Beloved family pianos are reborn as stunning phoenix sculptures

Beloved family pianos are reborn as stunning phoenix sculptures
Australian sculptor David Cox with his 50th Phoenix sculpture, built as a tribute to a well-loved piano
Australian sculptor David Cox with his 50th Phoenix sculpture, built as a tribute to a well-loved piano
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Australian sculptor David Cox with his 50th Phoenix sculpture, built as a tribute to a well-loved piano
Australian sculptor David Cox with his 50th Phoenix sculpture, built as a tribute to a well-loved piano

Pianos can become the heart of a home, and some become intergenerational heirlooms loaded with memories. Letting them go once they're unplayable can be very hard, but an Australian sculptor has found a way to resurrect them, to jaw-dropping effect.

"It was a bit of an accident, honestly," sculptor David Cox told us over a video call. "A mate of mine's a singer, he was building a recording studio in his back yard, and he wanted something really cool to hang on the wall that would act as a sound baffle so that sound wouldn't bounce around the room as much. I've been a collector of, well, junk depending on your perspective, for many years, and I had this set of piano keys sitting in my workshop. I thought to myself, well, Chris is a muso, I'll glue all these keys together and stick 'em on the wall."

"But if you've ever opened up a piano, you'll notice the keys aren't straight, they're kind of dog-legged," he continued. "So gluing this thing together in a perfect rectangle and framing it just wasn't going to be possible. So one summer afternoon I was fiddling around with different positions, and when I saw the wing shape emerging, it became obvious what this needed to be."

"It gave me goosebumps," he laughed. "And it's huge. It turned out to be two and a half meters by one [8.2 x 3.3 ft]. So we hung that on Chris's studio wall, and he loved it, and somebody else saw it and wanted one as well... And then two or three more... Now I've just hung #50 in a gallery up here in the Dandenongs, and we had the opening of an exhibition last night."

While Cox started out using random piano parts he'd gathered from here and there, and thinking of the results primarily as "a beautiful, musically related sound baffle" it wasn't long before people started approaching him about the idea of 'memorializing' beloved family heirloom pianos.

"For a lot of people, that piano's just always been there since their childhood," said Cox. "Some of them are a hundred years old. But in a lot of cases, the harp in the back gets cracked, or it gets rusted out... They break down. And then, the instrument has to go. It's 250 kg, they're doing something different with the living room... But there's so many memories wrapped up in it."

"It's when grandma used to sing you the old lullabies when you were a kid," he continued. "Or when your mum leaned over your shoulder to help you learn Für Elise, or it's sitting next to grandad playing Chopsticks... And then some people are lucky enough to have memories of sitting at the same piano with their own children or grandchildren, discovering music and sound together. That's special; pianos can become the most precious things. So you can't just take it to the tip and bury something like that in landfill, it'd just feel disrespectful. So for me, it's an honor to be trusted to take something that means so much to people, and find another way it can bring some joy and beauty to a home."

Considering the accidental way this project started out, Cox landed on a remarkably poetic shape. These beloved instruments rise from their own ashes to a new pride of place on the wall as a phoenix. Once the sonic center of the home, now a jaw-dropping visual display.

"I come and take the keys away, and the action," explained Cox. "That's about 12,000 pieces, more parts than a car, I'm told – and also any unique bits of ornamentation I can work into the piece. I help the family get in contact with a piano recycling company that'll break the rest down to its components and recycle it, that feels like giving it the proper respect. Then I go away, and come back a few weeks later with the sculpture and hang it on the wall. There's a lot of joy and a lot of tears, it's a kind of romantic moment, and it feels like a privilege when I can be there for that."

Other times, as in the piece shown below, the owners will take the piano apart and send the parts by post. "This one was for a lady called Shanna," said Cox. "She's up in Sydney and her mum's up in Queensland. She found me online, and she had a piano that had been in the family for a long time, that she wanted to turn into a gift for her mum's 70th birthday. It was actually the piano her mum had learned on when she was a kid. So I talked her and her husband through how to dismantle it and they sent it down."

"Shanna was my guinea pig for designing something a bit easier to ship than these huge pieces," he laughed. "I found a way to split it into three pieces and fit it in a box, with just four bolts to reassemble it. So I finished it, and sent the box up to her mum's place. She wasn't allowed to open it, they put it together and gave it to her when they went up for her 70th. It was really sweet, Shanna called me after the party, all those memories flooding back of the one piano teacher that she and her mum and the whole family had all learned from over the years... It's really something to be part of a moment like that."

Cox has since exhibited a number of his Phoenix pieces in Kuala Lumpur, as well as at several events closer to home in Australia. "It was fun working outside that context of a family heirloom too," he said. "I got to mix and match a bit for the Malaysia exhibition. A gallery commissioned 14 of them. So I tried to use different colors, and lean in to different elements for each one."

Call me a sentimental softie, but these pieces immediately struck a chord with me as I watched my 10-year-old son sitting at the old family piano at my parent's house, refusing to practice scales or learn songs, determined to create his own music instead. Just like his stubborn old man used to. Thinking of everything that music has brought to my life, and hoping it might do the same for him... I look at David Cox's Phoenix pieces and see one hell of a sendoff for something that can mean so much to several generations of a family. Bravo.

Source: David Cox

Tristan P
Wow, that's very cool.
beautiful. THIS is art, not throwing a canvas on the floor, stab a bag of paint hanging on a string, and let it swing above a canvas.
Old J Hawthorne
What a great idea! I wish he would make a YouTube video that shows how he puts it all together.