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When Joe Rauen looks at a bucket, saw or shovel, he doesn't see them as tools for everyday cleaning.

To Rauen, these are objects that can be transformed into not only whimsical art works but working musical instruments.

One might say the Munster resident takes repurposing to an entirely new level.

"This actually is the resolution of a deep and lifelong conflict in myself," Rauen said during a recent phone interview. "I had always thought, 'What was I going to do, art or music?' I couldn't figure out how to do both 100 percent."

The musician/artist said turning familiar objects into musical instruments of all types was "the place where (music and art) intersected" for him.

Rauen will be demonstrating a collection of his musical instruments and performing during a special program at 2 p.m. Jan. 27 at the Hobart branch of the Lake County Public Library.

Rauen, who is married with children, said he had been interested in art during high school and later ended up going to music school. He attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston and Lincolnway High School in Frankfort and New Lenox. Rauen was born in Galesburg, Illinois.

Items Rauen has used to make his arsenal of unusual instruments include tennis racquets, hockey sticks, canes, tools and hardware.

"Once you start paying attention, these things are kind of everywhere," he said. What would be a routine trip to a home improvement store, junk yard or thrift shop for others is an adventure for Rauen.

The artist, 37, said the first three instruments he made featured metal objects with wood affixed to them. It occurred to him that he could let his creativity blossom when making future musical instruments.

"Then they became full of color, shape and texture," he said. "The sky's the limit."

"You can do things (create instruments) that don't have musical value," he explained, adding some of the creations can just be enjoyed and admired for their artistic properties and how they look.

"I had been thinking along pretty narrow possibilities at first," he said, stressing these projects also are an avenue to creating unusual and striking art objects.

All of Rauen's creations, however, make sounds and function as musical instruments. He now has close to two dozen musical doodads that have been made from everyday objects.

"The magic for me is that I think of it as I'm not just cobbling together junk. I had the vision to take the strangest things you could find and get them to do something," he said.

When Rauen demonstrates the instruments and performs at local venues, he does a one-hour show of original songs. Audience members also can feel free to ask Rauen questions about his creations during the presentations.

In the mix of unusual instruments the artist/musician has created are items he's named The Bucket Cello, Kalimba on Skies, Art Guitars, Tennis Racket Banjo, The Amoeba and others.

Erika Stolarz, manager of the Hobart branch of Lake County Library, said she's looking forward to having Rauen present his show to library patrons.

Stolarz said it was at one of the library meetings with her colleagues that she heard about Rauen's presentations and whimsical musical instruments.

"I googled him and thought what he was doing was awesome," Stolarz said. On a You Tube video, she saw the artist make a cello from a pail.

"The instruments he makes actually sound like instruments," she added.

When scheduling free programs for patrons, Stolarz said she wants to offer something out of the ordinary.

"I'm looking for different things and something for different age groups," she said."

When fashioning instruments, one of Rauen's favorite tools to use is a tennis racquet.

"Tennis racquets are one of my go-tos. I have a big stack," he said. Rauen said he usually has about five racquets around at all times.

Among favorite places he likes to shop for tools are The Hammond Salvage Co. and The Home Depot.

It's not unusual for Rauen to bring a bow, a pick and other items to a hardware store and travel down the shovel aisle to experiment.

"Those things will howl like a banshee," he said, with a laugh. "It's like a walk through a music shop."

Prior to his interest in creating unusual instruments, Rauen, who works in the office of Elim Christian School of Palos Heights, said he had been a "gigging musician."

Doing the usual gigs, though, he said, wasn't "weird enough for me."

In addition to his library appearance in Hobart, Rauen said he soon may be doing presentations at libraries in Griffith, Merrillville and Orland Park. Those appearances aren't officially scheduled yet.

FYI: Rauen's appearance at the Hobart branch of the Lake County Public Library will be at 2 p.m. Jan. 27. Location is 100 Main St., Hobart. Call 219-942-2243.


Features reporter

Eloise is A&E Editor and a food, entertainment and features writer for The Times, subjects she has covered for over two decades in and around the Region. She was the youngest of eight in a Chicago household filled with fantastic cooks and artists.