Historic Cisterns Saved

The two cisterns on the Hermitage campus are extremely valuable historic artifacts marking a period in our past on Manasota Key when potable water was not immediately available at the turn of the tap.

The two cisterns on the Hermitage campus are extremely valuable historic artifacts marking a period in our past on Manasota Key when potable water was not immediately available at the turn of the tap. Dr. Alfred Whitney who built the Whitney House, Pump House and Garage in 1941 was quite the clever guy and he provided for clean water by creating a gutter system that funneled rainwater from the Whitney House into the two wooden cisterns. Pumping equipment in the “Pump House” sent the water back up to the Whitney House under pressure for everyday use. Cisterns were a common way to provide potable water in areas where drilling wells was not practical.

Local historians and County experts tell us that these two wooden cisterns are among the most significant, publicly accessible examples of this aqua-system in the entire region. With historic preservation firmly embedded in our organization’s mission, there was no questioning the importance of raising the funds necessary to save them when nature began having her way with them.

Our community agreed. With major grants from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Ehrhart Family Foundation, Gerri Aaron, and additional support from 20 other community members, the cisterns have been completely rebuilt and stand ready to face the Florida Gulf Coast climate well into the future. We thank everyone who has made this restoration possible.

Novel Playwrights

After Rey Pamatmat finished writing a play it just kept writing itself. More and more story kept appearing. It seemed much longer than a play.

Novelist Kia Corthron with poet Mimi Herman

After Rey Pamatmat finished writing a play it just kept writing itself. More and more story kept appearing. It seemed much longer than a play.

The idea of writing a book felt fun. Then he discovered how different books are than plays. He had been writing plays or 10 years so he knows the components and how to put them together. “But with a book, I don’t know all the parts, and what it needs” he said.

Plays are collaborative. Directors, even actors fill in between the words of the playwright, but with books you have to write everything down. “In the book I have to make decisions about things with no collaborators. I alone have to decide what people are thinking. And it has so many more words!” he said with genuine surprise. “I asked my manager how many words a book has. The answer was 60,000 to 90,000!”

The story came to a stop one-third of the way through the book because he had play commission deadlines and a revision due. He got too busy to work on the book and couldn’t write it as efficiently as he could section up and write plays in shorter patches of time. He needed an expanse of time to work on the book so when the opportunity of the Hermitage came up it seemed perfect.

Rey’s venture into this new genre isn’t the first time a playwright came to the Hermitage to write a book. While walking the beach with Kia Corthron, I listened as she mumbled and nearly stuttered the word “novelist.” “I’m here as a novelist.” Like Rey, she was struggling with her evolution as a writer. Hers wasn’t a struggle of form and components, but of self-image. She knew herself as a playwright, and her whole image had to morph. When she returned a year later, her novel was nearly done and she had no problem pronouncing the word “novelist.”

Writer Susan Yankowitz Draws Crowds

When Hermitage writer Susan Yankowitz talks about the play she’s working on, small crowds gather around her in fascination. I haven’t seen this phenomenon since 2009 when young artists sat on the floor surrounding a chair where Romulus Linney read his entrancing stories. Each story was an encouraging metaphor meant specifically for someone on the floor. But I digress.

Playwright Susan Yankowitz

When Hermitage writer Susan Yankowitz talks about the play she’s working on, small crowds gather around her in fascination. I haven’t seen this phenomenon since 2009 when young artists sat on the floor surrounding a chair where Romulus Linney read his entrancing stories. Each story was an encouraging metaphor meant specifically for someone on the floor. But I digress.

Susan’s play is about animals in the Middle Ages that were placed on trial when they hurt or killed a human. Over a thousand such trials were documented in France, Ireland, the USA and England.

A horse was assigned a defense attorney when he kicked a man. Bees were tried after stinging a woman in 18th century England. But the bees didn’t show up for the trial. Animals were almost always found guilty but there was an occasional appeal. The main character in the play is a sow, a 400-pound mother pig, who ate a human baby, which apparently was quite common in those days.

Many trials were on bestiality, which always involved a man and a female animal “paramour” who were put on trial together. The most famous was in New Haven. In the 17th Century a man and a Jewish woman went on trial for bestiality because Jews were not considered human.

