Delaware Today magazine 302 First Profile: Lana Lawrence, also known as Mama Mojo, makes cigar box banjos and other musical instruments in Rehoboth Beach

Cigar Box Hero: To Mama Mojo, one person’s trash is another person’s ... guitar.



Lana Lawrence was looking for a distraction from pain when she went on the Internet a little more than three years ago. What she found was a passion that touched her soul and started a new business.

“I remember just going, ‘Wow!’’’ says Lawrence, who makes cigar box guitars under the name of Mama Mojo.

She was simply looking for a lightweight guitar to play when she ran across a YouTube video of a man playing what she calls “soul grabbing, deep primal Delta Blues” music on a tiny instrument made of guitar string, a piece of wood and a cigar box.

“I gotta’ do that,” was Lawrence’s immediate response.

Cigar box instruments have been around more than 150 years in this country. Plans for a cigar box banjo were published in 1884 by Daniel Carter Beard, co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America. Etchings of soldiers playing cigar box fiddles can be found from the Civil War. They really took off, though, in the 1930s during The Great Depression. People didn’t have the money to buy fancy guitars, so they built their own.

“Musical instruments were beyond the means of most, but an old cigar box, a piece of broom handle and a couple wires from the screen door—and a guitar were born,” according to a posting from the National Cigar Box Guitar Museum in York, Pa. Today these instruments aren’t relegated to the front porches of America’s poor. Cigar box guitar players have included Jimi Hendrix, Ted Nugent, B.B. King and Johnny Depp.

While making such an instrument can be quite simple, most of today’s modern cigar box guitars are a little more complex.

Lawrence said she studied plans, designs and actual instruments for six months before she built her first guitar.

“I didn’t want to start out making junk,” says Lawrence, seated in the Rehoboth home she shares with her partner, Linda Palmer, as well as their dog, Jazz, and two cats named Dylan and Hendrix. Throughout the house are stacks of wooden cigar boxes, containers of guitar string, amplifier pieces and odds and ends she collects to add artistic flare to her pieces.

Lawrence is a recycler’s recycler. She came up with a way to cut plastic to make inlays that look like onyx. Even items like tuna cans spark ideas.

“We have very little trash around the house,” says Nate McCormick, a musician who also lives with Lawrence. “She’ll use a screw she found or a piece of plastic off a bottle. She’s fun and they’re awesome. Every [guitar] is a little different and has its own sound.”

The bigger the box, the better, says Lawrence. She’s used wooden craft boxes, lunch boxes and even a hubcap to make an instrument. Recently she started work on a guitar made from a heart-shaped box. “I try not to build the same thing twice.”

Her instruments are functional works of art. Although she disdains the use of tobacco, she sometimes leaves the logos and names of the cigar companies on the boxes because the artwork is too beautiful to erase, she says. Her three- and four-string guitar designs come with inlays, different stains, brass decorations and frets, and hand-carved necks. Every one is electrified to allow the maximum depth of sound.

“You can do just about anything on these instruments,” she says. “It all depends on how you string them up. I could fill a concert hall with [the sound of] these.” In her music room, guitars hang from every wall—above the guitars and speakers on the floor—and they’re mixed in with vintage posters and signed art from concerts and music venues. There are shelves stacked high with cigar boxes. And lots of other boxes carry extra, and they’re piled near an array of drums, tambourines, mandolins, fiddles and banjos.

Yet, Lawrence does not consider herself a musician. In her heart, she’s a photographer.

For years, Lawrence was a photographer in Washington, D.C. She documented 9/11 at the Pentagon, the anthrax attacks shortly thereafter, and other momentous events. Her work was displayed in the Library of Congress and she was the director of photography at the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, next to the Senate Hart Office Building.

She’s sure she would still be doing the same work, oblivious to handmade guitars had it not been for her gallbladder. Surgery to remove it in 2007 led to a flesh-eating bacterial infection that left her in constant pain and nearly took her life. Her days often start with painkillers to allow her to function. But that pain led to the guitars.

Lawrence could no longer work as a photographer—carrying three cameras and a bag full of lenses around Capitol Hill was out of the question. Yet, she realized from her brush with death that every moment should be spent doing something she loved. Music was one of those loves. Regular-sized guitars were too painful to play. They rested against her side, which is always sore. But she couldn’t imagine life without a musical release, thus the computer search for a lightweight guitar.

She bought her first guitar online from Shane Speal of York, Pa., the self-appointed “King of the Cigar Box Guitar.” Speal became Lawrence’s mentor, friend and fan.

Speal considers Lawrence a great example of a modern builder, and an asset to the cigar box guitar movement. Once Lawrence began playing and then building her own guitars, she immediately started helping others. She created an online woman’s group to encourage other female artists to build and play, and she is always available with advice and instruction for someone who wants to get into the craft, says Speal.

It’s not about money for Lawrence, it’s about making music available to everyone. While cigar box guitars listed online run from $200 to $2,000, Mama Mojo guitars generally cost under $200, with some as low as $75.

“A lot of people say I charge too little for the work I put in,” says Lawrence, who is considering a high-end model for collectors. Plus, she’s not limiting herself to guitars. She makes canjos (banjo-like instruments made from cans), stomp boxes (small wooden boxes placed under the foot, which is tapped rhythmically to produce a sound similar to a bass drum), and thumb pianos (an African instrument played by plucking different lengths of metal tines fastened to a piece of wood).

