On a recent Saturday evening, over cocktails and appetizers, the talented Austin-based musician Matt Smith played from a very special guitar at Zoltan David’s Flagship Gallery in the Hill Country Galleria. The guitar, designed by Master Luthier Tom Ribbecke, was designed as a tribute for all those who have served and lost their lives for our country, and will be auctioned off at the CASA Blanca Gala on February 22.
The reception, held by Zoltan David and his wife, Patti David, in a space that has been awarded the distinction of "America’s Coolest Jewelry Store," was a way to showcase the guitar — both its beauty and its musicality. According to Smith, the guitar "oozes soul." "It plays like a dream," the musician and consultant for Fender, Ovation and other guitar companies says. "It’s not only an important piece of American art, but a truly great playing and sounding instrument."
Precious metal art and guitars might seem like an unlikely pairing. But if you know anything about Sir Zoltan David — the internationally recognized creator of precious metal art that is both handcrafted and displayed right here in Austin — it actually makes a lot of sense. Zoltan, is not, by any means, a "jeweler." "Never call him that," his wife and partner, Patti David, says smiling, as she shows me some of the stunning pieces on display at the Flagship Gallery. And, looking at his work — rare precious gems set in unique and gorgeous, groundbreaking ways — it’s clear that Zoltan, who has won over 20 national and international awards, including being named one of the "Top Designers in the Past 30 Years" by National Jeweler Magazine, is a serious artist.
Zoltan’s work is consistently innovative and groundbreaking. Combining his classic Swiss and German goldsmith training with cutting edge technology, Zoltan prefers to create outside of the box. The depth of his creativity is not only illustrated in his work, but also by the fact that he holds the only metal ornamentation patent in the world — for his signature shaped inlay process. As Zoltan says of patents, "you don’t get a patent for creating a derivative of something else, you get a patent for something that hasn’t been done before."
And so while precious metal creations and guitars might not be an obvious pairing, the collaborative effort between Zoltan and Tom is not surprising, given that Zoltan is someone who likes to do things that are unexpected. The collaboration began when Zoltan was working with a client who plays slide guitar. Zoltan, who always makes finger-shaped creations (as opposed to circular pieces, which slide around, and are not as comfortable to wear) thought to develop a finger-shaped slide. The result is a beautiful black slide with gold inlay, which stays in position and in tight contact with the strings. It is both a tool for creating music, and a piece of art.
It was through this work that Zoltan began displaying hand-crafted guitars in-store, and became acquainted with Tom Ribbecke, the legendary bay area guitar craftsmen. Besides being talented and leading artists in their fields, Tom and Zoltan are alike in that they both serve as mentors to young people hoping to learn their craft. And their generosity extends beyond mentoring — both men are deeply devoted to improving the lives of children, as illustrated by their work with CASA — The National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association, which works to recruit, support and train local volunteers to advocate for neglected and abused children.
When Patti reached out to Tom about contributing a studio tour to the upcoming silent auction at this year's CASA gala, held February 22, Tom went above and beyond, and replied that he would design and donate a special guitar for the cause. The guitar, which is currently being held and displayed at Zoltan’s Hill Country Galleria space until it is auctioned off on the 22, is powerful and stunning. Made from three different woods — sikta spruce, Indian Rosewood and ebony — the guitar features a handsome eagle on the headstock meant to represent the strength and integrity of the American Spirit, and a Battlefield Cross on the back that is meant to serve as a silent and personal reminder of those lost, and give the player inspiration. Everything — from the mother of pearl inlay work to the Ribbecke logo — is handmade, handcarved and hand-finished.
It’s fitting that the guitar is being displayed at Zoltan’s Flagship gallery before it finds a permanent home with a lucky CASA gala attendee and auction winner. Zoltan David’s work, like Tom Ribbecke’s, is made not only with a sense of serious purpose and artistic talent, but with integrity. It’s heartening — but not surprising — that these two legendary artists found a way to collaborate towards an important cause, working in unconventional ways to combine beauty with usefulness and purpose.
Those unable to attend the event, but interested in the guitar, can bid by phone or proxy.