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You've "Herd About Buffalo." Now you can catch "String Fever."

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has launched its own spin on the art project that dotted the cityscape with curious fiberglass buffaloes. In place of fiberglass, the BPO Volunteer Foundation opted for wood.

The group gave violins to 49 local artists and celebrities and asked that they turn them into art objects. The finished products will be auctioned at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts on the North Campus.

"We do various fund-raisers throughout the year for the orchestra, but this is the first time we've ever done something like this," said Maria N. Valvo, president of the Volunteer Foundation. "We have one (violin) that's cast in wax, another in glass tiles. There's one that was turned into a flamingo. . . . The violins are more creative than we could have ever imagined."

McLellan Music House donated many of the violins, while the rest were obtained at a reduced rate. The process of decoration has rendered most of them nonfunctional, but one was played by its creator, jazz musician Geoffrey Perry, in a recent local concert.

"It was an interesting idea, but it was a little hard to make myself do it at first," says Ann Frank, a participating artist who played the violin as a child. "Anyone who's ever played an instrument is taught to have a reverence for it."

Frank collaborated on the project with six of her students at Redfish Studios in East Aurora. The group used pastels on the back of the violin to re-create Man Ray's famous surrealist photograph "Violin D'Ingres," which features a woman's back emblazoned with the signature "F holes" of wind instruments. They replaced the violin strings with colored yarn and beads.

"There was a point where we were working on it where it stopped being a violin and started becoming an art object," said Frank. "It became easier to conceptualize that as we went along."

Some participants, such as Louis Grachos, director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, took the violins to even higher conceptual heights. Using the work of John Beech as inspiration, Grachos coated a violin in yellow paint, emphasizing the beauty of the violin's shape.

"Without playing the music - it was a way of reminding people of the instruments and the sounds they really do make," he said.

The process, which involved pouring six to seven coats of paint over the violin, took two weeks.

Buffalo actor Steve "the Valu Guy" Briscoe updated his violin with a creative array of hardware: The neck was replaced with a metal ruler, upholstery studs flank the body, a plunger serves as the stand, and a handsaw takes the place of the bow.

Catherine O'Connor, a mathematics teacher turned glass artisan, drew on geometry to make a duplicate violin entirely of glass. Using Pepto-Bismol-tinted spray paint and pink tulle, she transformed the original violin into a flamingo.

"This is a way for me to donate to causes that I feel are worthwhile," O'Connor said. "If they can in turn multiply my donation into a bigger donation, that's even better."

"String Fever" begins at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in UB's Center for the Arts. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased at the BPO box office (885-5000), the Center for the Arts box office (645-ARTS) and at Ticketmaster locations.


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