When she feels up to it,  Lawrence hosts jam sessions with local friends and musicians. Music is in her soul.

“My mind doesn’t shut off about these instruments,” she says. “If I’m not building them, I’m thinking about building them.”
 

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January 2017

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

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The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Sports Card & Collectible Show at Aetna Fire Hall on Jan. 22—sign up now! -Sports Cards McFarlane Figures Comic Books Non-Sports cards Wrestling Items Vintage Starting...

Cost: $2

Where:
Aetna Fire Hall
400 Ogletown Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: A2Z Promotions
Telephone: 302-983-2636
Contact Name: Bob Harper
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Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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Belly Dance Classes with Zahra Beginner & intermediate classes open to teens and adults Sundays in January starting Jan 8th Beginner: 2:30-3:30 p.m. Intermediate: 1 - 2 p.m (must get...

Cost: $15-$42

Where:
Take the Lead Studio
320 Lantana Drive
Hockessin , DE  19711
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Sponsor: Take the Lead
Contact Name: Zahra
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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
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Cost: $29-$59

Where:
OperaDelaware Studio
4 South Poplar St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: OperaDelaware
Telephone: 302-442-7809
Contact Name: Mary Wilcosky
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Cost: $35

Where:
The Pond Ice Arena
101 John Campbell Rd
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: Diamond State Curling Club
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
2nd and 3rd Streets
Wilmington, DE  19801


Sponsor: Notbybreadalone Outreach Ministries
Telephone: 442-0440
Contact Name: Ministers Wayne and Stephanie Dumpson
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Cost: Free

Where:
Wilmington University - Dover
Building A Auditorium
3282 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
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Sponsor: Wilmington University College of Social & Behavioral Sciences
Telephone: 302-295-1164
Contact Name: Dr. Johanna Bishop
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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Cost: see description

Where:
The Annex
501 Chandler Mill Rd
Kennett Square, PA  19348
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Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
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East Coast Garden Center Indoor Farmers Market Nov 8, 2016 - April 11, 2017  11 am- 2 pm 25 vendors Location:  East Coast Garden Center 30366 Cordrey Rd Millsboro, DE 19966 302-945-3489

Cost: frr

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Sponsor: East Coast Garden Center
Telephone: 302-945-3489
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East Coast Garden Center Indoor Farmer's Marke 25 vendors

Cost: Free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Telephone: 302-945-3489
Website »

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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

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Cost: $30

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University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30AM-12:00PM Fall session: Thursday, Dec 1st thru Thursday, December 15th Winter session: Tuesday, January 17th thru Thursday, March 30th   Drop in on Nature is...

Cost: see description

Where:
The Annex
501 Chandler Mill Rd
Kennett Square, PA  19348
View map »


Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

More information

Thursdays from 4:00PM-5:30PM Fall session: December 1st, 8th and 15th Winter session: Starts January 19th, every other Thursday until March 30th This program is based entirely outdoors and is...

Cost: Cost: $30 for TLC members / $40 for non-members

Where:
Bucktoe Creek Preserve
432 Sharp Rd
Avondale, PA  19311
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Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
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MARC BROUSSARD In 2004, Marc Broussard, then a precocious 22-year-old singer/songwriter, released his major-label debut; he called it Carencro, after the Louisiana town where he was born and...

Cost: $22 SRO- $32 SEATED

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World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
Website »

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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Tutto Fresco has live entertainment every Friday night from 6:30–9:30 p.m. Call for details. http://tuttofrescode.com/

Where:
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514 Philadelphia Pike
Wilmington, DE  19809
View map »

More information

The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

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Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
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Cost: $12-$20

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-3396
Contact Name: Kathy Buterbaugh
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

January 28 – Saturday – 1 to 4 p.m. Science Saturday – Truss Me, You Won’t Fall! Become an engineer for the day. Design a bridge to hold as much weight as possible....

Cost: Activities are included in regular admission and free for members.

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Hagley Museum
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

More information

GRILLED CHEESE AND CRAFT BEER TASTING We have taken two of the best things on earth and paired them together – Grilled Cheese and Craft Beer – and paired them together in unexpected and...

Cost: $40

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
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Saturday, January 28, 2017 at  7:30 pm at St. David’s Episcopal Church, 763 Valley Forge Rd, Wayne, PA 19087 Sunday, January 29, 2017 at 3 pm at Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square...

Cost: Tickets are $25 online, and $30 at the door. Student tickets $10 at the door.

Where:
Church of the Holy Trinity
1904 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA  19103
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Sponsor: Lyric Fest
Telephone: 215-438-1702
Contact Name: Jessica Nelson
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Fan favorite, Dick Smith, returns to the Dickinson Theatre Organ Society concert stage on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 for a show that is sure to bring the house down! Dick Smith has been a...

Cost: $15 Adults; $10 Students

Where:
John Dickinson High School Auditorium
1801 Milltown Road
Wilmington, DE  19808
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Sponsor: Dickinson Theatre Organ Society
Telephone: 302-995-2603
Contact Name: Bob Dilworth
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The Dickinson Theatre Organ Society presents Dick Smith. For tickets, click here: http://www.dtoskimball.org/events-tickets/ticket-information/ For further information, please call us at...

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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

More information

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Where:
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10 West Lea Blvd.
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Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-3396
Contact Name: Kathy Buterbaugh
Website »

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Cost: 15

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World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 215-222-1400
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