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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) has announced its upcoming exhibition, Stepped Strings: The Guitar in American Artwhich will be on view at the Richmond Museum from October 8, 2022 to March 19, 2023. stepped strings is the first exhibition to explore the symbolism of the guitar in American art from the beginning of the 19th century to the present day.

“We expect that stepped strings, an exhibit that showcases one of America’s most iconic emblems – the guitar – will have broad appeal and resonate with our visitors,” said Alex Nyerges, Director and CEO of VMFA. “Through this multi-faceted exhibit, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will highlight the exceptional work of this country’s diverse artists, designers, creators, and musicians.”

Curated by Dr. Leo G. Mazow, Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane Curator of American Art of VMFA, stepped strings will trace how the guitar, as a visual motif, has long enabled artists and their subjects to address topics and tell stories that would otherwise remain untold or under-told.

“As with music, the guitar in the visual arts is both the companion of the storyteller and a tool through which subjects are approached. The guitar is the only one capable of symbolizing poetic and prosaic themes,” said Dr. Mazow. “Due to its portability and relatively affordable price, the guitar appears in a myriad of settings and situations. It frequently intersects with issues of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and disability, including blindness .

Comprised of 125 works of art created over a period of nearly 200 years, stepped strings will include paintings, drawings, watercolors, photographs and sculptures by eminent American artists such as John Baldessari, Romare Bearden, Thomas Hart Benton, Elizabeth Catlett, William Merritt Chase, Thomas Eakins, William Eggleston, Robert Henri, Lonnie Holley , Frances Benjamin Johnston, William H. Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Annie Leibovitz, Charles Willson Peale, Ruth Reeves and Julian Alden Weir.

In addition, 35 guitars will punctuate the exhibition, including instruments made by Fender, Gibson, Gretsch and Martin. Guitars featured have been played by pioneering musicians who helped shape the American sound, including Lulu Belle, Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker, Freddie King, Les Paul and Brian Setzer.

Audio-visual kiosks featuring music and filmed performances will further enhance the visitor experience. A window overlooking an impressive fully functional recording studio, housed in the exhibit in partnership with In Your Ear Studios, will allow visitors to see nationally and regionally acclaimed guitarists recording songs that demonstrate the power of the instrument to tell stories. Among the musicians confirmed to record in the studio are Tommy Emmanuel, Nels Cline (Wilco), Stephen McCarthy (The Jayhawks) and Yasmin Williams. The resulting videos of their performances will be posted regularly on the VMFA website and YouTube channels. Richmond Sessions ’22–’23.

A complete 276-page exhibit catalog will be available for purchase in the VMFA Shop, online at, and distributed by Penn State University Press. Written by Dr. Mazow, the catalog will feature color images of each artwork in stepped strings and include insightful contributions from Jayson Kerr Dobney, Frederick P. Rose Curator of Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Dr. Phil Deloria, Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History at Harvard University.

For more information on Stepped Strings: The Guitar in American Art and exhibition-related programs, visit

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