Waukesha GuitarTown represents those from all different backgrounds

Juergen Strigenz, in his studio, is shown here beginning to work on his 10-foot tall Gibson Les Paul guitar for the Waukesha GuitarTown project.
Published on: 6/4/2013

Thousands of people will come to Waukesha for the GuitarTown festivities this weekend to see what the artists created this year.

Among those artists were students in middle school, high school and college to professional artists who own their own businesses to some repeat artists who wanted to have the chance to say they decorated a Gibson Les Paul guitar one more time.

And while the project is done with a world-wide company in Gibson Guitar Corp., this year's version of Waukesha GuitarTown, which raises money for local charities and honors the late Les Paul, an award-winning musician and inventor who was born and is buried in Waukesha, has an international feel to it.

Two of the artists painting 10-foot Gibson Les Paul fiberglass sculpture guitars — Albin Erhart of Hartland and Juergen Strigenz of Delafield — were born in Germany.

Using history

And while the guitars will be officially unveiled at a private gala on Thursday at The Rotunda and for the public to see on Friday in downtown Waukesha as part of Friday Night Live, Erhart shared how his guitar's creation was one of personal learning for someone foreign to this area.

"When I came here I had a hard time pronouncing the names of the cities (towns, and villages)," Erhart said. "Like Chenequa, Okauchee, Oconomowoc and Mukwonago. I thought to myself, 'These are really weird. Where did they come from?'"

Erhart, who lived in Germany for the first 41 years of his life, moved to the United States for his job in 1997. He lived in St. Louis for a couple of years before moving to Wisconsin. After Erhart wasn't retained at his job in the marketing/communications department at Pentair, he decided to turn his hobby into a new career.

"I painted all my life but never pursued it as a career," said Erhart, a self-taught artist who has a show room at Kuchler & Cotton Attorneys At Law in Waukesha and other works in the area.

But while doing research on the villages and towns, he found many come from the Potawatomi community, meaning "by the little Fox" referring to the river. Erhart, as a result, incorporates bright, colorful neon foxes into his guitar.

He then transformed the headstock into an arrowhead with fiberglass feathers hanging from it.

There are also feathers on the front with musical instruments in the design and the words " Red Hot" and "Song in Blues," using Paul's nickname Red Hot Red and one of his songs.

"I enjoyed it, especially with all the neon colors and how it jumps out at you," said Erhart, who added working with fiberglass provided a nice challenge.

Incorporating Lake Country

While from the same country, Strigenz has lived here much of his life, but his guitar does depict the area, just in a much different way.

He immigrated from Germany to New York with his family as a toddler and fell in love with drawing, particularly cartoons. He followed his passion as he graduated from Milwaukee Area Technical College with a commercial art degree.

As an established artist, Strigenz owns a design firm, Hare Strigenz Inc. His work includes fine art as well as cartoon art that includes illustrations, cartoons, posters and "The Water Ski Cartoon Book."

He said his guitar, titled "Lake Country Summer," incorporates this style as he depicts in a very detailed way a playful and colorful view of summers in the area with the front of the guitar using his cartoon style and a theme of previous combined works that shows a scene on the lake and a golf course. Throughout his 10-foot guitar, there are also hidden guitars for people to find.

"I wanted it to be a fun theme so I made it like a game for people to search and find something new so they don't just walk past it," Strigenz said. "It was about making it interactive."

He said he used all the skills he has learned in his life to make the original white canvas come to life. But he added it was a challenge working on a new 3-D surface.

Strigenz added he put in about 100 hours using airbrush transparent watercolor.

"I'm really happy with the result and excited to see it among the others," Strigenz said. "I got to paint Lake Country doing cartoon style with the GuitarTown theme. It's the trifecta."

Depicting female musicians

Another artist who designed a 10-foot tall guitar was Flo Winzenried, a Pewaukee resident.

She also takes a different approach and with different colors on her "canvas."

In her guitar, titled "Girls Rule," she painted the faces of female guitarists Bonnie Raitt, Joan Jett, Nancy Wilson, Cheryl Crow and Orianthi on the front in what Winzenried describes as a posterized pop-art style.

These musicians, Winzenried said, use a Gibson Les Paul guitar or have used one during their careers.

"I'm a big music fan and those are pretty much my favorites," Winzenried said.

Her guitar's backdrop is black with the musicians in a gray color. But she adds a feminine touch with pink detail flow on the front and back. And to pay homage to Paul, the head features the golden "Les Paul" signature.

Winzenried worked as a graphic artist for local magazines and newspapers for more than 20 years before starting up her own business, FTW Designs LLC.

Ready to see others

For Winzenried, the chance to be part of the second installment of Waukesha GuitarTown, was a can't miss opportunity.

"I thought it would be a fun project and kind of a great thing for tourism," Winzenried said.

Winzenried will be in Waukesha this week to see her guitar for the first time since it was clear-coated a few weeks ago when it is unveiled at Thursday's private gala.

But she's more interested in the almost 40 other guitars.

"I can't wait to see everyone's work and ideas because everyone uses different mediums so it's always refreshing to see other people's work," Winzenried said.

Showing off these great artists, all of whom have different backgrounds within the community, is what GuitarTown is all about, said Norm Bruce, a Waukesha GuitarTown coordinator.

"They're looking fantastic and now the excitement for them is starting to build," he said.

Guitar artists

10-foot guitar artists

Team Guthrie, Waukesha

Flo Winzenried, Pewaukee

Pat Mitchell, Menomonee Falls

Nick Brownrigg, Waukesha

Gwenda Helgert, Waukesha

Bridget Griffith Evans, Wauwatosa

Albin Erhart, Hartland

Juergen Strigenz, Delafield

Ed Legge, Dell Prairie

Jeff Homar, Waukesha

Student team from Waukesha West High School

Student team from Waukesha North High School

Student team from Central Middle School

Student team from Saratoga STEM Academy

Team from La Casa de Esperanza

Playable guitar artists

Valerie Christall, Burlington

Connie Pelzek, Hales Corners

Andy Haas Schneider, Waterford

Tom Noll, Waukesha

Laura Fesser, New Berlin

Ted Turner, Wauwatosa

Cecilia Blenker, Waukesha

Neal Vogt, Pewaukee

Marcia Schneider, Waukesha

Robert Anderson, Kenosha

Jason Vogt, Waukesha

Ed Jackson, Menomonee Falls

Dan Taylor, Milwaukee

Jason LeCavalier, Waukesha

Jennifer Moon, Waukesha

Charles Lichtie, Waukesha

C. Matt Luther, Waukesha

Chuck Weber, Waukesha

Student team from Butler Middle School

Student team from Carroll University

Student team from St. Joseph's

Team from La Casa de Esperanza