In fact there are so many of these cases that Susan is faced with the problem of which fascinating stories to cut from the script.

The play is narrated by the first attorney to defend animals, when in 1521 he represented a group of rats who ate crops, causing famine. The rats won on a technicality.

The play asks the question “What kind of justice do we give to those whom society sees as lesser creatures?” Could this pertain to Abu Ghraib, blacks, the poor?

How do you define suffering? Does a fish suffer? as a Swedish animal rights attorney asserted after a fisherman was tried for showing off his catch flailing on the hook? Where do we draw the lines, personally and societally?

Even God makes an appearance in this play. And why shouldn’t he, since most of the defense and the prosecution use the Bible as argument?

Susan’s subject reminds me of when I first read “To Kill a Mockingbird” and had the revelation that justice changes with the decades. Susan’s play magnifies that revelation using centuries. What was seen as just in the 1500s is laughable today. And how will we look back at justice in 2013? Will we laugh or be appalled?

That question can be found deep within Hermitage Fellow Rey Pamatmat’s play based on the trial of Trayvon Martin. But that’s for another blog….

Laura Kaminsky – Meet Our Board

The Hermitage is thrilled to welcome Laura Kaminsky, Artistic Director of Symphony Space in New York City and an accomplished and award-winning composer, to our Board of Trustees. Laura is the first Hermitage Fellow to serve on our Board. “No one can better represent the insider’s point of view – that of the Hermitage fellow – than someone who has that title. And no one can represent the national point of view from outside this community better than someone living in a distant cultural center. As a Hermitage fellow in music, living in New York City, Laura meets both those qualifications,” said Executive Director Bruce Rodgers.

The Hermitage is thrilled to welcome Laura Kaminsky, Artistic Director of Symphony Space in New York City and an accomplished and award-winning composer, to our Board of Trustees. Laura is the first Hermitage Fellow to serve on our Board. “No one can better represent the insider’s point of view – that of the Hermitage fellow – than someone who has that title. And no one can represent the national point of view from outside this community better than someone living in a distant cultural center. As a Hermitage fellow in music, living in New York City, Laura meets both those qualifications,” said Executive Director Bruce Rodgers.

It took less than a minute for the Hermitage to cast a spell on Kaminsky, who came for her first residency with her partner Rebecca Allan, a painter. The two were collaborating on Horizon Lines, a multi-media work. “Driving up the narrow road and seeing the wooden structures and the dunes glowing under the midday sun was confirmation before ever stepping foot on the ground that this was a special place to nurture one’s creativity,” writes Kaminsky. “I could tell that there was going to be the space to be reflective and therefore productive.”

Kaminsky says that the Hermitage meant “everything” to her as an artist. “Time. Quiet. The stimulating conversation among the artist fellows. The closeness to nature. The sound of the waves. The light. All of this created a perfect environment in which to let loose and to reel in, both of which are necessary to making art.”

And she hasn’t wasted any time in making a difference. Inspired by a conversation with Rodgers, Kaminsky conceived the idea for NOVEMBER 21, 1963: THE DAY BEFORE, a multi-media one-night-only performance that will feature contributions from more than 60 Hermitage composers, writers, filmmakers, and visual artists to contribute original work around the theme of life on the eve of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. “Laura’s deep commitment to the Hermitage was obvious from the beginning. The exciting partnership the Hermitage has with Symphony Space, for whom she is artistic director, is an obvious example of this commitment,” said Rodgers.

The performance, taking place at Symphony Space on November 8, 2013, has already attracted tremendous media attention, has sold out and will be a highpoint of the upcoming Hermitage Artist Tour of New York City. “The outpouring of interesting responses to the challenge from the hermitage fellows has been exceptional and I know we have a great evening in store”, said Kaminsky.

As an artist and Fellow, Kaminsky believes she can bring a unique perspective to the Hermitage Board. “Having lived the artist’s life there I hope I can speak directly to the board from the perspective of one who has benefited from a residency in ways that can lead and inspire the board to continue its good work.”

