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Waukesha comes together for GuitarTown festivities

Seymour reflects on how community art project got started

Tom Noll discusses his regular-sized playable Gibson Les Paul guitar with fellow GuitarTown artist Flo Winzenried, who painted a 10-foot tall guitar. Noll attached a strap to his guitar to make it exactly like a Les Paul guitar. This was the second year Noll was part of Waukesha GuitarTown. He painted a 10-foot tall guitar last year.

Tom Noll discusses his regular-sized playable Gibson Les Paul guitar with fellow GuitarTown artist Flo Winzenried, who painted a 10-foot tall guitar. Noll attached a strap to his guitar to make it exactly like a Les Paul guitar. This was the second year Noll was part of Waukesha GuitarTown. He painted a 10-foot tall guitar last year.

June 11, 2013

The community came together last week to see what the encore edition of Waukesha GuitarTown would deliver.

They saw the downtown getting spruced up with murals being painted that celebrated music icon Les Paul.

They saw large and playable Gibson Les Paul guitars of students and professional artists on public display as they toured the downtown while listening to music. They saw the young and old interact.

And finally, they saw an exhibit — unlike any other — open at the Waukesha County Museum.

Somewhere, local artist and developer Jeff Seymour was smiling (probably, though, out of the way so no one could see him in the background).

"It shows the incredible spirit of Waukesha," Seymour said. "It's brought together people I never envisioned who've come together. It shows the power of community spirit."

Seymour shared these feelings at the Waukesha GuitarTown Gala June 6, when hundreds of people came together for the unveiling of the guitars.

He was reluctant to speak because GuitarTown was a collaboration of many in Waukesha and he wants it to be about them. Those in the GuitarTown Steering Committee, the Advisory Committee, the artists, the sponsors, Gibson Guitar Corp. and the residents of Waukesha who are coming downtown. Everyone but him.

"The reason I don't want to be associated with (the spotlight) is because it's not one person," Seymour said. "It's so many people. It always has been. People are looking for a reason to come out and support this community. It is the hard work of the people, the mayor — who has the commitment to the community."

Seeing potential

But Seymour soon opened up as he reflected on how this city became an official Gibson GuitarTown.

It started, for him, on June 24, 1997 when he came to Waukesha and opened Sprizzo Gallery in downtown.

"You have incredible resources here," Seymour said. "You just have to realize what you have and that's what I did when I first moved here. I saw the river, I saw the commitment of other developers. I met some very beautiful people. I said, 'this place has so much potential and it has proven to be true.'"

Seymour, soon after, met local downtown art gallery owner Lynn Gaffey and they started the art crawls, a quarterly event still taking place.

GuitarTown is born

But the two wanted more. Seymour presented the GuitarTown theme to Mayor Jeff Scrima a couple years ago.

"Jeff and I wanted to do something like this for a long time," Gaffey said. "It was thanks to the mayor, we were able to pull it off."

With Paul born in Waukesha and a monument at his grave inside Prairie Home Cemetery having just been unveiled in September 2011, Gibson Corp. officials were on board with adding Waukesha to the national and international stage after being presented the idea from Scrima.

Festivities were held last year to honor Paul, but this year Waukesha GuitarTown got bigger. More guitars. More artists. And murals, a facet no other GuitarTown has.

For Gaffey, the second edition of GuitarTown was about "keeping the momentum going" in downtown Waukesha. Continue to bring life back to downtown, she and Seymour explained.

Community involved

Seymour said he recently saw a woman cry because she couldn't believe how the downtown has transformed.

"It was overwhelmingly emotional," said Seymour, who designed the logo "Live, Love Waukesha," seen on banners and T-shirts last week. "You never know what will happen. You put your heart and soul into something as an artist. You create a painting, you believe in it and you do the best you can do and someone either likes it or they don't.

"Well, I put my heart and soul into the community and I'm really excited about what's happening. It's like a painting that's becoming finished. And the people are appreciating it and it's inspiring them to do a 'painting' and that's what's exciting. It's inspiring people to get involved in their community."

Especially Waukesha-based corporations and businesses, as GuitarTown raises money for local charities.

Through it's sponsorships, the project raised $105,000 for three charities (the Waukesha Public School District, the Les Paul exhibit at the Waukesha County Museum and Waukesha Memorial Hospital's new Community Health Clinic) last year.

There were close to 60 sponsorships at seven monetary levels this year. Money raised is set to go to music and art programs in the Waukesha School District, Habitat for Humanity and The Food Pantry of Waukesha County.

Giving back to the community is what was most important to Paul, especially Waukesha, said Sue Baker, program director of the Les Paul Foundation, who was also a good friend of Paul's for the last 10 years of his life.

"It's time to celebrate Les," Baker said. "And I think what (Waukesha GuitarTown) says to all of us is that Gibson really likes being connected to Waukesha, and of course that's no surprise. Les loved being connected to Waukesha so the fact that Gibson, who has his guitar, likes to be associated with Waukesha makes total sense."

Preview to Les' 100

So what's next?

More murals are in the works for this summer and all GuitarTown officials have said they anticipate the walking tour and the museum being an attraction that brings in crowds from all over the area.

"We're going to keep surprising people with bigger and better," Gaffey said. "And you know the mayor wanted to make this the art capitol. I think we're going to get real close if we keep having (events like GuitarTown)."

Baker said the GuitarTown events might only be the beginning of the Les Paul celebrations around here with an anniversary coming up in two years.

"What's really neat is that while we're getting together and celebrating Les now, it's building toward his 100th birthday on June 9, 2015," Baker said. "There will be nationwide events, but I think Waukesha will be the epicenter of it all."

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