WHEN JACLYNN CAUTHORN was a young girl, her grandmother would place her in front of her grand piano each year for an annual birthday photo. Little did young Jaclynn realize that this ritual would imprint a love for pianos in her heart. It was her passion for the beauty of a piano and her love for leather and Western interiors that would inspire her to form a business with her husband, Donnie, called Southern Harmony. Its purpose is to create one-of-a-kind custom pianos covered in leather and embellished with silver. “We love the Western lifestyle and have a desire to bring a harmonious transition between Western and traditional styling,” says Cauthorn.
The process of creating a custom leather piano is a true work of passion and art. “There is not a kit that can do these pianos,” says Cauthorn, an ardent equestrian, who was inspired to create Southern Harmony from her love for the Western saddle. First, Cauthorn selects the leather and creates a pattern, carefully configuring the hides to produce a seamless motif. She then works with a silversmith to adorn the piano with sliver embellishments. “I’m very big on not overdoing it,” says Cauthorn, who believes each piano is a true work of art that can also create beautiful music.
Never in her wildest dreams did she think that she would design pianos that would end up in a Western art museum in Arizona, in the Chicago home of a piano player who dreamed of owning a Steinway, or in the residence of a Texas country music promoter looking for a bespoke piano for his Western-themed home. When there were ups and downs in this venture, Cauthorn’s faith kept her on a steady course.
“I never saw anything like it before; I knew I had to have it,” says country musician promoter Mike Hope, who first saw the leather-covered Kimball Grand Viennese Classic advertised in Cowboys & Indians Magazine. Hope’s home in Heath, Texas, is brimming with Western art. “A regular shiny piano wouldn’t do it,” continues Hope, who was elated when he discovered that Cauthorn lived nearby. “l fell in love with it and wouldn’t sell it for any amount of money. I would never find another piano like this one.”
Abigail Carter saw an advertisement for the pianos in Cowboys & Indians Magazine while waiting for an appointment. She kept the ad and contacted Southern Harmony in 2019 to inquire about availability. Carter had previously owned a Steinway and was interested in owning one again. Cauthorn had a 1941 Steinway Model S grand piano that was inspired by a Western silver show saddle. It was all the more appealing to Carter because it was a one-of-a-kind, and after waiting 47 years, it was meant to be hers. She made the purchase and had it delivered to her home in the Chicago suburbs. The piano has helped to make music and music education a priority in her life. It is also the centerpiece of her décor upon entry into her home.
When Cauthorn offered a Knabe grand piano for sale, it was purchased by Bob Cloutier, a piano technician with more than 40 years of experience servicing concert instruments nationally and internationally and specializing in Steinway piano restoration. “Every key was replaced,” Cloutier says. “Every piece of buckskin or felt was replaced, including all new hammers. The interior cavity that holds the keyboard was completely sanded and re-varnished. The end result is a 90-year-old Knabe grand piano that sounds, plays and appears as new, but this one is dressed for the rodeo.” Cloutier donated the piano to the Phippen Museum in Prescott, Arizona, which celebrates the art and heritage of the American West. “I thought, ‘Where do you put a grand piano with leather on it?’ The museum was delighted to accept the piano. It fits perfectly with its décor,” Cloutier says.
When Cauthorn thinks about the journeys of the pianos, it strengthens her faith in God and belief that everything happens for a reason. “I am blown away that one of my pianos is in a museum,” she says.
Cauthorn is certain the pianos are in perfect harmony with their new homes. She says: “l will be excited to see where the Steinway M that I am working on now finds a home. I really do believe in miracles!” *
Stacey Marcus is a Boston-based freelance lifestyle, luxury and travel writer. Her works have appeared in Art New England, Boston, Boston Common Magazine, Coastal Design Magazine, Charleston Style & Design, Modern Luxury Chicago, Ocean Home Magazine, Playboy.com, RD.com and many others. A lover of big words and little white dogs, Stacey’s biggest joys are found in life’s simple moments.