Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How Small Can You Go? Visiting the 40th Annual Miniature Show

When my friend Maggie made her plans to visit, I put on my tour guide hat and searched for fun things to do while she was here.  We had plans to visit the Dali Museum in St. Pete to see the Picasso-Dali, Dali-Picasso show, so a stop at the 40th Annual International Miniature Art Exhibition in Tarpon Springs seemed like a good add-on.  It's a wonderful--and slightly mind boggling--show.

Kathy Pollak at work
Our first stop was a chat with artist Kathy Pollak, one of the demo artists that day.  Pollak used to do "normal painting," but turned to miniatures when she and and her husband moved to Florida and downsized.  (We heard this from some other artists we spoke with as well.  Everyone can find a space in their home for a miniature!)  In order to qualify as a miniature, the work itself can be no more than 25 square inches; the maximum framed size is 64 square inches.  Also, as a rule of thumb, the miniature should be no larger than 1/6 the size of the actual object. (Just for kicks, I got out a measuring tape and measured my face, which is approximately 9 inches tall.  This means my face in a miniature portrait should be no larger than 1 1/2 inches.)  

Pollak starts her process with a picture of what she wants to paint loaded up on several devices (plus a hard copy).  The version on her iPhone (not the gargantuan iPhone 6 plus) was the actual size of the painting she was working on the day we chatted with her.  She begins either by tracing the picture onto her canvas (which she called the "cheaters' method") or by drawing the image with the use of calipers to measure the distances.  Either way, the artist then has to paint the detail of the miniature, which requires an inordinate amount of skill and patience.

"Cottage at the Cape" by
Polly Berlin (oil)
With this background, we began to explore the lighted cases filled with miniatures.  A magnifying glass hangs by each case so visitors can take a closer look at the detail of works that catch their eyes.  Maggie almost immediately gravitated to this work by Polly Berlin entitled "Cottage at the Cape."  The texture and details of the flowers is incredible. In a happy coincidence, Maggie's mother collected miniatures that are housed in a family home on Cape Cod.  It was an easy decision for her to add this work to the collection.

"The Colors of Robin Williams"
by Rebecca Kessel (acrylic)
The exhibit contains a wide variety of styles and mediums. Essentially, any type of work done in "regular" size can be done in miniature.  There were watercolors and sculptures and multi-media works and drawings. The subject matters were equally varied, from portraits to landscapes to animals.  Abstract works are specifically permitted under the prospectus for the show, but both Maggie and I felt they don't translate particularly well into the miniature format.

"Gypsy Horse, Cherokee
Rose" by Denise
Submissions have to be juried into the show.  If I understood correctly, there is a panel of five jurors and majority rules.  A judge then selects the winners.  Prizes are awarded in each medium and in a number of subject-matter specific categories.  First prize for opaque watercolor went to the Visual Arts Center's own Denise Horne-Kaplan for "Gypsy Horse, Cherokee Rose."  The work measures 2 1/2" by 4 1/2".  Even in my picture, you can see the amount of detail in the work.

"The Road to Coomenole Beach,
Dingle" by Joan Cart (opaque watercolor)
The exhibition is an annual event and is held at the Leepa-Rattner Museum in St. Petersburg.  This year's show runs through February 15.  It's really a must-see for any art lover (and, in my opinion, much more interesting than the Picasso-Dali, Dali-Picasso show).  I am already looking forward to next year's show.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Visiting the Hermitage Artist Retreat

I've wanted to attend a beach event at the Hermitage Artist Retreat ever since I heard about them. What could be more fun than sitting on a beach chair listening to an author read or a musician perform while the sun sets?   And so my friend Janice and I headed out to Englewood earlier this month to check it out.  It was truly special.

With Janice at the Hermiage
We arrived at the appointed hour of 4:00 and were told that the reading/video would be held in one of the buildings rather than on the beach "because the surf was too loud."  (What a problem!)  It was also a bit chilly--for Southwest Florida--but we checked out the beach anyway for future reference.  I am more eager than ever to get to an event that's actually held on the beach.

