Saturday, July 31, 2010

Maitland magic

I stood at the Gate of Life and said, "Give me a light that I may go softly into the unknown." And a voice replied, "Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That will be to you better than a light and safer than a known way." -- quotation carved in stone in the outdoor church at the Maitland Art Center.

Thanks to friends and classmates who keep pointing me to the treasures (almost) in my own backyard. While the greater Orlando area may conjure up images of Shamu, Harry Potter, and Minnie Mouse for most folks, I'm learning there's a rich arts community throughout central Florida.

A case in point is the Maitland Art Center which we visited this morning. Founded in the 1930's by artist Andre Smith, it's an idyllic retreat that invited artists to relax, refresh, and re-locate the muse within. Today, it's recognized as a Florida Historic Site and promotes knowledge and education in American art and artists through its offering of classes, lectures and exhibits. The complex consists of 23 separate structures linked by beautiful gardens and courtyards, all configured in the rare "Mayan Revival" style. The property includes an outdoor church under a canopy of massive live oaks laden with hanging moss.

This day, there's an exhibit of the works of American Impressionist William Vincent Kirkpatrick. His work is reminiscent of the French Impressionists -- it glows off the canvas!

Friday, July 9, 2010

A glimpse into the artist's soul

"The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significane." - Aristotle, Greek philosopher (382-322 BC)

As much as I love art -- various kinds of art -- it saddens me that my own artistic efforts never developed beyond my melted crayon pointillisms in 7th grade art class. My work did manage to end up in the family gallery of my childhood home, but I didn't inherit the talent my younger siblings obviously received. Still my parents (my mother especially who had considerable creative giftings) encouraged my efforts and fostered my interest in art. Before we newlyweds had a stick of furniture, they made sure we had framed art for our walls!

So I'm always thrilled to meet someone who possesses that true soul-of-the-artist. Rachel is one of those people. She's the new friend I've met through my online courses, my buddy at the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Conference, and a co-sympathizer through this MA process. She's also an accomplished sculptor and painter. I visited her St. Petersburg home and studio today and got a better understanding of what inspires her, what pushes her to create.

In addition to seeing her work, I got to see a bit of her past thanks to a photo album and portfolio of her past work and exhibitions. Rachel turned her back on academic pursuits at Boston University in the mid-70's and wound up in Jamaica where she created a new life for herself that included a husband, a baby girl, and a simple but contented existence in a grass hut overlooking the Caribbean. And Jamaica -- along with tragedy in her personal life (her husband died when her daughter was three) and a re-emergence of her Christian faith -- became the crucible for an artistic expression that has continued to this day.

Much of her work would be defined as abstract, but when she reveals to you the inner impetus, the vision or inspiration that drove her to shape a particular piece of mahogany or alabaster into a certain form, you see it! She believes her inspiration comes through her own devotional life, from the Holy Spirit. And she recognizes stages in her artistic life where different themes emerge.... hands, the nest, the altar... God's nurturing love, eternity, the spirit within...

Rachel loves texture, working with bits of metal or cloth or bone to enhance her work and give it depth. She loves blending images of classical mythology with Christian motifs. She's comfortable working with a broad variety of materials, creating works both small with intricate detail or bold and colossal.

She also loves studying the role of faith and devotion in the lives of artists, and we had a meaningful time sharing sources, comparing notes on where we are in our own lives, and how we're trusting God to reveal the next chapter. Whille sharing a lunch of tuna sandwiches, we also shared our fascination with the luminescence of Fra Angelico's Annunciation, William Blake's struggle with his own faith journey, and the challenges of going back to school at this stage of our lives. A memorable afternoon!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Buon 4 di giuglio!

"Ancora imparo." (I am still learning.) -- Michelangelo

Like any true American, I love a good 4th of July celebration -- small town parades, fireworks, and the shameless array of good summer eats (nothing beats Ohio sweet corn). But this July 4th, I have to admit my thoughts also wander back to a year ago when my husband and I celebrated the holiday week-end in Florence, the opening scene of a wonderful vacation through Tuscany and the Cinque Terre of Italy. Would it be terrible to admit I didn't mind trading in a grilled hamburger for a plate of trofie al pesto...just this once?
I hadn't yet begun this blog, so comments and mementos of the trip were not posted. Maybe it's because I've been harvesting basil for pesto off my lanai, or maybe it's simply incurable nostalgia, but here are a few of the highlightsof a memorable trip to Italia:

* the wonderfully informative and entertaining art tour we had of Florence, including the Uffizi Gallery, the Duomo, and the Galleria dell'Arte that houses Michelangelo's David. Did you know you can tell a medieval building from a Renaissance building simply by the size and symmetry of the windows?

