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Written by Jane Trabert Schmitt
Imagery by Robin Dettman

A grand piano by Steinway & Sons is a wonder to behold, crafted from carefully selected wood and delivering superior sound for everyone from amateur musicians to concert pianists.

Now imagine that instrument with decorative painting that seems to capture nature at its peak, springtime, that wonderful season when the earth awakens from a long winter slumber and unleashes its full splendor for all to see.

That was the goal of Rick Muto when he was commissioned by the world renowned company to create the latest design in its series of “Art Case Pianos.”

The result? A stunning, three-dimensional spring landscape bursting with color and detail, that will ultimately grace the Steinway Showroom in Shanghai, China to be offered for sale.

“It is not unusual for me to paint on surfaces other than canvas,” says Muto,a muralist, decorative painter, and fine artist who maintains a studio in Rochester, NewYork.“Steinway has a tradition of Art Case Pianos and hiring artists to embellish their cases. So I feel part of a great tradition.”

Indeed, this piano project wasn’t Muto’s first –he has done decorative work in various styles on three others.What made this unique, however, was the free rein he was given to take the project from concept to reality.

“They let me loose with the design,” Muto says. “Of the four pieces I have done for Steinway, this is the largest for me. And it’s all my design. It was an honor and a challenge.”

“Springtime” was the theme and the title for the project, nd Muto spent early 2011 awash in drawings and reference material as he carefully considered design and technique. He gained inspiration from his lifelong love of nature and from the changing seasons.

“There’s no better place to document springtime than Rochester, NewYork,”says the artist,who loves to paint landscapes and is an avid gardener.“I took my camera everywhere I went,and after thousands of photographs I built a design from the landscape that I’m so familiar with. I know plants and flowers very well;

I love growing things. The landscape, to me, is a huge cathedral. It’s my spiritual place.”

Piece by piece but with his mind’s eye on cohesiveness, he brought to life an organic,“earth-to-sky” design for the case, the lid, the carved legs. He began painting the piano in his studio in August and finished in time for the February deadline. Come spring, it would be delivered to its final destination: Shanghai. “It’s a fantasy. In a sense, it’s a world that I’m creating on a piano,” Muto says, adding,“Anything is possible with paint.There really is no limit to what you can do with paint to make your environment special.”

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