By Harry Anderson
She saw her father but once a week. When Morgan Piatek had told him that Mr. Lenore, her ceramics teacher at Smithfield High School, was pushing her to pursue the arts, the idea to take his daughter to Shady Lea Mills in North Kingston for a look-see struck him. For more than a century this stolid building had manufactured woolen goods, but now houses a warren of studios where the such as glass blowers, painters, potters, jewelry designers, sculptors ply their creative skills. Their visit to Shady Lea Mills would become a turning point in the lives of father and daughter.
The studio that caught Morgan’s attention smelled of saw dust and lacquer and gun oil. In the center of the room stood a band saw and a planer. Atop a workbench were rasps, chisels, spinner sanders, and dangling on hooks along a far wall were guitars at various stages of construction.
“Dad, that’s what I want to do. I want to build my own guitar!”
She could read music, having self-taught guitar playing and playing clarinet with the Sentinels’ band. But never had she handled a chisel or stood at a band saw.
“If you want to do it, go ahead and do it. Haven’t I always said this? Just as long as it’s not super dangerous.”
On the spot they signed up with Dan Collins, who would guide them from start to finish in the making of a guitar (Kevin Piatek’s telling him that he would be undertaking the project, too).
To get them up and running, Morgan’s grandparents paid Collins’ fee and cost of the wood. On a raw Saturday morning in March of 2018 the Piateks, in work clothes, showed up in Dan Collins’ Shady Lea Mill studio for their first of many four-hour sessions. They followed him to a closet where all sorts of wood was stored, reminding them that each wood would yield a unique sound.
“It’s your decision, Morgan.”
Two hours later, she placed on the workbench lengths of red wood for the instrument’s top, red gum for its sides and back, mahogany for its neck, and ebony for its fret board.
“I loved the grain and the color, and hoped my choice would produce a good sound.”
Wanting space to showcase such performers as folk singers and jazz trios, Collins moved south down US 1 to Peace Dale, a Wakefield village, to found the Pump House Music Works. The Piateks and their work-in-progress went along with him.
“Making a guitar isn’t easy. You have to be very precise, and we kept making mistakes. But I said to Dad that I wasn’t quitting! It was cool, though, how every mistake led to an artistic thing. Originally I wanted something simple, but as things progressed the project took on multiple meanings. The rosette, for example . . . the circular design around the sound hole. My intent at first was to use a simple geometric pattern, but that didn’t work out. The wood kept splitting. So instead I used scrap pieces of spalted maple, granadillo, and quilted maple and inlaid and glued them around the sound hole, ending up with a pretty cool abstract design.”
Not until the neck had been shaped and glued to the body did Morgan yelp with excitement: “Wow, Dad, this is awesome! It now looks like a guitar.”
By this time Morgan had graduated from Smithfield High and had begun freshman year at RIC. Many more Saturday sessions at the Pump House lay in store for her before she strummed the first chord. The hardware had to be installed — the tail piece, the tuning heads, the strings. But before that, the sanding and oiling faced the Piateks. Week after week Morgan and Kevin, sitting side by side at the work bench, slathered gun oil on the exotic wood and sanded and rubbed, sanded and rubbed. All the while they chatted. She told him about her classes, he about his job with an engineering firm. They talked about a sundry of things: the weather, the news, and eventually about their hopes and uncertainties.
“With each application of gun oil,” Morgan says, “our awe grew and grew, and I knew that, hey, there’s more going on here than what meets the eye. And when Dad caressed the body of the guitar that now was a shining beauty and sort of purred — ‘Wow, coming here is really therapeutic!’ — I, like, decided what I would do with my life. I would get my degree in Art Therapy and go on helping people.”
On an October 2019 morning in the midst of Indian summer, she embraced the finished guitar and played a riff that cast a spell in the workshop of the Pump House.
Today, Morgan is a second semester sophomore at Lesley College, having transferred from RIC. Accepting Dan Collins’ invitation to be the closing act on his Saturday open mike nights, she comes down from Cambridge to sing while fingering the strings of her new guitar, loving the mellowness coming from its gleaming body that father and daughter had created. And Kevin never misses a gig.