The Pianista Peoples of North America were a curious culture of disputed origin. They were not members of any Native American tribe, but are believed to have arrived at the time of Columbus or as late as the 18th Century from Southern Europe. Living out of view of the “civilized” society, they survived using piano parts for their material needs, utilizing every part, much like the Plains Indians utilized the buffalo. How all this began we do not know; all we know for sure is that the Pianistas were extraordinarily creative in their use of materials. This exhibit shows just a small fraction of their output, examples of which have been found from coast to coast of the American Continent with each region having its own distinctive style.
Archaeologists, explorers, and contemporary researchers have discovered several major types of objects, including masks, weapons, common and ceremonial objects; shelter and other structures; jewelry and ceremonial costume; crude vehicles and vessels, toys and games, and musical instruments. These delineations are somewhat limiting, as many of the objects take on the properties of two or three of these classifications. Another classification comes from the Pianistas themselves. The word “sculpture” was originally derived from a native word that is difficult to interpret, but can be loosely translated as “without any particular use.” In addition to artifacts, photographs, prints, and paintings of the artifacts, ceremonies, and members of this culture—from official portraits to anonymous renderings and other ephemera—have slowly been emerging from deep within the collections of natural history museums (and other less prestigious locations) across America and around the world and more are being discovered each year.
The Pianistas were very prolific but an accurate history of their culture and an interpretation of the true meaning and the specific origin of these objects and images can only be guessed, for there was no written language, and no descendents are known to have survived. It should be noted that Pianista artifacts in the past were variously thought of as primitive crafts, cult objects, and curios. Documentation by collectors was virtually non-existent, misleading, or completely fabricated. The objects themselves may have been mislabeled in museum displays, or even physically altered by misguided curators and docents, and authentication is often difficult.
When exhibited, the artifacts are displayed with notes about the history and legends of this curious culture based on research spanning a period of over a hundred years. Whenever possible, early theories and observations are balanced with a contemporary eye, especially in light of recent research, opposing hypotheses, and startling new discoveries. In this way, we hope to dispel some misconceptions, raise some questions, and shed some light on the fascinating, often misunderstood, and profoundly mysterious Legend of the Pianistas.