Sculptor adds guitar maker to his artistic notes

by Jennifer Kingsley (Star Gazette 1/18/2009)

Artist Cornelius Lyon may be best known for the outdoor scultper garden that wraps around his house. The garden sits among 40 acres of woods, wildflowers and meandering paths along Acker Road in Veteran. These days, Cornelius can add luthier to his title.

During the winter, Cornelius builds classical guitars. It all started in 1999 when Cornelius retires as a reading teacher with the Watkins Glen School District and focused his attention on his true passion, art.

"I studied under the two best guitar makers in America," he said. First, he was with Kenny Hill in Healdsburg, California. Kenny owns a guitar company and specializes in Spanish and flamenco guitars, according to his Web site at www.hillguitar.com. "I spent 96 hours with Kenny," Cornelius said.

Then, after spending three years on a waiting list, he studied under Charles Fox in Portland, Oregon. From March to October, Cornelius works on pieces for his sculpture garden. To date, he created 479 pieces and hopes to have 500 in place by the end of this summer.

From November to March, Cornelius spends seven days a week working on his guitar, making one a year. It costs him about $400 to make each guitar. "There are about a hundred operations to making a guitar," Cornelius said. "And they all take time."

Plus, the heat and the humidly in the workshop have to be just right or the wood will crack. "I can't tell you how many ended up in the fireplace," he said. He spends hours tweaking the sound, playing in the living room of his home. With its dazzling harmonic content, the dimensional quality and range are impressive.

He also soaks the wood in sea water, which he collects in the ocean, not far from Norfolk, Virginia. "I read once that the reason Stratovarius violins were so special were because the wood was soaked in seawater," Cornelius said. "I have to agree. It does something beautiful to the wood."

Cornelius also adds his own sort of signature to his guitars. "You see this," he pointed toward the neck of the guitar, "I added a third hole. I'm an artist. I had to be different, but I think it makes it louder."

Guitars he made hang on the walls in his living room, at least the ones he keeps. "I hold on the the guitars for about a year, and then I give them away to a group in Connecticut that gives guitars to veterans in Washington, D.C.," Cornelius said.

"I never charge anyone for anything here. people can visit my sculpture garden for free, and I give my guitars away. It's my way of paying it forward."


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