By KEVIN WHITE
Leonard DeLaBruere is a musician who plays and builds most stringed instruments, writes his own songs, and is a talented painter and woodcarver and signmaker.
DeLaBruere, 61, estimated, in fact, that he’s made over 50 guitars and violins, 10 harps, cello, viola, hammer dulcimers, mandolins ... even a set of drums.
At age 10 he showed an interest in an old family guitar and with help from an older sister learned to play a few chords. DeLaBruere is from a family of 12, both his father and mother were also from families of a dozen. He grew up in a small postcard perfect Vermont town called Island Pond. His father was a logger. His mother took care of the home but also found time to paint. Leonard used to sit and watch until she got him paints and canvas of his own.
Around age 9 the nuns at his school noticed his skilled handwriting, encouraged him to use colored chalk to draw holiday scenes on the blackboard. Soon he was doing drawings of everything for the classmates and teachers who often framed his work.
His professional break was a published drawing of Jesus in the local newspaper accompanied a check for $10 and a thank-you note. With the check and money he made gathering nightcrawlers for local fisherman, he bought his first new guitar.
DeLaBruere’s paintings today are mostly scenes from New England, his hometown surrounded by colorful fall foliage, maple syrup gathering, covered bridges. His sons make barnwood frames and the paintings can sell for more than $1,200
But a seventh-grade trip to the Island Pond Public Library was a turning point in his artistic life.
“I wasn’t much into reading at the time, so I asked the sisters to let me check out a record,” DeLaBruere recalled.
The record name is forgotten but there was a photo and song about a log cabin that appealed to him. The log cabin song was the first professional tune he learned to sing and play. There were lots of large family and town gatherings, weddings, holidays together, and none passed without DeLaBruere being asked to play the “Log Cabin Song.”
“I got tired of it,” he said, smiling. “I wanted to play songs I’d written.”
He joined a band at age 15 and learned to be a better singer. He played in several bands but didn’t enjoy it.
“I felt like a hamster on wheels singing songs about whiskey,” he said. “I wanted to play and write about something more meaningful, more substantial,” such as his conversion to Christianity.
DeLaBruere, who lives in Arcadia, has seven children. All play instruments, including his wife Linda. Several of the boys build multiple stringed instruments. The couple and daughter, Melody, have been playing at open mike night on Wednesdays at Common Grounds Meeting Hall in North Port. The music is broadcast live on WKDW 97.5 FM.
Kevin White is a photojournalist living in Hardee County