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!

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