Cheré Dastugue Coen
The Music Makers of Lowe Mill
A vast former cotton mill seems an unlikely place for an arts community but organizers of the Lowe Mill cultural complex in Huntsville, Ala., saw a great opportunity. The mill had transitioned into a cotton warehouse when the mill ceased production in the early 20th century, then served as a factory for military boots to Vietnam soldiers.
It sat vacant for a spell until Jim Hudson, the founder of HudsonAlpha and Research Genetics bought the property in 2001. Hudson started the arts ball rolling, but a trip to the Torpedo Factory Arts Center in Arlington, Va., where a collection of working artists were located, gave him inspiration on how to establish a vibrant arts collective.
Today, Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment houses numerous artists in their studios and workshops, and the growth since its inception has made Lowe Mill A&E the nation’s largest privately owned arts and entertainment venue. Within 158 public studios with more than 200 working artists, visitors may enjoy watching them in action and have the opportunity to purchase original pieces. There’s everything from pottery and painting to crepes and coffee. Special events happen regularly, including the Concerts on the Dock (dock meaning loading dock, not something adjacent to water) during the spring.
Jeff Mello gives a music lesson to visitors amidst samples of his store's cigar box guitars.
When we visited Lowe Mill, we were treated to a music demonstration by Jeff Mello, a woodworker and engineer (throw a rock in Huntsville, aka NASA’s Rocket City, and you’ll hit one) who’s part owner of the Cigar Box Guitar Store. Not only does Mello create these musical instruments out of whatever is on hand — cigar boxes are the main base but so are shovels and license plates — he will explain to guests how to play them. Mellow offers free cigar box guitar lessons from noon to 2 p.m. every Saturday.
“The biggest thing we try to do is create musical experiences for folks,” Mello told us.
Cigar Box Guitars sells for $175 to $1200 but guests can also buy a kit and do it yourself for $125.
Over at Tangled Strings, luthier Danny Davis builds custom acoustic guitars. Davis is a former NASA mechanical engineer (told you they are everywhere) and in 2012 when he retired he decided to open a shop at Lowe. He spends approximately 12 weeks creating guitars and three different types of mandolins with two employees (at least when we were there) doing pearl designs (that would be Anna) and detailed work (Sean).
From left, Danny Davis, Sean at work detailing guitars and Davis giving a demonstration.
“My guitars are a combination of sound good, feel good and look good,” Davis said. “Extreme customization. I don’t rebuild anything.”
To learn more about this haven of creativity in the middle of a technological hub, visit https://lowemill.art.
Want to see Mello teach visitors how to play the blues? Visit my Instagram post by clicking here.
Weird, Wacky & Wild South is written by Cheré Dastugue Coen, who visited Huntsville, Ala., as part of the Southeast Tourism Society's Domestic Showcase. Thanks also to Charles Winters of Huntsville tourism for hosting travel writers and to Ruth Sykes for putting it all together.