Barbara Parmet photo
We were invited to visit the "Old Florida" buildings on the property, each of which has been converted into a studio and housed an artist showing her work.  We made a bee line for the building where Barbara Parmet was showing her photography.  Parmet's work (most of which is black and white) is ethereal and haunting.  Her "Gravity Unbound" photos were taken underwater in (heated) pools and are incredible.  We happened to visit when one of Parmet's models was there.  She told us a bit about what it was like spending time underwater wearing a formal gown and trying to follow Parmet's instructions to move one way or another for the shot.  Really fun.  Each Hermitage fellow is given a six week residency (which can be broken up) to focus on their work.  Parmet was spending two weeks at the Hermitage creating the narrative to go with her photos.

Artist Rebecca Allan
Rebecca Allan was sharing her environmental landscape work in another studio.  I chatted with her a bit about what it meant to to be a Hermitage fellow.  "This gift of time is like being on 10,000 vitamins," she said.  Time away from family and grocery shopping and teaching commitments -- all the realities of everyday life -- to focus on her art.  Time, as Allan enthused, to really dig down into her body of work. And having the opportunity to spend time with other Hermitage fellows, sharing their creative juices, is a big bow on top of the present.

Zoe Strecker
Zoe Strecker's resume is astounding in its scope and includes sculpture, ceramics, nonfiction essays, and documentaries.  She also co-authored the book "Kentucky Off the Beaten Path: A Guide to Unique Places." We entered Strecker's studio mid-chat with some other visitors but were immediately drawn in.  She was showing slides from her walks on the trails of Pine Mountain and the Wild Places project.  The intent behind the project is "to connect people with wilderness through an array of creative projects."  One project involves converting large-scale photos that Strecker has taken of the forest (primarily endangered hemlocks) into quilting patterns. Among other things, Strecker loves the low tech/high tech aspect of this initiative.  Janice and I are ready to head up to Kentucky to participate in one of her walks.

Lisa Schlesinger
The program that had been intended to take place on the beach was held in a small house on the property.  Lisa Schlesinger, a playwright and storyteller, kicked it off with a reading of her essay, "My Husband, the Sperm Donor" that appeared in the New York Times' Modern Love column.  The essay involved her husband's decision -- which was fully supported by Lisa and their two children -- to become a sperm donor for a gay couple with whom they are good friends.  Modern love indeed.

Laura Kaminsky
Composer Laura Kaminsky was the final fellow who shared her work at the event.  Kaminsky's opera "As One" opened to standing room only audiences at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last fall.  Kaminsky spoke with passion and eloquence about the development of her work, which tells the story of a transgender individual, showing video clips along the way. It's a story of self-discovery and acceptance and explores what you gain--and lose--to be who you truly are.  Kaminsky talked about the choice of the palindrome "Hannah" as the character's name.  (Palindromes have the same meaning backwards and forwards.  How perfect!)   She told how wonderful it was to have a married couple (of the type who can complete each other's sentences) portraying the male and female versions of the character. The opera was staged sparingly, but beautifully, with a string quartet on stage with the actors, and the clips from the production were powerful.  Despite the fact that I am far from an opera buff, I was enthralled with Kaminsky's presentation.

The Hermitage's next beach event will be held on Friday, January 30, at 4 p.m. and will feature portrait artist Felix de la Concha (who, weather permitting, will be painting on the beach) and composers Patrick Harlin, Evan Ziporyn and Christine Southworth.  For more information about both the Hermitage and the event, click here.  Maybe I'll see you there!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Citizens' Academy -- Getting to Know the Administration

My buddy Bruce and I met early last Tuesday morning for our first session of the Punta Gorda Citizens' Academy. We rolled into a classroom filled with other residents eager to learn about the inner workings of the City.  Over the course of the next four months, we will visit different departments in the City--from public works to urban design to police--and hear from those in the know what's involved in making Punta Gorda run.  Our first session dealt with Administration and included presentations from the City Council, the City Manager, the Legal Department and IT.  Here are a few fun facts I learned that morning.