Laura Kaminsky’s works are frequently performed across the U.S. and abroad; Kaminsky has received numerous commissions, fellowships, and awards. She has received four ASCAP- Chamber Music America Awards for Adventuresome. She currently serves as a member of the board of directors of Chamber Music America and has been a board member of the American Music Center and a member of the Artistic Advisory Council of the New York Foundation for the Arts. She is Artistic Director of Symphony Space in New York City. From 2004-2008, she served as dean of the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College/SUNY, where she is currently professor of music and faculty-at-large for the School of the Arts

After 10 Days of Hard Work at the Hermitage, Suddenly, the Play Wrote Itself!

In February 2011, the directors of the theater production company Phantom Limb, Jessica Grindstaff and husband Erik Sanko, came to the Hermitage exhausted after their successful run of 69° South at Brooklyn Academy of Music. Their work has been described as a series of dynamic tableaux vivants, narrative installations in motion that meld theatrical performance, puppetry, photography and film with unconventional original music. 69° South was a collaboration with the Kronos Quartet inspired by Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition.

Jessica and Freya at the Hermitage

In February 2011, the directors of the theater production company Phantom Limb, Jessica Grindstaff and husband Erik Sanko, came to the Hermitage exhausted after their successful run of 69° South at Brooklyn Academy of Music. Their work has been described as a series of dynamic tableaux vivants, narrative installations in motion that meld theatrical performance, puppetry, photography and film with unconventional original music. 69° South was a collaboration with the Kronos Quartet inspired by Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition.

Three months later at a sunset dinner on the beach to welcome them back for the second part of their residency, they surprised us with a bottle of champagne and an announcement. We had the privilege to be the first to hear their news (even before they told their own parents). Jessica was three months pregnant. Now they are back again with their daughter Freya, a true daughter of the Hermitage, as part of the Hermitage’s new family residency program.

While here for the third time they are writing the second of a trilogy that started with 69° South. The piece, Memory Rings, uses the oldest living tree in the world as the center of its narrative.

“The trilogy is united by the theme of ecology and the human relationship with nature through poetry and image. We are exploring the psychology of a collective future using history, legacy, and cultural memory,” said Erik.

They returned to the Hermitage following a residence at Harvard with global warming expert Dan Schrag, head of the Harvard Center for the Environment. Dr. Schrag had been impressed by their work because it moves people into the topic in a way they aren’t used to. Their plays touch audiences at an emotional level with a refreshing absence of the usual didactic lecturing.

Erik described audience reactions as unconscious at first. Then the slow burn of realization sets in. He and Jessica see attitudes change when they tour places like the Midwest where people are not yet convinced to take action on global warming. “Art has the ability to help people see the long arc of 40 to 80 years it may take to recover from climate change,” he explained.

They each have beautiful studios in New York City but they say their work benefits from the open mindedness and wide horizons that come with a place like the Hermitage where there are no expectations, no obligations, and the only distractions are the sea and nature (which is what their play is about).

Jessica said “After 10 days of hard work on Memory Rings at the Hermitage, suddenly, the play wrote itself!”

69° South

Learn more about PhantomLimbCompany.com

Thoughts On Writing with Award Winning Irish Playwright Ronan Noone

At the first meal of his residency, playwright Ronan Noone shared a parking lot epiphany. He was enraged by someone in the theater business who was forcing the business side of art to intrude on the making of art. He recalls the very spot in a parking lot where he realized it was more important to be a craft person than to be known. And he chose his craft over the attention associated with being a playwright. He recognized some selfishness is needed to be an artist – that you must sacrifice something, but not craft.

At the first meal of his residency, playwright Ronan Noone shared a parking lot epiphany. He was enraged by someone in the theater business who was forcing the business side of art to intrude on the making of art. He recalls the very spot in a parking lot where he realized it was more important to be a craft person than to be known. And he chose his craft over the attention associated with being a playwright. He recognized some selfishness is needed to be an artist – that you must sacrifice something, but not craft.

At the end of his stay, our conversation again veered to revelations about writing as he shared what he experienced while here at the Hermitage. As an artist he said he feels a constant desperation because he only has a certain amount of time between teaching, family, and development of existing plays. That desperation affects the craft.

“Staying here at the Hermitage is not just in writing, but seeing who you are as an artist. Here your body slows down and you become aware.” In his life he has experienced the times when the art comes out at its own pace, but often desperation intrudes on the making of art. With age, and with being at the Hermitage, comes an understanding that craft is something that comes from somewhere. If you force it, it won’t work.

