There’s something askew in Howren Music Store’s display window at the Park Road Shopping Center.
Violins dangle from the ceiling. A purple tuba sits in the corner. A cello bears a striking resemblance to a keyboard. And mermaids swimming in a yellow sea live on the back of another cello.
The Dr. Seuss-esque instruments are the work of 15-year-old Zoie Hale, a Fort Mill High School sophomore who the store enlisted to help jazz up their display case.
“I was happy to be able to say I painted all these instruments,” Hale said. “It’s different from anything I’ve done before.”
In late February, store business administrator Julie Howren decided she wanted her display window to better reflect the fun and creative side of music and to help draw in more business.
“Our store was a very boring beige,” Howren said. “We wanted to reflect that music is a lot of fun. It’s what life is about. It’s not boring.”
The Charlotte-based, family-owned store opened in 1948 by Howren’s father- and mother-in-law. It provides music lessons and sells and repairs instruments.
Julie Howren also wanted to find a better use for some of the “dead instruments” in the store’s basement.
Employees have collected more than 100 instruments that are beyond repair over the years, using them for scrap parts. Howren wanted to give the instruments new life.
And since she can’t display playable instruments in the window because the direct sun and heat would ruin them, she saw an opportunity to resurrect her dead instruments.
Howren posted on Facebook about her desire for someone to paint some of the instruments for free. She said she didn’t have high hopes anyone would respond.
Eight people responded, including a friend who told her about Hale’s talents. Hale painted two murals of a Fort Mill elementary school.
Howren enlisted Hale’s help because at the time, Hale was working on her portfolio for her South Carolina School of the Arts application.
“All we told her was we were looking for something whimsical and Dr. Seuss-ish,” Howren said. “That was as much direction as we gave her and what she did was perfect.”
Although the project’s completion did not meet the school application deadline, Hale said she was excited for the chance to work in a new medium.
“I did a lot of Googling. I was trying to figure out ideas because I didn’t know where to start with it,” Hale said. “I was looking for colors, shapes, patterns, musical themes that I could paint.”
Hale said she didn’t really have a master plan when she started. She just waited for the inspiration for each instrument.
She said she enjoyed the violins and cellos most because the backs of them most closely mimic a flat canvas.
But the French horn was a different story.
“I repainted it like four times,” she said, noting the difficulty in painting the nooks and crannies of the twisted instrument.
Hale started by painting the instrument orange but wasn’t satisfied. She changed it to lime green.
“She said, ‘I’m walking away from this instrument. I’ll be back later,’ ” said Jessica Hale, Zoie’s mom. “It was good to see her doing something outside of what she’s comfortable with. Her dedication was impressive.”
Since Howren’s husband, Dennis, set up the instruments in the display case, Howren said at least two people have asked if the cello with the piano painted on it is for sale. She’s also noticed more people lingering in front of the store to check out the instruments.
“We are so grateful,” Howren said. “She just took it and ran with it and we couldn’t have asked for anything better. She was so creative.”