The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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September 5, 2013

Time to play: Bethany instructor's handmade instruments on display

MANKATO — Eric Ouren's creative process starts out simple. He looks for items with interesting shapes — a wooden bowl, an old shovel, a curvey gourd.The Bethany Lutheran College professor then turns them into his "playable sculptures."

"They're fun to look at as well as listen to," Ouren said. The names he picks for the instruments are fun, too — "Flying Fish Ukele" and "Food-Keeper Mandolin" were created for a 2006 art exhibit at Bethany.

Several examples of his craft are now on display at Bethany in Ylvisaker Fine Arts Center.

"Inside and Outside" is the gallery's first exhibit of the new season. The show is comprised of 30 stringed instruments Ouren has built in the last two years, plus eight older ones that were displayed in his first show of handmade instruments back in 2006, also at Bethany. The newer instruments are mostly banjos.

Ouren constructed their bodies out of candy tins and cookie tins — even dried gourds. Banjos are essentially a box, some sticks and some strings, he said.

The sculpture instructor has offered a class that included making a dulcimer from tin as one of its projects. Besides teaching students how to make an object that is pleasing both to the ear and eye, he is about to provide knowledge for several facets of their education.

"It's not just music, not just writing, not just art, not just science — it's all of those things," Ouren said.

As part of tonight's lecture, several instruments will come down off the gallery wall to be played by Ouren's musican friends. Dick Kimmel, Pete Matecjeck from The Wooden Nickels and Bloedel from The Divers, and a fellow instructor at Bethany, will demonstrate the instruments' sounds and offer different approaches to playing the banjo. Daniel Halvorson and Ian Kimmel, both young musicians from the band Barton's Hollow, will join in on the bluegrass performance.

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