LAKE JACKSON — Some featuring intricate shapes and designs carved into dark, aged wood, others adorned with the Texas Capitol and bright bluebonnets, Emma Jean Tanner’s Art Strings project has given new life to forgotten violins and also benefited the local orchestra.

Hurricane Harvey left damaged instruments in its wake, prompting project creator Tanner to remodel violins and auction them to benefit the orchestra. The project, about a year in existence, has gained momentum and about five violins have been produced.

Tanner, 87, had the idea for the project after traveling the world and seeing extravagant violins bought at auctions that benefited symphony orchestras, she said.

“David and I, my late husband, traveled all the continents of the world,” she said. “We saw violins repurposed, not playable anymore, but embellished and decorated in some way. Donations were made to their symphony orchestras.”

Tanner decided to start collecting violins in varying stages of damage and reach out to artists who could help transform these old instruments into works of art worthy to be auctioned off, she said.

She feels a responsibility to support the area’s creative arts and music programs, Tanner said.

“I think it’s essential to our well-being,” she said. “It helps with learning. It helps with socialization. It’s a really good thing.”

The people who get these decorated violins are receiving a special art piece, Tanner said.

“They are getting something aesthetically pleasing,” she said. “A little bit of art but also evidence of their generosity to the symphony orchestra.”

The current violin up for auction is created by artist Cynthia Kethley and follows a Texas theme, including the Lone Star flag, bluebonnets, the State Capitol and autographs of Gov.Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Speaker of the Texas House Dennis Bonnen, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Chairman of the Senate Committee on State Affairs Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.

One of the past artists of the project, Cherie McBride, painted birds indigenous to the Brazosport area on her violin.

It is time-consuming to decorate and breathe new life into these instruments but also rewarding, McBride said.

“The violin has to be stripped down before you can work on it,” she said. “Then you almost have to build a way to be able to work on it. It’s not a flat canvas. It’s three dimensional. The detail work on it is hard to do because you’re at an odd angle.”

Beautified violins are a distinctive, artistic way to raise money, McBride said

“It is different,” she said. “It’s a little bit different than the same ol’, same ole.”

While she will make her exit and someone will eventually take the project over, she feels she has set the groundwork to keep this fundraising project going, Tanner said.

“I think this is a project that could go on forever,” she said. “There is indication that there is a lot of interest in it continuing.”

The current Texas-themed violin is on display in the Art Gallery of the Center for Arts and Sciences until Aug. 8. Bidding begins at $1,000.

Bidding is by mail or online at There will be live bidding August 10 at Brazosport Symphony League’s Coastal Cruzin’ dinner and dance at the Lake Jackson Civic Center.

Connor Behrens is a reporter at The Facts. You can contact him at 979-237-0150.

Features Writer/Reporter for The Facts in Clute, Texas. I'm a communications graduate from the University of Houston. I have written for publications such as the Washington Post and the Galveston County Daily News.

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