--Punta Gorda operates under a council-manager form of government.  This means that our elected representatives (the council members) perform the legislative function while the city manager functions much as a CEO.
--Punta Gorda's mission statement (adopted by the City Council) is "To enhance Punta Gorda's identity as a vibrant waterfront community, unique in character and history, and one of the most desirable places to live, work and visit."
--CSPAN junkies will be glad to know that City Council meetings are available on YouTube no later than the day following the meeting.  (Click here to check it out.)
Yes, the green sign also says "McKenzie."
--As a general rule, blue street signs indicate that you are in the city proper while green street signs indicate that you are in an unincorporated part of the county.  As Council member Rachel Keesling pointed out, though, there are some ambiguities.
--According to a recent report, Punta Gorda is the seventh safest Florida city to live in.  (My sister's home of Parkland was second, so we are in good shape!)
--City Manager Howard Kunik and his team had to obtain approval from Homeland Security to make modifications to the portion of Harbor Walk that runs under the northbound 41 bridge.  Post 9-11, all bridge related construction is required to comply with these regulations.  Modifications to Harbor Walk under the southbound bridge are on the horizon. 
--Punta Gorda's website contains 8 terabytes of data. (I have no concept of what this actually means, but I know that's a lot.)  Punta Gorda's IT manager Brad Schuette is in the process of updating the website. Suggestions are welcome at (Click here to visit the website.) 
The Fitness Zone
--The "Fitness Zone" at Linear Park across from Fishermen's Village is so popular that a second location is under consideration.  Thanks to the Punta Gorda Rotary Club for donating the equipment!

I was struck by the number of times throughout the morning I heard the term "customer service."  I left feeling that every council member and department head is actually eager to hear from Punta Gorda's citizens, whether it's a complaint, a suggestion or kudos for a job well done. It was yet another reminder of why Punta Gorda is, in fact, an incredibly desirable place to live. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Jazzing it up with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

Attending Charlotte Symphony Orchestras has become a staple in my cultural life.  It’s no secret, though, that I have a steep learning curve when it comes to classical music.  And so I was eagerly awaiting the CSO concert featuring jazz great Marvin Stamm on trumpet and repertoire such as Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story” and Duke Ellington's "Ellington Fantasy."  It was pure joy.

The fun got started with Maestro Ponti's pre-concert talk.  I knew we were in for a good time when Raffaele quoted Louis Armstrong.  "There are two types of music," Mr. Armstrong said. "The good and the bad."  Raffaele assured us that the evening's concert would feature the good kind.

Mssrs. Mancini, Neuschwander, Stamm, Ponti, Danielsson & guest

The Maestro talked about the way people experience music (and, in fact, life).  "There are magical moments," he said, "When you hear or play something and think, 'Oh, baby, that's it.' And then you spend the rest of your life trying to make it happen again."  And then, with the help of guest musicians Per Danielsson on piano, Mark Neuschwander on bass and Dave Mancini on drums, he gave us a musical demonstration of this phenomenon.

Mr. Danielsson played a melody that Raffaele promised the audience knew.  Nobody, however, was able to name that tune.  Mr. Danielsson changed up the tempo, and suddenly we realized that we were listening to "Take the A Train," the signature song of the Duke Ellington orchestra.

From there it got crazy.  The trio played "A Train" in a variety of styles, from bossa nova to calypso to slow and sultry to rock and roll.  The rhythm was changed from 4/4 to 3/4.  The pianist played in half time while the drums and bass played in double time.  It was impossible to sit still, and the women on both sides of me were reading my mind when they said, "We need a dance floor!"

The concert hadn't even started, and I could have gone home happy.  The evening was off to a great start.

The orchestra's seating had been reorganized for this concert, with strings on one side and brass on the other. The piano for Mr. Daniellson was dead center, with Mr. Mancini's drums to one side and Mr. Nuenschwander's bass just in front.  A chair and stand had been set apart for jazz great Marvin Stamm and his trumpet. It was one more indication that the evening held something different for the audience.

