About the Hanging Tree Guitars Exhibit

For over fifty years Freeman Vines has transformed materials culled from a forgotten landscape in his relentless pursuit of building a guitar capable of producing a singular tone that has haunted his dreams, including a series using wood from a tree used for lynchings. Vines befriended photographer Timothy Duffy in 2015, and the two began to document the guitars.

Duffy is the founder of the Music Maker Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports senior musicians in need while educating the public about America’s musical heritage. The foundation has supported Vines’ work and partnered with him to produce the Hanging Tree Guitars book and exhibition.

The Hanging Tree Guitars exhibition will tour nationally and is presented by Music Maker Relief Foundation with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Freeman Vines is a self-taught luthier and sculptor born in Greene County, North Carolina in 1942. Vines has worked as a sharecropper, auto-body repair man, and luthier. The first public display of his work was in February 2020 as part of the group show We Will Walk – Art and Resistance in the American South at the Turner Contemporary in the UK.

Timothy Duffy is a photographer and founder of the Music Maker Foundation. Duffy has been recording and photographing traditional artists in the South since the age of 16, when he became interested in ethnomusicology. Duffy earned an MA from the Curriculum in Folklore at the UNC and lives in Hillsborough, NC. Duffy’s photographs are in permanent collections of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Morris Museum of Art, and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.

Zoe Van Buren was born and raised in New York City and is currently the Folklife Specialist for the North Carolina Arts Council where she specializes in ethnographic research and writing, and arts administration. Van Buren received an MA from the Curriculum in Folklore at the University of North Carolina. Zoe wrote the introduction for the Hanging Tree Guitars virtual exhibit and organized Freeman’s words into ethnopoetics.

Dr. Will Boone is a Lecturer in the music department at North Carolina State University. He received a PhD from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2013 with ethnographic research on contemporary black gospel music in a Durham, North Carolina church. His publications include academic essays, articles for the Grove Encyclopedia of American Music, and the extensive liner notes for Labor of Love, the 2016 release from Grammy Award-winning blues legend Taj Mahal.

Lonnie Holley was born on February 10, 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama. His art and music is born out of struggle, hardship, but perhaps more importantly, out of furious curiosity and biological necessity. His work has been displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of Art, High Museum, and MASS MoCA.

Music Maker Foundation

Music Maker Foundation tends the roots of traditional American music by meeting the day-to-day needs of the artists who create it, ensuring their voices are heard, and giving all people access to our nation’s hidden musical treasures.

Our Programs


We book our artists’ performances—everywhere from venues in their hometowns to stages around the world—and provide them with CDs to sell in their communities. LEARN MORE »


We create books, release recordings, and curate exhibitions that tour museums across the United States, creating cultural equity for our partner artists. LEARN MORE »


Grants to our partner musicians help them keep roofs over their heads, food on their tables, instruments in their hands, and help them weather crises. LEARN MORE »