Friday, January 8, 2021

Exploring Myakka River State Park

A moment of non-social distancing
with Libbie and Deb 
Florida has many, many issues, but winter weather isn't one of them. Being able to comfortably enjoy the great outdoors in this winter of Covid is particularly appreciated. And so I was off this week on an outing with friends to Myakka River State Park. It was great fun. 

It had been ten years since I last visited Myakka with a group from the Isles Yacht Club. In my defense, it was kind of a long drive when I lived in Punta Gorda. I was surprised to realize the Park is less than 30 minutes from my Sarasota home -- essentially two turns. My bad. 

It didn't take long to realize it's pretty handy to have a couple of naturalists with you when you're on a walk through old Florida at its finest. "Wow, look at that pink stuff on that tree," I commented early on. It looked like an artist had been out with a paint brush using a fallen tree limb as her canvas. "Oh, that's lichen," Libbie shared. (Lichen, as you surely know, is a moss-looking organism comprised of algae and a fungus.)  It's pretty.  

Carole navigating the walkway

Eventually, we found ourselves at the Canopy Walkway for which Myakka is known. The Walkway was the first public treetop walkway in North America and extends 100 feet through the hammock canopy. It was constructed in 2000 at a price tag approaching $100,000. The maintenance fund was being put to good use when we arrived as a guy was clearing the steps and the walkway with a leaf blower. It seemed like a bit of an uphill battle, but leaves can definitely be a safety concern. 

You can either enjoy the view from the Walkway or continue your climb to the observation tower. (There's a total 116 stairs. I counted.) Our non-profit fundraising brains immediately noticed that each plank on the climb had been a naming opportunity. The planks on at least three levels of the stairway had been sponsored by Peruvians. I'd love to know the story behind their visit. My favorite name plate read: "Howie & Allison Madsen kissin' in a tree." The cynic in me hoped they haven't gotten divorced. 

The view is worth the climb!
When we arrived at the final landing, the view would have made us breathless if we weren't already. Laid out below was a canopy of tree tops that extended as far as the eye could see. It's kind of weird -- and pretty awesome -- to have that vantage point. 

As lovely as the scene was, we weren't able to appreciate the details of the view. Nary a one of us had remembered to bring binoculars. Nor had we thought to bring a pocketful of quarters to use the telescope. (I would really like to know if anyone is sufficiently prepared for that.)  Note to self for next visit. 

Bittern
Photo by Libbie Sherman
From there we moved on to the Birdwalk, located in a freshwater wetlands area particularly appealing to our feathered friends. The Birdwalk was part of the original park built in the 1930s by the Civil Corps of Engineers. 

As we walked out to the viewing area, all I could see was a bunch of reeds. But eagle eye Deb caught side of an American bittern. It was oh so sweet. The bird wasn't self-conscious at all as we watched it hunt for lunch.  It thrust its neck forward when it went for something yummy, and its stomach expanded like a small balloon as the treat went down. A little study of nature right in front of us. 

Roseate Spoonbill
Later we saw a bowl of roseate spoonbills. (Yes, that's the name for a group of these beautiful birds.)  There were at least 25 of them hanging out on the opposite shore next to some alligators enjoying the sun. Yikes!

Roseate spoonbills are an eye-catching breed due to their colorful plumage and bills that are shaped like, well, a spoon. Interestingly, these birds aren't born with their signature bills. Over the course of six weeks following a spoonbill's birth, its bill flattens out, changes into a spoon-like shape and grows to its full size. Like flamingos, their unique coloring comes from their diet. In the late 19th century, roseate spoonbills faced extinction in North America due to the popularity of their feathers for use in hats, fans and screens. But groups like the National Audubon Society stepped in and established preserves for the birds. They became a protected species in the 1940s. The efforts were so successful that they no longer require this special status. 

It was a great outing. Next time I'll go on one of the tram or boat tours and see what other tidbits I can pick up. And now I'm off for a walk. 

Stay safe! 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Best Reads of 2020

This has not been an optimal year for reading. Concentration has been hard to come by between COVID anxiety, my father becoming my roommate for three months and other issues. Still, some memorable books found their way into my hands. And then there were the plays -- lots and lots of plays thanks to classes on theater appreciation and a play discussion group with some friends. Read on for some of the highlights I haven't shared in this blog already. 

--Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.  I was quite late to the Daisy Jones party. Despite numerous raves, I couldn't see the appeal of a book about a rock band. Finally, when yet another friend suggested it, I broke down and listened to the book on Audible. I loved it. And while I'm sure I'd have enjoyed reading the book, the narration -- especially Jennifer Beals in the role of Daisy -- put it over the top. (Yes, we're talking the Jennifer Beals of Flashdance fame.) Without singing a single word, her raspy voice made it easy to imagine the impact she could have on an audience. And then there were the lyrics she and Billy wrote!  They were about love and heartbreak and addiction and -- well -- life.  The story seemed so believable that I thought it was a true story. (It isn't, but it does apparently bear some resemblance to Fleetwood Mac and the making of the band's "Rumors" album.) Sure, Daisy Jones isn't a book you'll sit around and dissect, but who cares? There's a lot to be said for pure enjoyment. Apparently Reese Witherspoon thinks so as well, as she's producing a 13 episode mini-series based on the novel for Amazon.

--Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss by Margaret Renkl.  This lovely, contemplative, heartbreaking memoir is not a book I never would have picked up on my own. But my dear friend Althea sent it to me, so I gave it a try. Wow. Each "chapter" is no more than four pages long and contains a reflection on Renkl's life, with heavy emphases on what she's learned as a "backyard naturalist" and her relationship with her parents. It's a book I wasn't sure how to read. Do you pause and consider each essay? Do you read it like a "regular" book?  I ended up somewhere in-between because the emotions it evoked in me were so strong. I keep coming back to two passages relating to her mother's death. The first was written about Renkl's ride to the hospital with her mother who, like my own mother, suffered a brain hemorrhage. Renkl talked about holding her mother's "still and still warm hand." Soon after came her realization that the end of her caregiving responsibilities brought not the expected freedom but grief.  As I said, her words are powerful. 

--The End of October by Lawrence Wright.  Yes, The End of October is about a global pandemic that bears a strong resemblance to COVID-19.  It was more than a little unsettling, and I'm not sure I would have read it had I realized how long the actual crisis would continue. But if you want a good thriller and can get past how surreal the story is, this is the book for you. Wright brings to his fiction the same research and detail he's known for in his non-fiction work, including his Pulitzer-winning The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. (FYI, The Looming Tower was made into a mini-series on Hulu starring Jeff Daniels.) Interestingly, the idea for the book came to Wright when director Ridley Scott approached him about writing a screenplay about the end of civilization. After much thought, he decided the only way that would happen was if a global pandemic occurred. Enough said...

--The Corpse Washer by Naomi Wallace and Ismail Khalidi. This powerful and thought-provoking play is an adaptation of the Sinan Antoon novella by the same name. The play premiered at the Humana Theatre Festival in Louisville in 2019. It tells the story of Jawad, an Iraqi who dreams of becoming an artist. But Jawad was born into a family that has served its community as corpse washers for seven generations, and there's no shortage of the dead who need tending to in a country that's continually ravaged by wars. Over the course of 30 years, we follow Jawad as he struggles to balance his own desires with family obligations. The story is heartbreaking and filled with memorable characters.  It opened my eyes -- just a little -- to the plight of ordinary Iraqi people. To read more about the play and Wallace and Khalidi's collaboration, click here

--ain't no mo' by Jordan E. Cooper. In 1986, George C. Wolfe wrote The Colored Museum, a play with 11 "exhibits" exploring -- and satirizing -- African-American life. (To read the Wiki description of the play, click here.)  Cooper's homage to the concept consists of eight scenes filled with humor and stark revelations about Black life in America today. In fact, the first scene is called "The Book of Revelation - November 4, 2008." In case the significance of the date eludes you, that was the day Obama was elected. A casket is carried onto the stage as Pastor Freeman gives a eulogy for their friend "Righttocomplain." Because, as we all know, once the United States elected a Black president, all would be well in the world. Right. 

The scene entitled "Circle of Life" was particularly jarring as it featured a woman at an abortion clinic because "no one is going to have to turn on their cell phone and see this child's body plastered all over some stain covered concrete like his daddy. As soon as this thing is born, it would be given a clock, a clock that counts down to the seconds until death comes and snatches their time away." In a year in which my friends and I have talked a lot about how the Black Lives matter movement intersects with the theatre -- and read a number of plays by Black playwrights -- ain't no mo' stands out. To watch a terrific interview with the surprisingly young Cooper and Murtada Elfadl of the Public Theatre (which produced the play in 2019), click here. Cooper is definitely a playwright to keep our eyes on. 