He came here to finish a play he started three weeks earlier. Real life disrupted his writing, the desperation set in and “the window to the play closed” with two scenes left unwritten. At the Hermitage he faced a problem with the play’s ending and began feeling desperate again. But as he walked the beach, he thought “What’s the rush?” His years of working with the craft had taught him “The answer is always in the scene”. At his walk’s end he returned to his desk in the writer’s cottage where he typed the last scene.

Ten years ago, when he watched Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, he knew he would use it someday. The play he wrote at the Hermitage was Scenes from an Adultery, based on the Bergman film. After he wrote the end, he viewed Bergman’s film again for the first time in ten years. “ I watched it again last night” he said with a smile that looked like he had eaten something sinfully delicious.
Referring to his Hermitage experience the smile widened “Just in terms of process, I could live off this for two months.”

Find more at RonanNoone.com, including his thoughts on playwrighting called 36 Points or More

STARs Just Want to Have Fun

Five teachers walked into a bar… Actually these five teachers, the current crop of Hermitage/Florida Alliance for Arts Education STARs, have walked into a bar, a bowling alley, a pizza place, another bar and a spin class.

Left to Right 2013 winners of the State Teacher Artist Residency program; Rocky Bridges, Polk County visual artist, Ramiro Malagon, Broward County composer, Melanie Webb, Duval County writer, Kristen Rodriguez, Broward County writer, and Beverly Williams, Polk County visual artist.

Five teachers walked into a bar… Actually these five teachers, the current crop of Hermitage/Florida Alliance for Arts Education STARs, have walked into a bar, a bowling alley, a pizza place, another bar and a spin class.

Teachers, you see, tend to get up early (out of habit) and work during the day (also out of habit). With their nights freed from grading papers, planning lessons and data entry, and with no family obligations, the STARs are finding themselves in a very unusual situation. They have time on their hands.

It doesn’t hurt that Beverly, Kristen, Melanie, Rocky and Ramiro instantly bonded at their welcome dinner and have eaten together as a group almost every evening and hung out at the Hermitage or elsewhere around town, after that. They’ve brought folding tables to the Gulf to enjoy the dinners they’ve been preparing for each other, converting their “personal” food shelves into one big communal fridge. They’ve salsa danced on the porch, sung karaoke in the Pump House (sorry no video of either) and even bought an outdoor game set complete with a volleyball net and Smashminton. And apparently their students aren’t the only ones who enjoy temporary tattoos, squirt guns and colored chalk from the Dollar Store. “Teachers are fun-loving people,” said Beverly, in that understated teacher’s way.

I got the chance to hang with the STARs at a weekly trivia game, because why stay in on a Monday night when you can go out and play right? When it came to choosing a team name, there was no hesitation because apparently, these STARs have a group “word” and thus we were the STAR Secretions (don’t ask, I didn’t).

I did however ask why four out of five of these teachers came to trivia night with no pen. That was the first question at trivia night they couldn’t answer.

It became apparent early that the STAR of this team was Kristen, when she snatched the game sheet to scribble the answer to an early question. I should say that Kristen is the youngest STAR and her correct answer was The Andrews Sisters.

She also got the name of a character from West Side Story, a Charles Dickens novel and just about every wacky answer in a puzzle of mixed up TV show titles. Kristen is very “enthusiastic” said Melanie, who added that the dance she did after every strike she got on bowling night was “the cutest thing ever.” Oh did I mention that when they went bowling, and that they all chose fake names for the score sheet.

Alas, even after successfully naming all five children on the Cosby Show (way to go Beverly) for the 20-point bonus question, our team came in third and out of the money by just two points. (If we had a history teacher we’d have been home free).

But winning wasn’t the goal of the game. It was obvious the STARs were just looking for one more way to hang out together and have a good time. Teachers, more than anyone, except maybe their students, realize that before you know it summer will be over. When it’s a summer this special, you’ve got to get the most out of every minute, whether it’s writing, creating sculptures or grilling kabobs and dancing on the porch while you watch the sun set.