The concert proper kicked off with the wonderful "Symphonic Dances from West Side Story" by Leonard Bernstein.   It's hard to believe, but neither I nor Janice (my companion for the evening) have ever seen "West Side Story."  I've heard excerpts from its "Symphonic Dances" many times, though, with the most memorable being when I saw "Jerome Robbins' Broadway."   (Fun--but totally off point--fact:  Did you know that the first draft of the play was called "East Side Story" since it was set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan?)

It was wonderful to hear the work from start to finish, and the musicians looked like they were having as much fun as the audience was.  The prologue included an excerpt from "Jet Song," and Raffaele turned sideways to the crowd with a mischievous look as he snapped his fingers. The orchestra members cried out "Mambo" on cue in the segment with the same name.  (No matter how many times I have seen this, it always makes me smile.)  A percussion player blew an incredibly loud whistle.  Serious fun.

My predictably favorite excerpt was "Somewhere" with its hopes of a place where the couple's young love can bloom without concern about their differences. I could hear the lyrics of "Hold my hand and we're halfway there, Hold my hand and I'll take you there."  And so the CSO had.

Marvin Stamm
From there we were off to the world of Duke Ellington's Fantasy.  Our guest musicians joined the CSO for this piece, and I felt as if the Charlotte Performing Arts Center had been transformed into a jazz club.  Once again, the piece was a medley.  There was "Caravan" (one of my personal favorites) and "Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got that Swing").  Dave Mancini had a ridiculous drum solo that prompted the first of several exclamations of "Oh, wow" that I heard during the performance.  I was dancing in my seat throughout (something the people behind me commented on during intermission -- sorry!)

Once again, I would have been fully satisfied if the evening had ended there, but Raffaele had more in store.  I laughed when he took the podium after intermission.  Always fastidious about his appearance, his hair was wild and I was reminded of a mad scientist or--more apt--a crazy jazz musician.

Mr. Stamm, his fellow guest artists and the CSO went on to treat the audience to an array of jazz numbers, including an upbeat composition entitled "Samba du Nancy" that Mr. Stamm wrote for his wife. Raffaele and Mr. Stamm chatted a bit, and when asked who most influenced Mr. Stamm, he had a surprising answer.  While he of course was influenced by the great musicians with whom he's worked (like Stan Kenton and Thad Jones), he credited his middle school and high school band conductors and his trumpet teacher with inspiring him to make a career of music. It was a tribute to the power of arts education, a dwindling commodity in today's world.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of music that once again showed the ever-growing versatility and talent of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Ponti's baton. I can't wait to see what's in store for us next.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Creating A Community of Theater Supporters

Community.  It's a powerful concept.  Everyone likes to be part of something, to work together towards a common goal.  But communities don't just appear out of thin air.  They have to be built and nurtured and grown.  And nobody does that better than the FSU/Asolo Conservatory program.

The enthusiasm in the room was palpable when Dorrit and I arrived at a brunch for Conservatory supporters to meet the 12 first year students. We already had a sense of the students and their personalities from the musical theater showcase earlier in the season. But this time we had a chance to get up close and personal with the students.  It was a blast.

With Danielle and Dorrit
After spending some time chatting with students and other supporters, we made our way to our table. Each table was hosted by a student, and our first year was Danielle Renella.  I was thrilled to be seated next to her so I could learn about her Conservatory experience without shouting across the table.

Having recently read about the Conservatory's stage combat workshop, one of my first questions was what the workshop was like for her.  (Danielle is a tiny thing who probably doesn't weigh 100 pounds soaking wet.)  She acknowledged it was a bit intimidating at first, especially when the guys' testosterone kicked in.  But she went with the flow, eventually settling in and accepting the instructor's excitement about having someone small in the class who could easily be thrown around.  Yikes! (Click here to read Jay Handelman's article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune about the workshop.)