That's it for me for 2020. For other books that struck a chord with me this year, click here. (In case you're wondering, Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore is at the top of my list.) 

May your new year be filled with health, happiness and great books.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Van Gogh Alive at the Dali Museum

"Starry Night"
Remember the moment in "Mary Poppins" when Mary, Bert and the kids jump into a chalk painting and find themselves in a different world?  I had that same feeling when I entered the Van Gogh Alive exhibit at the Dali Museum in St. Pete. My humdrum Covid existence had suddenly been replaced by an alternate reality featuring Van Gogh's sunflowers and windmills and star-filled nights. It was magical. 

I had heard about these immersive exhibits from friends who'd been fortunate enough to see them in Europe. But it's hard to appreciate the impact of a multi-media experience featuring the work of a beloved artist until you experience it. Sure, I knew there would be room-sized recreations of Van Gogh's paintings, but for some reason I thought they would be static. Silly me, because of course they are projections which enable the movement so imbedded in Van Gogh's work to be realized. And so the wind in "Starry Night" actually swirls, the birds in "Wheat Field with Crows" fly, and the water in "Starry Night over the Rhone" ripples. It was fabulous if a bit dizzying at times. 

"Blossoming Almond Tree"
The exhibit takes viewers through each phase of Van Gogh's life, from the Netherlands to Paris, from Japan to Arles and, finally, from Saint-Remy to Auvers. As you experience the paintings,  accompanying music helps set the mood. The selections were nothing short of inspired, and I can't imagine a better example of the way pairing the visual arts with music can raise both art forms to an even higher level. 

I smiled as we experienced Paris with the sounds of accordians in the backgrounds compliments of Coeur Vagabond. I marveled at the beauty of Katharine Jenkins' and Kiri Te Kanama's voices singing the "Flower Duet" from the opera "Lakme." I laughed to myself when "The Cherry Blossoms" song began to play, remembering my participation in a grade school production that I'm sure would now be considered politically incorrect. And I saddened as Handel's gorgeous "Sarabande" signaled Van Gogh's death (and the end of the show).  In case you're interested, you can listen to the soundtrack from the exhibit on Spotify. (Click here to check it out.) 

Another wonderful -- and surprising -- element of the experience was the inclusion of Van Gogh quotes. Van Gogh expressed himself beautifully in words as well as paint, writing over 900 letters to fellow artists, dealers and his brother Theo over the course of 18 years.  In one letter he wrote, "What color is in a picture, enthusiasm is in life." Just think about that for a minute. 

My favorite quote read: "Close friends are truly life's treasures...Their presence reminds us that we are never truly alone." Now, more than ever, the truth in that statement hit home. To read more of his quotes and accompanying artworks, click here for a compilation by My Modern Met. 

I could go on and on about this exhibit, but reading about the experience -- or watching video clips online -- doesn't begin to capture what it's like to be in the midst of it. Which reminds me: I have a bone to pick with WSJ columnist Terry Teachout. In a recent article, Teachout expressed strong negative opinions about "Immersive Van Gogh," a similar style exhibit on view in Toronto. Without having seen the show -- or any other immersive exhibit -- Teachout opines these exhibits are mere gimmicks that monetize art under the guise of providing viewers with a new and exciting way to experience art. I have so much to say in response.  

First, Mr. Teachout, most people don't have the opportunity to see these masterpieces in person. What an elitist assumption. Second, studies show that the average visitor to a museum spends 15-30 seconds in front of a work of art, including the time reading the wall card. (Hence, the "slow art" movement.)  In Van Gogh Alive, each image was on the screen for at least that much time, and the large format revealed every brush stroke and the surprising juxtapositions of color that Van Gogh employed. The entire show ran almost 45 minutes during which we were, yes, immersed in Van Gogh's world. Third, exhibits such as this are "events" that attract people who might not otherwise visit a museum. It's worth noting that there were a number of families at the exhibit; i.e., children being exposed to art in a fun and engaging way. Fourth, who says Van Gogh Alive and similar experiences are intended to replace viewing the art in person?  Would anyone say, "I'm in Amsterdam, but I'm going to pass on the Van Gogh Museum since I saw Van Gogh Alive." Hello???  Finally, how presumptuous of Teachout to express such strong negative views based on watching videos. I suggest he get off his high horse and get back to us when he has experienced Van Gogh Alive or a similar exhibit first hand. Whew! I feel better having that off my chest! 

