Curate 757

S6 E3 | FULL EPISODE

Freeman Vines

Musician and luthier Freeman Vines makes guitars from found materials that come with a complicated and sometimes tragic history. The hanging tree wood from a tree once used in a lynching has inspired some of his most creative pieces.

AIRED: November 10, 2021 | 0:07:52
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TRANSCRIPT

(soft music)

♪ I want to be at the meeting ♪

♪ I want to be at the meeting ♪

♪ I want to be at the meeting ♪

♪ When all saints get home. ♪

- [Lisa] 79 Year old Freeman Vines

has been making and playing guitars most of his life.

For five decades, this self-trained luthier

has cut, sanded and chiseled amazing instruments

out of materials that encompasses past.

Things like tobacco barns, radio parts, and mule troughs.

- Oh, back y'all know one day,

they had a horse barn out there,

and I see this thing over there and I asked her man,

"Could I have a finer of mule trough?"

Now these are his words,

he said, "That mule slobber, may have preserved that wood,"

I could not rest until I made a guitar.

I have made guitars out of some of everything,

I can't even remember all of them.

- [Lisa] But nothing has impacted his life and his work,

like the guitars he created from the wood

of the hanging tree.

♪ Southern trees ♪

♪ Bear strange fruit ♪

- That tree produces only the most horrific

and different things you just won't believe.

I bought some wood from a white fella

and as I would load it on the truck, he told me, he said,

"That wood that you bought,"

he said, "a man was hung on that tree."

I didn't believe it.

- [Lisa] He shared his story with his friend, Tim Duffy,

who decided to do a little digging

and uncovered the bone chilling truth

of the horrific lynching that had occurred in 1930,

not too far from Freeman's home.

- [Freeman] He had newspaper clippings,

and he had done infiltrated them folks and found out that

that it was true by the way, a man was killed on that wood,

shot him 200 times and cut off stuff and stuck in his mouth,

and it was horrific the way he died,

and that were the beginning of the hanging tree wood.

(bright ambient music)

And there was something about that wood,

that you just won't believe.

Some of that wood was telling the story.

By scraping out the little pieces

of deteriorated wood and stuff,

you will find out that it had a pattern.

It had features in there that,

all you had to do in bust some wood off,

John Brown while brushing.

Here would come stuff that will scare you to death.

Most had features like skulls, terror on faces and stuff,

and snakes coming out of skull's mouth and eyes

and all like that right there dead.

All I had to do was spray for a little bit,

then get the bad wood from the good wood,

and when I get those scraping, I screamed,

"God almighty, let me leave this alone."

I ain't never had my hand on some wood

that had experienced it all

and seen, and heard, what that wood had.

I had to break myself from working out that night.

Have you ever been somewhere standing in line

or maybe in a store shopping

and you know somebody's looking at you behind your back

and you ain't seen him?

Well, that's the way it did me.

I would be working and I would catch myself,

glancing all around and stuff.

I said, "I got to quit this."

And then some people, highly educated people,

told me and said some supernatural power was happening.

(bright ambient music)

One day I was sitting on my porch.

Now I had before that again, so I got my hammer,

I hit the knot, flat piece fell out.

I messed around a little bit then smoked a cigarette

and looked, I hit the other part of the knot,

when it came out, it was a shoe.

And if you see the John Brown figures

of that way in that wood and stuff,

you know nobody could have carved it in there.

It's too direct and perfect, and I said,

"Their wood had not would come out at wood at shoe."

He said that the guy that was lynched on that tree

said that, "you wore it, don't you?"

That solved the mystery of what this shoe thing

was in the tree.

(bright ambient music)

[Lisa] Freeman says, while he's glad he knows the truth

about the hanging tree, he has no desire to see the spot

where the tree once stood,

or ask his neighbors about who was involved.

- See you get to dig into deep and you live around here,

one old guy traveling in the field by there,

one old guy over here working at night,

and so you might create a problem.

You know the deal,

you know about say they ain't changed all that much.

They changed faces, but didn't change that much.

Like I said, leave they toes alone, they leave you alone.

- [Lisa] Meanwhile, his mini guitars travel across America,

each instrument telling its own unique story of wood

once used for both good and evil purposes.

(bright ambient music)

- [Wendy] He works with a lot of found materials,

which I love, and there's a really deep tradition of that

in the south.

So not just the wood and pieces from trees,

but some of the masks that he uses,

so an African mask that he may have found

on the side of the road,

or perhaps in a flea market

that he then turned into a guitar.

I thought that was a really powerful image.

And again, something that I think resonates with our viewers

of looking at sort of this make,

do attitude that we have in the south,

of just finding something and making it work,

he really embodies that

and that's something that we've lost a little bit,

I think, in this modern age,

but when people see it done well,

they really respond to that.

He is a contemporary artist

and he's creating these wonderful sculptures,

and so I think that that's something that's important

for people to remember.

We do have these contemporary artists who are perhaps

of an older generation and they're not going to be around

for much longer, so we do need to appreciate them

and show their work while they are still here.

♪ I want to be at the meeting. ♪

- [Lisa] As Freeman Vines' guitars travel

from museum to museum, they bring with them stories of life

in rural North Carolina,

and some of them specifically the hanging tree guitars,

pull a history that is seldom told,

one that embodies the horrible acts of racism

committed in the Jim Crow South,

a story brought straight out of the wood and into the world.

♪ Then we'll have a meeting around the throne ♪

(soft guitar music)

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