published Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Gibson guitar auction benefits rebuilding Woody Guthrie's home

This March 30, 2014, photo by provided by Gibson Brands Inc. shows Gibson guitars built using original wood from folk singing legend Woody Guthrie's 1860s-era boyhood home on display in the Gibson Brands Beverly Hills, Calif., showroom.
This March 30, 2014, photo by provided by Gibson Brands Inc. shows Gibson guitars built using original wood from folk singing legend Woody Guthrie's 1860s-era boyhood home on display in the Gibson Brands Beverly Hills, Calif., showroom.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    This Aug. 22, 2013, file photo shows a replica fashioned of wood from folk singing legend Woody Guthrie's childhood home at the Okfuskee County History Center in Okemah, Okla.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TULSA, Okla. — At least two of eight custom-made Gibson guitars crafted with wood salvaged from the childhood home of folk legend Woody Guthrie will be auctioned off to the public this week.

All proceeds will go toward the Woody Guthrie Home Reconstruction Project, a $600,000 rebuild of the 1860s-era property in Okemah. Project organizers hope the special-edition guitars — which were donated by Gibson — fetch six figures a piece when bidding begins Thursday on eBay.

The handmade, Woody Guthrie London House Model Southern Jumbo guitars feature fingerboards and bridges fashioned from the salvaged white oak floor joists of Guthrie's boyhood home, which was so dilapidated that authorities ordered it be torn down in the 1970s. Nashville, Tenn.-based Gibson Brands sifted through bundles of wood to select planks free of termites or nails, and it took about two weeks to assemble each guitar.

"Woody Guthrie is an American icon; he is Americana," said Peter Leinheiser, Gibson's senior director of entertainment relations.

Best known for the song "This Land is Your Land," Guthrie was born in 1912, came of age during the Great Depression and later embraced left-wing politics, union organizing and, for a time, some tenets of communism. He died in 1967. Though once shunned by his hometown and state, Guthrie has enjoyed a renaissance in Oklahoma in recent years as a new generation has been introduced to his songs and activism.

The auction comes two weeks before the May 15 groundbreaking at the same site where the childhood home, called the London House, stood. Today, the only traces of the structure are a few blocks of sandstone foundation.

A local businessman who bought the property saved the lumber for the day when others would recognize Guthrie's importance. The rebuilding plans call for coming as close as possible to what the home looked like when Guthrie lived there, including using the preserved wood.

Johnny Buschardt, a spokesman for the rebuilding project, said last week that no decision had been made whether to offer the remaining six guitars to the public or to private collectors — including historians, museums and A-list musicians influenced by Guthrie's work who have shown interest in the collectibles.

"You know how the auctions go when two bigwigs start getting in a bidding war," Buschardt said. "We're not sure if we'll have any more to offer the public or not, but we are committed offering the first two starting on May 1."

The singer's relatives have given their blessing on the rebuild.

Dan Riedemann, who is in charge of the rebuild, said earlier this year that the house should be finished in July and open to the thousands of fans around the world who flock to the small town of 3,300 for the annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival — dubbed WoodyFest.

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