I learned that the students receive a stipend in exchange for the work they do on the productions put on by the second year students.  Danielle's current job is working in the costume department for "As You Like It."  The job is definitely not glamorous and involves sewing buttons and doing voluminous amounts of laundry after each show. She also helps with costume changes and told us to watch for a 15 second costume change when we saw "As You Like It" that afternoon.  (Dorrit and I nudged each other when the change took place.)

Each of the students was asked to introduce him- or herself and comment on what they've found the most challenging part of the Conservatory program to be now that they have a semester under their belts.  Here's a sampling of their responses:

--Working as an understudy for an Asolo Rep production -- without attending rehearsals.  Third year Conservatory students often act in Asolo Rep plays, with the first year students serving as their understudies.  The difficulty is that the first years have a full load, often working on three or four disciplines each day, plus working to earn their stipend.  As a result, the students memorize their lines, attend a couple of rehearsals, and hope for the best if they get the call to fill in.

--"Losing your body," learning how to breathe and having an "awake" spine -- Each of these challenges relates to learning how to find a calm, yet fluid, place from which to work.

--Learning to release into the moment without holding back, even if that means getting into emotions you might rather not focus on.

--Accepting that it's okay to fail, with the corollary challenges of trusting the process and trying not to measure your progress.

Dorrit and I loved every second of the brunch (although it was a bit exhausting to maintain that level of excitement for a couple of hours!)  I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of the Conservatory community.  I can't wait to see what's next.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Will Patton: Narrator Extraordinaire

I have no doubt that I will always be a reader of physical books.  (Yes, the ones you inconveniently have to schlep around with actual pages you turn.)  While I admittedly haven't tried very hard, I just can't make the transition to my Kindle.  Among other things, how do you figure out what you want to read without going into a bookstore or library and trolling the shelves?  And why would you deny yourself that pleasure?

Will Patton
Having said that, I have become addicted to my subscription to Audible, with a credit each month for an audio book.  Picking an audio book can seem an even more daunting task than finding a read for your Kindle, since a good book will lose its appeal without a narrator whose style speaks to you.  For me, Will Patton is just such a narrator.

I discovered Patton when I listened to Stephen King's "Doctor Sleep," a satisfyingly creepy sequel to "The Shining."  I just loved his voice, and his pacing was terrific.  And so, just as when you find an author whose work you enjoy, I started looking at audio books for which Patton is the narrator.  I feel like a miner who's struck gold.   Patton has won several narration awards--primarily for mysteries and thrillers--and is perhaps best known as the voice of James Lee Burke's character Dave Robicheaux. I've been meaning to give Burke's books a try and now have the perfect way to do so.

What's prompted this post, though, is that I just finished listening to Charles Frazier's "Nightwoods."  My thoughts keep returning to this story brought to life by Patton's voice.

The book begins with a simple, intriguing sentence.  "Luce's new stranger children were small and beautiful and violent."  And so I was launched into the world of Luce, a woman whose solitary life in the Applachians is irrevocably changed with the arrival of her murdered sister's twin children.

"Nightwoods" is a dark story about a damaged family. The children speak only in the silent language of communication between twins.  Luce's relationship with the children is tentative at best.  Her instincts on how to deal with them are good, though, and each inroad she makes feels like a great victory.

Luce's relationship with the outside world is tentative as well.  She tends to an old lodge outside of town and lives more or less off the grid.  When asked about whether her life is lonely, she acknowledges that it is, but feels passionate about its many rewards.  Among them, "Birds passing over in waves, their calls singing of distance and other landscapes...The sadness and bravery of new doomed sprouts growing from dead blighted chestnut trees. At night, you could walk outside and...not see a light, just shapes of black mountains against the charcoal sky and the brilliant stars overhead."  Frazier's words are often lyrical and bring beauty to a world quite unlike my own.

When the owner of the lodge dies, his grandson enters the picture.  Young Stubblefield spent summers in the area and remembers Luce.  Her beauty has lingered with him for more than a decade, and he's eager to get to know her.  Their friendship becomes an important part of the story.