Van Gogh Alive runs at the Dali Museum through April 11, when it will move to Indianapolis. Get there if you can. It's an experience you'll always remember.

Stay safe, and happy holidays.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

You know what they say -- Laughter is the best medicine. I've found there's some truth to that, especially in these challenging times. If you're of a like mind, I've got just what the doctor ordered -- "Anxious People" by Fredrik Backman. 

From the first page, Backman had me simultaneously laughing and shaking my head at the truths about human nature he builds into the story. Take, for instance, the opening passage. "A bank robbery. A hostage drama. A stairwell full of police officers on their way to storm an apartment. ... This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots. So it needs saying from the outset that it's always very easy to declare that other people are idiots, but only if you forget how idiotically difficult being a human is."  Well, when you put it that way...

The interviews the police conduct while trying to solve the crime are particularly hilarious. The first interviewee is the bank teller who was confronted by the bank robber. 

Jack (detective):  Do you remember anything about his appearance?

London (teller): God, that's such a superficial question! You've got a really sick binary view of gender, yeah?  

Jack: I'm sorry. Can you tell me anything else about 'the person'?

London: You don't have to use perverted commas for that. 

Jack: I really think I do. Can you tell me anything about the bank robber's appearance. For instance, was the bank robber a short bank robber or a tall bank robber?

London: Look, I don't describe people by their height. That's really excluding. I mean, I'm short, and I know that can give a lot of tall people a complex.  

Jack:  Excuse me? 

And so it goes.  Each witness seems less helpful than the previous one. These cops definitely have their job cut out for them. 

Fredrik Backman
It doesn't take long before you learn the bank robber has unwittingly escaped into an apartment showing, arriving "out of breath and sweating, with the traditional bank robber's ski mask askew so that only one eye could see anything." And so the story expands to include a wacky -- but quite engaging -- cast of characters who are taken hostage while looking for a new home. There's a gay couple, one of whom is so pregnant she's bursting at the seams, and an older couple who've been married so long they need no words to fight. There's an extraordinarily bitchy woman who clearly is too wealthy to be looking at this particular apartment and an old woman who discovers a case of wine in the closet and keeps nipping into the bottles. There's a mystery attendee whom you have to meet for yourself to believe. Last but not least there's the annoying real estate agent who has "cleverly" named her company "House Tricks." (The "how's tricks" v. "House Tricks" banter goes on painfully long. I would have pulled my hair out had I been the cop interviewing this woman.)  

While Backman's humor is often laugh-out-loud funny, it's his insights into people that make the book something special. Sometimes he digs into a relationship or a character's motivation in a way that made me shake my head in appreciation. Take, for instance, the chapter about two cops -- father and son -- who are working the case together.  (I threw out my flags for this chapter in lieu of a full-sized post-it on which I wrote, "This whole chapter is great.") I'm willing to bet that you too could find things you can relate to in the story, like the two men's quite different relationships with computers.  

Backman writes: "Jim was born in a generation that regarded computers as magic; Jack in one that has always taken them for granted..... It isn't really the fact that [Jack's] dad doesn't understand how to use technology that drives his son mad, but the fact that he almost understands. For instance, Jim still doesn't know how to take a screenshot, so when he wants to take a picture of something on his computer screen, he takes a photograph of the screen with his mobile phone...."  For the record, I see absolutely nothing wrong with that approach.

Other times a wonderful note about a relationship or character trait is slipped in in a way you could miss if you weren't paying attention. Like when the somewhat unlikeable older gentleman looking at the apartment with his wife has a revelation that she provides the same support to him as a load-bearing wall. Call me crazy, but that's one of the most romantic things I've ever heard.  

"Anxious People" is full of surprises and quirky characters who will find their way into your hearts. But be forewarned: There are some tragic elements to the story as well, including a suicide. Nonetheless, I finished the last page of the book with a smile on my face and even some hope for the ability of wildly different people to get along. A huge thanks to my favorite indie bookstore, Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, for putting "Anxious People" in my hands.  

