Gibson Smoke Stack Becomes New Subject For Portrait Artist

Dec 11, 2015

Credit Mark Brotebeck

Mark Brotebeck primarily paints portraits of famous musicians from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. Artists like Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan.

“The thing is with this Boomer generation of music, it’s never gone away. And I think it kind of goes full circle with even today’s generation of kids. They go back to, you know, listening to Jimi Hendrix or The Beatles or The Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin or whoever that may be. It’s music that has always been a part of our culture.” 

Mark Brotebeck with some of his works in the WMUK studio
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

Of course, there are a lot of artists who like to paint these iconic faces. What makes Brotebeck different is the context he gives his subjects.

For his painting of Stevie Wonder, Brotebeck placed him in front of what is now Detroit’s Motown Museum, the former record studio nicknamed “Hitsville U.S.A.”

“I think it would work out for me to incorporate where he got his whole background and the start to his career. So I thought that might lend to the artwork itself,” says Brotebeck.  

But a while ago, Brotebeck turned his attention to a totally different subject - a landscape. Specifically, the smoke stack from the old Gibson Guitar factory. And last winter, when it looked like the stack could be torn down, Brotebeck and a friend started printing the painting on T-shirts - to bring awareness to the landmark.

“It would be terrible if it had to come down, it’s such a big part of Kalamazoo. And if they could restore it, renovate it, however they could do it, I think a lot of people…there’s so many musicians here in town and people that know the rich history of Gibson that’s turned into Heritage Guitar. People know exactly what goes on there and if they can maintain that integrity, I think that just keeps Kalamazoo on the map.”

Brotebeck's portraits of Jerry Garcia (left), Stevie Wonder (center), and Jimi Hendrix (right)
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

 Brotebeck says he doesn’t play himself, but he does own a 1959 acoustic Gibson guitar. He says it was his late father-in-law’s, who worked for Gibson for several years. It was his job to show musicians around Kalamazoo while they were in town.

“So they come to pick their guitar up, so it would be up to him to do some entertainment. It could be Peter Frampton or KISS or whoever was playing Gibson in the 70s or early 80s,” Brotebeck says.

“When he was moving, he had a dumpster and I saw a guitar case in there and immediately I jumped in there. Because you know obviously not being able to play music, I’m a really good listener of music I guess. So I jumped in there and opened it and it was this smaller three-quarter Gibson guitar, acoustic guitar that was sitting in this damaged case but very well preserved.”

So Brotebeck took it to Heritage Guitars to clean it up. Now it hangs in his office at the insurance agency.

“I get to look at it and touch it. And it’s just amazing what actual history is behind any one of those guitars that came out of that factory,” he says.