I don't want to say more as "Nightwoods" is definitely worth reading or, better yet, listening to.  One of the wonderful things about reading is conjuring up images of the story as you go.  Patton's narration made the images richer and the characters a bit more real.  In an interview about his audio work, Patton said, "When I read a book aloud, I get to know the author.  I get to know where he was emotionally."  Patton's respect and enjoyment of Frazier's words are clear, and the result is a wonderful partnership between author and narrator.

In case the name Will Patton (or his picture) seems familiar to you, there is a reason.  In addition to narrating audio books, Patton is an actor on stage and screen.  He's won two Obie awards (one for Sam Shepard's "Fool for Love") and has acted in movies and TV shows as varied as "Desperately Seeking Susan" to "Remember the Titans" to "24" and "Numb3rs." More recently, he appeared in the movie "November Man" and the still running television show "Falling Skies."  With his resume, I'm curious about how he got into the business of reading audio books.  But mine is not to ask, just to enjoy.  

Time to get listening!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Discovering The Kreeger Museum

Pete and Althea
No trip to DC is complete without a visit to at least one of the many museums that the area boasts.  On my most recent get away, my friend Althea shared her discovery of The Kreeger Museum with her husband Peter and me.  It is a real gem.

With Pete on the patio's sculpture garden
The Museum is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year but, like the Barnes Foundation, was open on a very limited basis until a few years ago.  The Museum was previously David and Carmen Kreegers' home and was designed by architect Philip Johnson as a place to showcase their art collection.  Amazingly, most of the art in the building was collected over a period of just 15 years.  Kreeger's thoughts on buying art were, "I never bought art as an investment. I bought it for love and I was lucky. Art that embodies the creative spirit of men transcends the value of money." (In case you're wondering, Mr. Kreeger made his fortune as, among other things, the chairman of Geico.)
The Great Hall is chock full of amazing modern art, including works by Picasso and Braques.  Perhaps my personal favorite was Picasso's "Woman Sitting with Hat" (1939) that greeted us when we came into the room. When the Kreegers lived in this space, they used the Great Hall for entertaining and often held concerts there. In addition to his other talents, Mr. Kreeger was an accomplished violinist and would sometimes play chamber music with Isaac Stern or the Toyko String Quartet.

After gaping at the art in the Great Hall, we entered another room and my jaw dropped even further. The room was filled with Monets and works by other Impressionist artists.  One wall is all windows, so you experience the works slightly differently depending upon the light. How perfect!
"Lament" by Emile Brzezinski (red oak - 2013)

The Museum also has space for special exhibits.  When we were there, the show was "Lure of the Forest" by Emilie Brzezinski. (Her husband Zbigniew was National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter.  This is Washington, after all.)  Ms. Brzezinski creates her wooden sculptures using a chainsaw, chisel and axe.  She says of her work, "As I carve the trunk, I retain the essential outline and gesture of the tree, uncovering within its form a symbol of its history.”  The exhibit included a video of an interview that journalist Mika Brzezinski conducted of her mother for "CBS Sunday Morning."  To see the clip, which shows how Ms. Brzezinski goes about creating her art, click here

As you might have surmised from the picture of Brzenzinski's "Lament," The Kreeger Museum also has an outdoor sculpture garden. While the sculpture garden on the patio holds more traditional bronzes by artists like Henry Moore and Jean Arp, the works on the lawn are very modern.  I was immediately drawn to these larger than life sculptures by Ledelle Moe entitled "Transition/Displacement." Although her works are made of concrete and steel, Moe is fascinated with the concept of impermanence.  To quote her website, "'[Moe's] melting, monumental forms remind us the sadness, and beauty, of decay."  Admittedly, my initial interest in the sculptures was primarily as a photo opp.  I had a vision of lying on the ground next to them, hovering in a similar state.  Althea nixed the idea quite vehemently.  (Truly, I can't imagine her objection to my rolling around on the grass next to what I'm sure are quite expensive works of art.)  So I satisfied myself--reluctantly--with a close perusal of the works before we went on our way. 

Here's to a happy holiday season and a new year filled with great discoveries!