Postscript: To read an interview with Backman about his inspiration for the book and his approach to writing, click here

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Art in Common Places: Judy Levine and Jeanne Marie Beaumont

It's one thing to conceptualize a project pairing artists and poets to create a work together and quite another to find people who can successfully collaborate in this way. But Leslie Butterfield, Teresa Carson and Cynthia Burnell -- the founders of Art in Common Places -- are up to the task. Case in point: the wonderful work created in tandem by artist Judy Levine and poet Jeanne Marie Beaumont.   

Judy Levine is well known in Sarasota as both an artist and an arts educator. Always up for a new challenge, she was a perfect choice for an Art in Common Places collaboration. But who would her companion poet be? The moment Carson walked into Judy's studio, she knew poet Jeanne Marie Beaumont and Levine would be a great fit. The objects in Judy's workspace for use in her intricate assemblages reminded her of Beaumont's own collections. (It helped that Carson is friends with the NYC-based Beaumont.)  And so the match was made. 

Click here to read Beaumont's Broken Dolls Day
Judy prepared for her first conversation with Jeanne by reading some of her poetry. "When I Am in the Kitchen" immediately spoke to her with its references to generations of family. (Click here to read the poem.) My own favorite phrase is "when I pull out the drawer/like one in a morgue/I visit the silverware of my husband's grandparents.")  When the collaborators met for the first time on Zoom, Judy wore her mother's "duster" and wielded her grandmother's whisk. I love it. 

Their conversation flowed easily as they found much in common, including their shared affinity for Frida Kahlo, Mexican art and folk art. They learned they had the same doll when they were young. They both create collages and assemblages. And they both collect items from the past. They decided their combined work would revolve around the concepts of memory and keeping what you have lost. 

Detail of bottom box in Judy's assemblage
Judy began to gather objects to include in her "memory keeper." The head of a 75 year old doll from her childhood became the focal point. An old fuse box doubled as a suitcase commemorating the journey both Judy's and Jeanne's grandparents made to America from Europe. An autograph book with a Victorian-style hand at the top was added as a nod to Jeanne's website, which includes gold Victorian hands at the top of each page. Jeanne shared an autograph book circa 1870 from her collection; Judy's memory keeper includes one of its pages signed by "an unknown friend." Judy's assemblage also contains tiny scrolls with passages from Jeanne's poems. 

Jeanne was similarly inspired by Judy's stories, the objects to be included in their combined work and pieces from the past incorporated in her existing memory boxes. Images came to Jeanne's mind that found their way into the poem. For instance, Judy's grandfather was an upholsterer, and she has somehow kept a box of his pins all these years. Judy used a few of them in her assemblage; Jeanne references "the pins once held in the mouth" in her poem. It's just one example of how well this collaboration worked. 

In order to to fully appreciate the power and beauty of the collaboration, you must of course read Jeanne's poem. It goes:

                                                            To Keep

                                            Take the smallest survivors --

                                            the pins once held in the mouth,

                                            emptied matchbox, rundown watch -- 

                                            and let them speak silently

                                            of one who was lost, whose hands

                                            salted soup, combed a child's hair, 

                                            who tossed keys out windows, sticks

                                            to the dog, pennies in wells, dice...

                                            one who clutched a worn suitcase and

                                            went a long way, who signed time's

                                            autograph book -- your unknown friend, 

                                            who loved pears, collected stones, 

                                            one who woke and listened to rain

                                            rinsing the face of the earth...

A huge thanks to Judy and Jeanne for sharing how their collaboration evolved with members of Arts Advocates. (Arts Advocates is a non-profit established to "inspire creativity, advance education and connect the community to the arts." Click here for more information.) And kudos once again to Butterfield, Carson and Burnell for their dedication to bringing art to the residents of Sarasota through the Art in Common Places program. (For some background on the program, click here.) I'd love to be a fly on the wall watching people come across this broadside and peer into Judy's boxes and read Jeanne's poem. Perhaps a little undercover work is in order...

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Art in Common Places, Part 1


"Clockwork: Six Weeks in July" 
by Vicki Randall; "Time Has No Face"
(excerpt) by Alison Watkins

Art in Common Places is a project after my own heart. The non-profit-to-be was founded earlier this year by artist Leslie Butterfield, poet Teresa Carson and arts advocate Cynthia Burnell. Its mission is to put art in public places where people can enjoy it in their everyday lives. And while the project has a broad scope, the focus is on creating displays in locations where people who don't ordinarily seek out art will encounter them. 

