

“Most people don’t realize that Eddie Van Halen played the piano first,” Davenport said.

He went on to describe that Van Halen’s custom guitar was one of the most recognizable designs from the 80s.

After a google how-to search on Van Halen’s original painting process, Davenport knew this particular application needed exterior house paint. He went on to elaborate that the Behr Marquess latex enamel is stretchable and actually protects the wood better than anything other product.

With his phone in one hand loaded with a picture of the guitar, Davenport painted the piano with black first, referring to the three-color design. Then out come the blue painter’s tape according to Davenport as he described his process.

Since the painting was done on the sideway, it just took the outline of the design on the first coat of black for a fan to notice.

“Yea, a guy yelled Eddie Van Halen from his car,” Davenport said, delighted in the interaction.

Next in the process, the white was layered on. Each layer requiring to dry overnight. Then more tape and finally the red, Davenport explained.

When asked about his color choices, “the black is Limousine Leather, the white is Ultra Pure White and the red is 100 mph,” Davenport said with a chuckle.

Very rock star.

Find his piano in front of Karch Music at 423 N. Main St.

Painted Piano Project Run

The Painted Piano Project opened on March 18 and will run until late summer. It is a free public arts exhibition. The public is encouraged to play and enjoy the pianos.


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