* the ancient Etruscan walls that surround Volterra, a beloved landmark miraculously saved by the townspeople from destruction by the Nazis;

* the rich, vibrant colors that leap off the canvases by Botticelli, Rafael, da Vinci -- centuries after their works were created!

* the unique political status of the powerful city state that existed on the peninsula during the Renaissance, and the bitter (and often bloody) rivalry between the cities. No wonder it was the 1860's before Italy united as a country for the first time.

* the drama that played out in a world of big commissions and even bigger egos -- how Donatello, Brunelleschi, and Michelangelo himself outwitted their patrons.

* seeing Fra Angelico's Annunciazione "glow" within the modest exhibit room of the diocesan museum in Cortona. Interesting note: the artist painted the angel's words of greeting to the Virgin Mary upside-down so they could be read from heaven.

* being enthralled with the over-the-top ornamentation of the cathedral in Siena, the medieval towers of San Gimignano, the breath-taking coastal views hiking between Vernazza and Monterosso;

* breathing air laden with lavender, rosemary (bushes of it over 10' high), and roses...

* rolling down Tuscan hills covered with sunflowers, olive groves, and vineyards in a tiny Mini-Cooper. Surprised we fit in it!

I don't need a coin in the Trevi Fountain to guarantee my return one day. Arrivederci literally means "until we see each other again". Enough said!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Polk Museum of Art, Lakeland, FL

"Art is not a treasure in the past or an importation from another land, but part of the present life of all living and creating peoples." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Louvre, the Hermitage, the Tate, the Prado, the Getty, the Uffizi, the Polk... OK, so it doesn't quite roll off the tongue. But there's nothing more satisfying than discovering a new treasure in your own backyard! Lagniappe, encore une fois.

After living in Polk County for nearly four years, it's inexcusable to have taken this long to get acquainted with what I'd heard was an excellent museum. Adding to the enticement is their free Saturday morning admission. Sometimes the best things in life are free!

The Polk has several rooms on the main level full of Pre-Columbian art reflecting highly developed empires from the Mexican desert down through the Andean rain forest. Works dating back to 600 BC with astounding sophistication and ornamentation. It struck me that, with all my focus on late medieval Gothic architecture, these figures and utensils would have seemed ancient to the people of the late Middle Ages! And many of them enjoyed a standard of living well above that of our European ancestors who came along centuries later.

The museum also proudly displays the best in children's art from this part of central Florida. I would give anything to be able to create like these 5 year-olds!

The museum also features a good selection of contemporary art, including a few pieces by Picasso, Matisse, and Duchamps. But the highlight this particular Saturday was a temporary exhibit of early to mid-20th century textiles from Japan (picture exquisite kimonos hung the length of the exhibit hall, like a forest of brightly colored, intricately embroidered silk trees.) With the textiles was a collection of 32 woodblock prints by 19th century Japanese artist Tsiuioka Yoshitoshi -- "32 Aspects of Women." Portraits of women from all classes of Japanese society, they were a lesson in the feminine esthetics and fashion of the day. For example, did you know that a green-painted lower lip and black teeth were considered the height of style for upper class women? A peek of red undergarment hinted at a "lady's" lack of virtue? That you can tell about a woman's station in life by translating the various twists and bobs of her hair? Fascinating! The final print in the series showed a traditional Japanese maiden wearing a western-style Victorian suit -- disconcerting to say the least!

In July, this exhibit will be replaced by a temporary show of work by Lois Mailou Jones, considered one of the Harlem Renaissance painters of the 20th century. Rejected early in her career because of her race and gender, she fled to Europe where she developed her talent. Her paintings show the influence of early 20th century Impressionism. So the Polk is another return visit to put on my calendar!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hello Dali!

"There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad." -- Salvador Dali, Spanish painter (1904-1989)

What's the best part of being a student? The field trips, of course!