Sharyn Lonsdale

You can meet our STARS at 6 p.m. Friday, August 9 when they open their studios, read from their work and play their music on the Hermitage beach. Open Studios and tours of the campus begin at 6 p.m. and the beach program at 7 p.m. Bring your own chairs and refreshments. The program is free and open to all but it is weather permitting so if the weather looks questionable or threatening, call our office at 941-475-2098 or visit our Facebook page. Hope to see you there.

Artists Reunite at the Hermitage

As you can imagine with dozens of artists invited to the Hermitage every year and dozens more from previous years coming back for Part II or III (or sometimes IV) of their residency, there are as many artists-in-residence combinations as shells on our beach.

Terry Adkins and Tameka Norris fly a kite on the Hermitage beach

As you can imagine with dozens of artists invited to the Hermitage every year and dozens more from previous years coming back for Part II or III (or sometimes IV) of their residency, there are as many artists-in-residence combinations as shells on our beach.

Some artists who meet at the Hermitage hit it off so much they try to arrange their schedules so they can return together. Others just happen to book the same week the second time around as in “Didn’t I see you here last May?”

At their welcome dinner at the Hermitage, Tameka Norris, Will Villalongo and Terry Adkins talked and joked as if they’d known each other for ages. That’s not unusual at this place but in their case, they actually had known each other and their arrival at the same time wasn’t exactly a coincidence.

When visual artist Will spent his first week at the Hermitage he mentioned to Program Director/Co-founder Patricia Caswell that we (as in our National Advisory Committee) should invite more performance artists. Patricia told him that NAC member Franklin Sirmans had just submitted the name of Tameka Norris, a visual and performance artist. She also just happened to be a former student of Will’s at Yale. Will decided not to tell Tameka so her invitation would be a surprise.

When Tameka received her shell and Hermitage invitation in the mail in New Orleans, she had remembered seeing Will mention his stay at the Hermitage on his Facebook page and contacted him to share the “surprise”. “I didn’t know he knew,” said Tameka.

Meanwhile she and Terry Adkins happened to be part of the same exhibition, “Radical Presence,” that debuted in November 2012 in Houston. As they talked about their future plans, Tameka mentioned the Hermitage. “I think I got that too,’” Terry told Tameka.

Tameka already knew Will’s dates and scheduled her visit so some of their time would overlap. For Terry, it was just a matter of trying to fit his Hermitage time in “I had other things happening and this was about the only time I could come.”

When Will found out Terry was headed to the Hermitage, he recalled meeting him many years earlier under much different circumstances. “Terry doesn’t remember but he gave me a crit when I was in art school,” Will said shooting Terry a smile across the room. The two had run into each other in passing as artists do in NY. It was however a coincidence that they booked the same flight from New York to the Hermitage.

Their past experience allowed the three to settle in quickly. “It’s been nice getting to know Terry and Tameka in a different dynamic,” said Will. “And he’s not dodging me because I have questions,” shot back Tameka, referring to their teacher/student days. Their stay included kite flying on the beach, July 4th fireworks, road trips and watching horror movies on a taped up white sheet in the main room of the Hermitage House. And yes, they did get plenty of work done.

“I find this concentrated quality time quite rewarding,” said Terry, who’s literally gearing up for a project that will take him to the North Pole this fall. A constant stream of packages with new photo equipment followed him to the Hermitage where he spent a lot of time getting familiar with the gear.

Tameka and Will also used their residency time in untraditional ways. Both visual artists, she is writing, and he is reading stories by James Baldwin, something he has long planned to do but said he never had the time for.

Tameka believes her stay here was greatly enhanced by the company, including Mimi Herman, a writer and poet from North Carolina. She said hearing what the others think, even if it’s about current events has all been part of “the artistic process.”

And part of that process was a presentation at Art Center Sarasota. Ironically Will had planned to do the talk but had to leave the Hermitage early so Terry and Tameka stepped in with great success. Community outreach by the artists is part of the Hermitage experience.

Lounging on the Hermitage couch Terry called his stay “A mutually nourishing exchange, quite rewarding,… unforgettable.” We hope he flashes back to his weeks in the sun while he’s taking photos and creating art at the North Pole.

