For years, artist James A. Willis has found inspiration by looking up and taking notice of the Manhattan skyline and the water towers that hid in plain sight on top of its countless buildings. Like the quiet sentinels that inspired it, the Gibson Custom/James A. Willis “New York City Special” delivers a raw, subtle beauty through shadow and light.
This one-of-a-kind instrument reflects both the anonymity of these iconic water towers as well as the artist’s ability to see a larger picture of their importance. The instrument, which was built by the talented craftspeople at the Gibson Custom shop in Nashville, features Willis’s details, including hand-carved wood, inlaid copper, and a moody, dusk sky expressed in copper and acrylic in the artist’s trademark expressionist style of painting.
Willis chose untreated copper hardware so that the guitar would remain an ever-evolving piece of art as it continues to develop a rich patina as it ages. To further the experience of this one-of-a-kind piece, the entire process of its creation—from concept sketches and materials testing to it’s time on work benches in both New York and Nashville—has been documented in a scrapbook for its eventual owner. In addition, the guitar’s owner will receive hand-tooled leather strap created by Willis and guest artist Mike Kelly; a custom painted hard-shell case; and, for the first time in Gibson history, an original painting created by Willis.
The first official work produced as part of the Gibson Custom Artist in Residence program, the “New York City Special” commemorates one of the most unique fine-art programs in the history of the Industry, and is a guitar that both the artist and Gibson will forever take great pride in.
Photography by Walter Bryant