Yesterday, Cliff and I headed an hour west to St. Petersburg and the Salvador Dali Museum there. Located on the bay, it's the most comprehensive collection of the Surrealist's works in the world, thanks to the efforts of A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse who gifted the city with their extensive collection from their four decades of friendship with the Spanish painter and his wife, Gala. The collection contains some 96 paintings, more than 100 watercolors and drawings, and some 1300 other items exhibited in rotation. The works displayed cover the years 1917-1970.

Seeing Dali's work in all its glorious strangeness was a marked departure from the scholastic order and piety of French Gothic. But in the interest of expanding my general knowledge of art history, re-visiting Dali and Surrealism was a healthy choice!

Most people are familiar with Dali's repetitive image of the melting clock, famously depicted in "The Persistence of Memory". The museum cleverly recreates that image in an outdoor bench.

A contemporary and compatriot of Picasso and Miro, Dali is best known for his graphically disturbing paintings with recurring themes of death and decay (symbolized often by flies), the mysterious nature of women (usually depicted from the back with faces unseen), his contempt for government and bureaucracy, the influence of Sigmund Freud's emerging theories, and his love/hate relationship with the Catholic Church. He adored his wife and often featured her prominently in his work, depicted as an angel or his muse.

What struck me most, though, was his absolutely mastery of any style he tackled. In his teens, his colorful landscapes resemble those of Late Impressionism or Cezanne. As a young man in his 20's he painted with astonishing realism and a breathtaking chiaroscuro (he often imitated Diego Velazquez) such as seen in his simple "A Basket of Bread". But in the same year, he created other works in the Cubist style and began experimenting in his own version of Surrealism, a sort of "super reality" of dreams and imagination considered by the painter to be more real than conscious, visual reality.

He was evidently a complex and troubled man, noted as an arrogant and grating personality even among his fellow Surrealists. Most photographs of Dali show him wide-eyed, eyebrows arched, a caricature of himself in black cape and iconic mustache. Definitely one of the art world's more interesting characters! And one I'm not inclined to forget.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Taking a break

"I will study and get ready, and perhaps my chance will come." -- Abraham Lincoln

Today marks the first day of my next "phase" in life: a return to the role of full-time student. The last time I lived this role, Jimmy Carter was president, gas cost $1.39 a gallon, mini skirts and streakers were the rage, and the biggest tickets on campus were to see Elvis or the Beach Boys. My trusty little typewriter, steady supply of "White-Out", portable stereo and favorite Carole King albums made those trips to South Bend with me each fall. Times have changed!

This time, I'm stepping down from my job as admission counselor to nearly 300 students -- an eclectic mix of international, missionary kid "MKs", expats, and transfers -- whose concerns have become my own these past few years. As my territory has grown exponentially, so have my responsibilities. And while the joy of working with young people remains (indeed, it's what spurs me on to finish my MA!), the pressure and demands of the job are stealing my energies.

So for now, I'm a stay-at-home student chopping away at the research before me. Just like the first time around, I like being a student and the challenge of pushing back the cobwebs to take in new ideas and information. And thanks to this modern world we live in, I can access sources and images from around the world and up-and-down the timeline of human history from the comfort of my study or even (when temps fall below 90) my lanai.

I don't know exactly what the future holds or even what I'll be doing when I "grow up". This is scary and exciting at the same time -- a step of faith for my family and me. But I have a true peace in this.

Monday, April 26, 2010

More fun than a circus!

"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." - Edgar Degas, French painter (1834-1917)

What do you do when your mind is full to the brim and you can't take in another thought? You fill it to overflowing with more goodies! Such is the case of following the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Conference with a visit to the Ringling Museum of Art adjacent to the campus of New College. Like going for the whole cheesecake after you've already had your fill of the chocolate cake. Way too much, but you can't just pass it by, can you?!

Founded in the early 19th century by John and Mabel Ringling (yes, of Ringling circus fame) who were among the bon vivants and art collectors extraordinaire of their day. Their museum rivals the best in Europe, both in terms of the collections -- works by Rubens, Titian, Velazquez, Gainsborough and treasures from antiquity among them -- and in terms of the beautiful buildings and grounds. Picture Renaissance Florence meets semi-tropical paradise and you get the picture.

We attended a special exhibit entitled "Gothic Art in the Gilded Age: Medieval and Renaissance Treasures in The Gavet-Vanderbilt-Ringling Collection" that displayed paintings, sculpture, and decorative articles from these periods as they might have adorned the homes of Ringling and his fellow elites.

A return (and lengthier) visit to the Ringling Museum is on my summer agenda!