Sheldon Scores Massive Musical Instrument Collection Worth Over $2 Million | St. Louis Public Radio

Sheldon Scores Massive Musical Instrument Collection Worth Over $2 Million

Jan 8, 2015

The Sheldon Art Galleries in Grand Center is the new owner of a collection of musical instruments worth more than $2 million.

Bridge-Spouted Whistling Vessel, Inca, Peru, 1400-1500 CE, 8 x 7.5 x 3 inches, Collection of the Sheldon Art Galleries, Hartenberger World Music Collection
Credit Provided By the Sheldon Art Galleries

Local university music professor Aurelia Hartenberger spent more than 40 years accumulating 2,500 instruments from nearly every continent. Some are contemporary, others date back 3,000 years.

The Hartenberger World Music Collection includes classical instruments from Europe and the U.S., American jazz instruments, and an array of others from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Central and South America. Among them are rare and one-of-a-kind pieces.

But the vast, historic collection all began with a single purchase — at a garage sale.  

“That’s how I got the bug,” Hartenberger said.

Collection Grew Along with the Family

In 1973, Hartenberger was a young mother trolling for bargains, when she came across a German flugelhorn, similar to a trumpet.

“I bought it for $50,” Hartenberger said. “It’s worth $1,000 today.”

From left, Sheldon Executive Director Paul Reuter, Professor Aurelia Hartenberger and Sheldon Art Galleries Director Olivia Lahs-Gonzales
Credit Provided by the Sheldon Art Galleries

Hartenberger and her husband, Jeff, bought more instruments as they raised three children and she worked as music curriculum director for the Mehlville and Lindbergh school districts. Some were souvenirs from their travels. “At first, you don’t even realize what you’re doing,” Hartenberger remembered.

As the children grew up and left home, instruments began to fill their empty bedrooms. Hartenberger, now an associate professor of music at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Webster University and Maryville University, began to think about how she might share the collection.

“I’m getting to an age where I can’t keep up with them,” Hartenberger said. “And after a while, you can’t enjoy them so much when they’re all boxed up.”

In 2001, she lent some of the collection to The Sheldon for display. Three more such exhibits followed. A few years ago, Hartenberger began talking with the institution’s leaders about the donation.

“The Sheldon is the perfect place. This needed to be their new home,” Hartenberger said.

Lessons Across the Curriculum

The classical and American jazz portion alone contains 800 pieces that encompass the development of brass, woodwind and fretted string instruments. The African collection includes 800 rare pieces, making this sub-collection notable by itself. There are a few teaching instruments among the assortment. But most are meant to be looked at, not played.

Krar, (Tom Lyre), 19th century, Ethiopia, shells, hide, glass, beads, metal, 35 x 33 inches, Collection of the Sheldon Art Galleries, Hartenberger World Music Collection at the Sheldon Art Galleries
Credit Provided By the Sheldon Art Galleries

Students who study this vast array will learn an excellent lesson about the evolution of musical instruments, according to Galleries director Olivia Lahs-Gonzales.

“There are wonderful cross-cultural connections to be made,” Lahs-Gonzales said.  “For example, how an African instrument came across to the United States and became a jazz instrument, how there are similarities and differences over cultures, looking at a Chinese wind instrument that is very similar to a Middle Eastern wind instrument.”

The Sheldon will also use the collection in a program funded by Boeing to teach students about the science, math and art of music-making. The artistry of the instruments is an important part of their value, Lahs-Gonzales said.

“They are so beautifully made," Lahs-Gonzales said. "And the forms and the decorations and the creativity of the way the sound is produced, and so yes, [they are] very much works of art as well as practical tools for music."

The public will be able to view parts of the collection in an exhibit of African, Asian and Latin-American pieces that opens Feb. 6.  The Sheldon Concert Hall will offer related musical events in January, February and April.

Bandurria (Bowlback Lute), Bolivia/Peru, Rosewood, Cedar, Spruce, Mother of Pearl, Collection of the Sheldon Art Galleries, Hartenberger World Music Collection at the Sheldon Art Galleries
Credit Provided By The Sheldon Art Galleries


‘A World of Music: Africa, Asia and Latin America’

Where: The Sheldon, 3648 Washington Blvd., 63108

When: 5-7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 6 opening reception; runs through Jan. 2, 2016.

How much: Free

Information: The Sheldon website

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

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