The project pairs an artist and a poet to create a combined work of art in which the image and the words speak to and build upon each other. A conscious effort has been made to include artists working across mediums. One partnership even includes the work of a jewelry maker. Yes, art can take many forms. 

When the collaboration is complete, a professional photographer captures the image and a graphic artist designs a 12x18 broadside for display. And here's the kicker. Each display includes a pocket filled with postcards of the work that people can take home to share with a friend via snail mail - or keep for their own viewing pleasure. Brilliant. 

"Egg: Web of Connection" by
Leslie Butterfield; "By Mary Ann's
Front Door" by Nell Hillsley; 
"Lauds (Payne Park) by Teresa Carson
Not surprisingly, the initial collaboration for the project was between Butterfield and Carson. It was around Easter, and Butterfield and some friends had engaged in a friendly Easter egg decorating competition. This led Butterfield to wonder if her portion of the collaboration might feature an egg. Why not? As the two shared their work, Butterfield was inspired to write parts of Carson's poem on the egg and then collage it with ripped up bits of paper. As the poem evolved, Butterfield searched for an appropriate background for the work. She found a photo of a painting of her mother's front door created by her mentor Nell Hillsley. It fit well with Carson's words evoking the break of day on a beautiful morning. The project was off to a terrific start.  

The idea for Art in Common Places came, in part, from NYC's Poetry in Motion program. The project was launched in 1992 as a collaboration between the City's Transit Authority and the Poetry Society of America. What better way to expose people to the joy of a beautiful poem than offering it to them as part of their morning commute?  

Sarasota doesn't, however, have a widely used mass transit system. So the displays created by Art in Common Places are being placed throughout the community in spaces like laundromats, public housing facilities, community centers, libraries and the occasional Panera. In other words, in locations where people linger for a little while. Once a month, the broadsides and postcards are switched out for a new work. The goal is to have the ten different broadsides placed in 50 locations by the end of the year. As of today, visitors to 47 venues have the opportunity to enjoy these collaborative creations.

"Journey" by Judy Just;
Poem by Mimi White
Some locations are happy for Art in Common Places to post whichever of the broadsides are available. On occasion, though, a request is made about the style of art to be displayed. It was asked, for instance, that works placed in Sarasota's workforce housing be upbeat given how down people are now with COVID and its impact on the job market. The work combining Judy Just's vibrant abstract and Mimi White's poem was selected for this location. (In case your eyes are a little old like mine, the poem reads: "the heart divided/between beauty and sorrow/lives for centuries".)

As a fledgling organization, Art in Common Places doesn't yet have a website where the completed works can be seen. That will come next year, along with a bit of fanfare when the organization partners with Sarasota County to celebrate its centennial. New collaborations are in the works relating to the founding of Sarasota, its history as a center for circus arts and its status as a premier locale for mid-century modern architecture. I'm already looking forward to the presentations to be held at local libraries. 

I'll close by mentioning that every participant in Art in Common Places--from the artists and poets to the organizers to the people posting the broadsides--is a volunteer. They are all committed to the idea that art enhances our lives. And in case you're wondering, the cost of creating one broadside and the related postcards is $150. Contributions are happily accepted. For more information about the project, email artincommonplaces@gmail.com. 

Next up: Visual artist Judy Levine and poet Jeanne Marie Beaumont on their collaboration for Art in Common Places.  

Postscript: I would be remiss if I didn't share the poetry included on the broadsides included in this post. 

          Time Has No Face (excerpt) by Alison Watkins

Time has no face we know as our own. 

It is a giant posing in the silvery light

of its own gaze. It is a spoken song.

A repeated sunrise. A point of view

from the language of angels. 


Lauds (Payne Park) by Teresa Carson

Spaces between monumental clouds,

let pass a luminosity,

which falls just so on fields still topped

with dew, revealing countless threads

connecting blade to every other blade. 

Fragile, yet persistent, threads--

broken each day by those of us

unmindful of their presence, mended

in the night by creatures well aware

the web of connections helps them stay alive.

 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

On the Hunt for Public Art

 With "Nobody's Listening" by Jack Cartlidge
Sarasota is chock full of public art. It's one of the many things I love about the city. And yet I rarely take the time to study a sculpture that I pass in my travels. That changed last Saturday when Emilie and I set out on the Sarasota Public Art Scavenger Hunt. It was great fun. 

