Auburn Museum of Art displaying guitars from alumni, faculty and students

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“FretHaus,” an exhibition of guitars combining art, design and function, is on view at Auburn University’s Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art through July 31.

For the first time, the museum is associated with the School of Industrial and Graphic Design in Auburn College of Architecture, Design and Construction on the content, design and programming of the exhibition. Students in the 2022 Senior Thesis Design Studio conceptualize, prototype, and ultimately produce fully functional guitars with a rock-n-roll edge. The exhibition also features work by professors Rich Britnell and Keith Medley– a practice teacher, master luthier and head of product development for Gibson Guitars – and creations from the studios of previous years.

The title combines the word freta common guitar component, with the German word home to echo the term Bauhaus, an influential art school founded in 1919 in Weimar, Germany. Auburn’s nationally ranked industrial design program is rooted in the modern movement that followed. Students taught by the original Bauhaus faculty members created the Auburn curriculum in 1945, making it one of the oldest in the nation.

“Guitars are built on tradition. FreightHaus is here to break that up,” said Britnell, who runs the School of Industrial Design studio. “Tradition often lacks innovation. As industrial designers, our purpose is to innovate.

Whether it’s a musical instrument, a product or a service, all industrial designers conceptualize before exploring materials. They review and troubleshoot issues for optimal appearance, functionality and manufacturability.

“The program also fosters collaboration,” Britnell said. “Students gain real-life experience working with Professor Medley and other representatives from companies such as Gibson Guitars and EMG Inc.”

Malinick said academic collaborations that support teaching, research and outreach are top priorities leading up to the museum’s 20th anniversary in 2023.

“With this exhibit, we are inviting industrial designers as co-learners alongside the museum team,” said Cindi Malinick, the museum’s chief executive. “As the cultural heart of a public research university, we seek to work alongside all colleges, regardless of discipline, to experiment with and support the fluid exchange of ideas.”

Adam Kennedy of Charlotte, North Carolina, developed his concept by observing musicians on stage and noting down a solution. “The concept was to create a modular guitar that would eliminate the need for multiple guitars on stage by allowing interchangeable pickups,” Kennedy said. “This idea came to me while watching live broadcasts and seeing two to three minute intervals to change guitars and settings when the time could be reduced to almost 30 seconds.”

Kennedy’s guitar finish is a collage of posters by Wes Wilson, who designed iconic artwork for the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

“Visitors to the museum will see insightful, playful, technical and futuristic creations as well as the artist’s words and inspirations,” Malinick said. “We’re sure the exhibit will spark wide-ranging thoughts and conversations, including what guitars are surprising and what the materials reveal about the artist and our culture.”

Located on the campus of Auburn University at 901 S. College St., the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art is open free from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. CT Tuesday through Sunday, with extended hours until 8 p.m. Thursday. Auburn University’s art collection includes mid-20th century American modernism, Mexican modernism, contemporary prints and photographs, works on paper depicting the South, ceramics, and visionary art from the South.

Donations to the museum are made through the Auburn University Foundation. For more information, visit or call 334-844-1484.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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