Tameka Norris – Family Values, a solo exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans, opens August 3. Will Villalongo’s work can be seen in The Shadows Took Shape opening November 14, 2013 at the Studio Museum in Harlem in NYC and, in another cool coincidence, Radical Presence – Black Performance in Contemporary Artfeaturing Tameka Norris and Terry Adkins, begins its run at the same museum on the same day.

The Hermitage Goes To New York

The Hermitage Artist Retreat is organizing a special trip to New York City, November 6-10 to experience the extraordinary work of our fellows.

November Trip Promises Special Experiences

The Hermitage Artist Retreat is organizing a special trip to New York City, November 6-10 to experience the extraordinary work of our fellows.

Trip Highlights Include:

  • Metropolitan Opera: Center section orchestra seats for Two Boys an opera written at the Hermitage by Nico Muhly and Craig Lucas.
  • Private reception with Nico Muhly and Craig Lucas following the performance.
  • The Day Before: November 21, 1963, a special evening of short works presented by Symphony Space, written by over 60 Hermitage fellows specifically for this event. What was our world like before everything changed on November 22, 1963?
  • Reception with participating Hermitage artists following the Symphony Space performance.
  • Opening Night at BAM (Yes, we’re invited to the opening night party!). The famous Brooklyn Academy of Music presents Ballet Preljocaj – France’s premiere contemporary dance company.
  • Sanford Biggers – a studio visit. One of America’s hottest visual artists, Hermitage fellow, and Greenfield Prize winner will host our group in his studio
  • Hermitage fellow Michael Eade – a studio visit with this master painter at the famous Elizabeth Foundation. Visit other artist studios and the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop.
  • And more… (Yes, MORE!)
  • Hotel accommodations at the Empire Hotel at Lincoln Center.
  • Option without hotel available, too.

Take this trip for an experience of your lifetime. You will be seeing and doing things only the Hermitage can provide. It will be very special. Don’t miss it.

For detailed itinerary, click HERE.

For pricing, click HERE.

Metropolitan Opera
Symphony Space
Craig Lucas
Nico Muhly
Sanford Biggers
Michael Eade

First the Storm then the Shells

Tropical Storm Andrea hit Manasota Key last week, and as named storms go, she was noisy and a bit persistent, but aside from tearing a screen and relocating a couple of deck chairs, Andrea mainly served as nature’s entertainment for our artists in residence.

Tropical Storm Andrea hit Manasota Key last week, and as named storms go, she was noisy and a bit persistent, but aside from tearing a screen and relocating a couple of deck chairs, Andrea mainly served as nature’s entertainment for our artists in residence.

For us, Andrea served another purpose. This is the time of year when our National Advisory Committee chooses the artists they want to invite for a residency. They give us the names and we send the invitations, which the artists aren’t expecting, always with a single, perfect shell from our beach, which they really aren’t expecting.

Part of my job is to scour the beach for those shells. I know, life is tough.

Lately the shells have been scarce, and the perfect ones that fit into our clear round box, even more so. But the day after Andrea hit – Shellapalooza!! Right in front of the Hermitage. At lunch time I threw off my sandals, grabbed my beach pail and hit the beach. Then I got to “work” (Hey it’s an assignment) and started sifting through the layers to find as many perfect shells as I could.

After a few years, I’ve gotten pretty good at sizing up the shells but I bring a sample box with me to make sure they fit. From the looks I get, I can tell my fellow shell seekers think it’s a bit odd that I make my finds pass a test before I toss them in my pail.

I left the beach after, well I’m not sure how long I was there, with about 60 “artist shells” and one extra cool, “I should keep it for myself but I won’t” shell.

Usually I decide where the shells end up since I put the mailing together. In order to make the process more entertaining, I’ll say, choose a more interesting shell to send to a writer in the Midwest because, I figure they don’t get to see that many (until they come here of course). If I notice on an artist’s website that they use a lot of color, I’ll pop them a more colorful shell. And sometimes I just shut my eyes and leave it up to shell destiny.

So, if you’re reading this and you get a shell in the mail in the next, let’s say 2-4 weeks, or if you are a Hermitage Fellow and still have your perfect shell in the box (and I hope you do), now you know how it got there. And if you are on this year’s list of Fellows and your name happens to be Andrea, have I got a shell for you!