The hunt required us to answer nine questions based on sculptures found within a one-mile radius downtown.  Sometimes the clues led us to sculptures we'd passed many times without really noticing. But other times we found sculptures hidden in plain view that were just outside the scope of our usual paths. 

Detail from "Pioneer Family
Hears a Sound..."
Take, for instance, "Nobody's Listening" and the other sculptures by Jack Cartlidge found on the grounds of City Hall. (Not surprisingly, wearing a skirt didn't dissuade me from scrambling up onto the platform to stand amidst these giants.) While the title of the work resonates today, Cartlidge created it in response to the Viet Nam War protests and the Civil Rights movement. It was intended as a reminder to public officials to listen to all the citizenry. 

"Nobody's Listening" was created using a technique called "repoussoir" in which the artist beats copper from the interior to sculpt the work.  The result is a work that looks like bronze at a fraction of the cost. And here's a tidbit for you: The same technique was used to create the Statue of Liberty. 

To read a great article about Cartlidge and his work as an Art Professor at New College, click here

Em takes an appreciative
look at "Bharata" 
Five Points Park is the home to multiple sculptures in different styles, including "Bharata" by Claudia Jane Klein.  We obviously weren't the first people to give the statue some attention. A previous visitor -- perhaps another scavenger hunter? -- had written her impression of Sarasota in chalk beneath the sculpture. "Art town, not fart town," the writing declared.  Okay, then. 

Klein is an artist who has worked in a variety of different mediums. Before she turned to metal fabrication in the 1990s, she was a ceramicist and a fashion designer. 

Klein explains the intention behind her work on her website. "All my sculpture is a manifestation of my entire existence. The focus of much of my work is spiritual, mental and physical evolution.... Bharata [is] a part of a group of sculptures emulating human striving for a different plane of existence as achieved through the disciplines of yoga, dance, meditation and sports." Hmmm.  

As to the name of the sculpture, "Bharata" means "being maintained" in Sanskrit. It is also the name of Agni, the Hindu God of Fire. That seems appropriate for a metal sculpture welded together by its creator. 

"The Opera Imp" 
by Ethelia M. Patmagrian
The Sarasota Opera House is a focal point of downtown.  But I had never looked up and taken a real look at the sculpture on the corner of the building. Perched there is "The Opera Imp," created and presented to the Sarasota Opera by Ethelia M. Patmagrian in 1991. Patmagrian was a teacher at the Ringling School of Art. And in case you're wondering about her somewhat creepy choice of subjects, there's a story behind her selection.  

An imp, as you probably know, is a small, mischievous devil or sprite. I have no idea what imps have to do with opera, and it's possible that Patmagrian didn't either. Decades earlier, a sculpture of an imp had been placed in this alcove. Some people believed it was an inappropriate decoration for the Opera House, calling it "satanic and vulgar." At some point, opponents of the sculpture got so riled up that they destroyed it. When Patmagrian heard this story, she was inspired to recreate "The Opera Imp" based on old photographs of the original sculpture. 

The Sarasota Opera House is worth some background as well. The historic building -- originally used as a more general theater -- was built in 1926 due to the efforts of A.B. Edwards, a businessman and early mayor of Sarasota. Edwards was committed to the concept of a modern city built on Sarasota Bay and the promotion of winter tourism. (Big check marks on both of those goals having been achieved!) Never having read the plaque on the building before, I was interested to learn the theater hosted the Ziegfeld Follies, Will Rogers, Elvis Presley and, of course, the world premiere of Cecil B. DeMille's movie "The Greatest Show on Earth." But I digress. 

I'll end with the sculpture "Personaje" by the Venezuelan artist Ivan Rojas. This treasure was particularly difficult to find as the "clue" merely directed us to stroll east on Main Street and look for the smiling face waving at us. How far on Main Street? Which side of the street?  Thinking we were looking for a shop, some guys asked if they could help us. When we told them what we were doing, they had no idea where the sculpture was located but agreed the scavenger hunt was a cool idea. 

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any information about Mr. Rojas. I can, however, tell you that "Personaje" means "character" in Spanish. I can also tell you that the sculpture -- like the entire outing -- made me smile. 

If you're in the Sarasota area and want to go on the scavenger hunt yourself, click here. Or better yet, make up your own and send your friends on a fun exploration of our city.  

Exploring Myakka River State Park

A moment of non-social distancing with Libbie and Deb  Florida has many, many issues, but winter weather isn't one of them. Being able t...