It’s no secret that NJ is home to countless artists. Many of these creators find inspiration through a passion for art that drives them to create; no matter if it’s in the kitchen, a pottery studio, or even their garage. Our series, I HeART New Jersey, celebrates these amazing artists and their designs. This month, we’re featuring some of the Garden State’s best makers who both create and beautify musical instruments. Particularly, these artists are great with guitars (and more)!
For the most part, these creators perfect their craft and sell their wares out of their own boutiques; often through the power of the internet or even in local markets. Here are just a few of our favorite local artists working their own musical magic. (If you missed last month’s I HeART New Jersey, click here to see more great artists.)
John Bernyk of Lazy B Cigar Box Guitars
As a kid in the 1960s, John Bernyk would sit in his house stretching rubber bands across a cigar or tissue box to make sounds; meanwhile, his dad would share stories of how people made guitars just like that during the Great Depression. He began playing the guitar at age 12, though he never really found the motivation to play regularly. Forty years later, John found a true cigar box guitar on eBay and bought it. 10 years post-purchase, he said to himself, “I can make these!”
John first began making cigar box guitars for family and friends, before eventually selling them under the name “Lazy B.” (The name of his parent’s ranch out in Arizona.) He set up shop selling them at flea markets and festivals. He has since made over 600 instruments out of everything from cigar boxes to oil and gas cans and washboards. (Cigar boxes are mainly made of cedar – a prime wood choice for musical instruments!) His range of guitars span from acoustic and electric to double neck, bass and traditional cigar box guitars. For him, it’s truly “the art that makes art.”
When not making cigar box guitars, John can be found playing them with his band, the Cigar Box Stompers. The five-man band travels throughout New Jersey playing original blues/rock. Their instruments include the cigar box, canjo and occasional washboard guitar. Of course, there’s also John’s “main axe,” a three-string cigar box guitar; this unique piece includes the license plate of the pickup truck from his parents’ Arizona ranch.
Lazy B Cigar Box Guitars can be found via John’s website as well as in person at Asbury Fresh Markets. (Locations and dates for Asbury Fresh Markets vary.) Meanwhile, the Cigar Box Stompers can be found vending and performing all around the NJ area. (For instance, they’ll be at the 9th Annual Pennsylvania Cigar Box Fest in York, PA on August 25th.)
Melissa Hood of Melissa Hood Art
Melissa Hood’s love of art began in high school. Soon after, she began to pursue her Masters at NYU’s Studio Art Program. While later studying in Venice and Berlin, she was able to experiment with new mediums; through practicing animation, drawing and painting, she built her confidence one brush stroke at a time. This eventually led to her first solo show in 2012. She never looked back.
As a working mom with young children, she sneaks in time for art between games, reading books and playing outdoors. (Melissa is currently a high school art teacher at Ocean County Vocational Technical Schools.) Despite the quicker work sessions, she’s been able to embrace the idea of transition as a theme; as such, she’s always thinking about what art project to begin next. Currently, she is working with fluid acrylics and animals. Melissa is quick to note that she works organically, never picturing a piece; she instead lets the bright colors and meditative hand movements take over. She recalls one time a customer came in asking her to paint a turtle. Instead, she found herself painting an octopus.
She sometimes composes her unique pieces out of a “thousand circles,” – a joke in her mind after a professor once told her to never use circles – exhibiting hues and shapes that draw the eye and the imagination. Though she does create standalone works of art that can hang on your wall, her instruments are simply stunning. Melissa specializes in hand painted ukuleles and guitars. She also has a number of pieces that take inspiration from New Jersey.
Melissa Hood Art can be purchased online on her website.