July 9, 2014

Piano lawn art strikes a note in Wichita neighborhood

Drivers passing the corner of Douglas and Pinecrest in east Wichita recently may have been puzzled by some noteworthy lawn decor at 102 N. Pinecrest.

Drivers passing the corner of Douglas and Pinecrest in east Wichita recently may have been puzzled by some noteworthy lawn decor at 102 N. Pinecrest.

Marc Turman, a local art enthusiast, recently installed a cherry red, life-sized baby grand piano in his front yard as lawn art, he said, and it’s grabbing the attention of his Crown Heights neighbors.

“It certainly was unique,” Turman said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

The aluminum piano, which sits atop a sheet-metal pedestal, was installed at the end of May, Turman said. And before anyone gets any ideas, its keys do not actually play.

“It’s kind of an unfinished project,” Turman said. “I haven’t gotten around to putting lighting on it yet.”

The piano has a history in Wichita dating to the 1980s, when it was used to advertise the Kansas Piano Exchange store at 4800 W. Kellogg. A Verizon Wireless store occupies the same address today.

The piano, outlined in neon, rotated atop the store for years. The store stocked about 300 pianos and organs, according to The Eagle’s archives.

Dave Branson, owner of Dynamic Sign Solutions, said he remembers the sign off Kellogg. The neon would wrap around its legs and keys, and it would “twinkle” at night.

“It was a pretty cool sign for its day,” Branson said. “It looked fantastic.”

Branson acquired the sign when his company broke off from another sign dealer in town. It had been in storage for about 20 years at TriMark Signworks until Branson said he bought it and started storing it in his yard.

Turman said he would spot the sign every time he drove back and forth to work. He finally stopped and told Branson he would be back for it later.

The sign had another potential buyer, Branson said, but that person never came to pick it up. So Branson sold the hail-damaged piano to Turman for $500.

After some refurbishing from Miracle Signs, the piano was ready to be installed in Turman’s yard.

The piano replaced a light pole that previously occupied the space. He said the piano is a much bolder choice that complements his residence, the historic Ablah House.

Wichitans have been posting photos of the piano on Facebook, and Turman said he has heard mostly positive comments about it.

One neighbor, though, said the piano doesn’t belong in a residential setting.

“It’s not my cup of tea, and this isn’t the Wichita Art Museum,” said the neighbor, who asked not to be identified because he didn’t want to start an argument with Turman.

Turman said “he’s going to have it regardless,” so he hopes people enjoy it.

The art moderne-styled Ablah House is a duplex built in 1939 that was home to Frank and Harvey Ablah, prominent early donors to the Municipal University of Wichita. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

Turman said if he ever moves out of the house, he hopes the piano will continue to play a part in its future. The rotating mechanism is still intact underneath the sheet metal pedestal, after all.

“Who knows what will happen in the future?” Turman said. “If it falls into someone else’s hands, there’s still a possibility it could be converted into a sign.”

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