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Scholarship Interview: Matt Kearney, Ceramicist

When I began researching this month's past scholar, ceramicist Matt Kearney, I was pleasantly surprised to see recognition of our Fine Arts Society of Sarasota scholarship on the 'About Me' page of Matt's Upriver Ceramics website. And when Matt sent me a photo from our 2004 awards ceremony that still hangs on the wall of his Bonita Springs art studio, it was clear that this is an artist who does not forget those that have supported him on his artistic journey. "The Fine Arts Society was one of the earliest groups that recognized me as an artist and that photo I display in my studio is of me and the scholarship committee chair Nancy Stukenberg. I received so much good feedback and positive affirmations about my work that day and those comments validated my decision to pursue a career in the arts," notes Matt, adding "The financial support was very valuable as I attended a private university where tuition and expenses were significantly higher than attending a state school. Your early support and confidence in my talent were very important to me and I am happy to show The Fine Arts Society of Sarasota my appreciation on my website."

Matt was born and raised in Sarasota and was a two-time Fine Arts Society scholar. He graduated from Booker High School in 2004 and then earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Stetson University in DeLand, FL where he studied marketing and fine arts.

Matt had always been artistic growing up but his interest in ceramics didn't really take hold until high school when a family from South Korea moved into his neighborhood. When visiting the home of his new Booker High School classmates, Matt was amazed at the ceramics studio in their home. Their father was master potter Ki Woon Huh and upon seeing the artist's ceramic works, Matt says "I was blown away.I began studying one-on-one with Ki Woon Huh and he opened my eyes to the world of possibilities and creativity that could be applied to three-dimensional art through ceramics. I always knew I wanted to be an artist and ceramics enabled me to develop my own style and stand out. Although he didn't speak much English, we managed to communicate. Ki Woon Huh was my mentor and I owe him a debt of gratitude. We keep in touch and he is still a working artist at his studio in Sarasota." 

Fast forward to graduating from college when the economic recession hit and the time was not right to pursue a career as a professional artist. Matt started his own business in electronics and other work to pay the bills and those experiences have helped him learn the entrepreneurial side of business. During this time, he continued to look for studio space and found it in an unlikely place. A standup paddle board excursion led him to Riverside Park in historic downtown Bonita Springs. There he discovered a collection of small fishing cottages alongside the Imperial River. The city was accepting applications from artists and supplementing the studio rents with an art-in-public-places fund. Matt applied and was accepted and has use of an affordable private 300 square foot cottage for his studio and gallery. Other artists in the village include three oil painters, pine needle weaver and basket makers and a seashell artist. Since the cottages are located within the park, the kayak rental cottage and public events help attract people to visit the art studios.

Matt's marketing and business experience are apparent in his robust website, online newsletters, Etsy shop and social media postings on Instagram and Facebook."It takes a lot of time and discipline to maintain an internet presence, but online sales are very important as visitors to the studio in the summer months are less frequent. Additionally, a gallery in Cape Coral sells some of my small and medium pieces," says Matt. He also does pottery wheel demonstrations, accepts commission work and teaches ceramics to kids and adults in group classes and private instruction.

A significant artistic achievement was reached this past February when Matt was a selected from a field of 900 applicants to participate in the ArtFest Fort Myers juried show. He notes, "I had been a volunteer helping out at ArtFest for 7 years before applying. I had seen the success and great sales for participating artists and I was truly honored for the opportunity to exhibit my work there."

Matt welcomes our Arts Advocates members to visit him at his studio, but it's best to call or email in advance to schedule a day and time. His wide variety of works range from $8 for wheel-thrown miniature pots up to $3,500 for sculptural pieces. To view Matt's websites, click the following links:

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Take Your Time and Look Slowly

For years I lived around the corner from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and it was a regular stop for me, especially to view new exhibits. Weekend crowds often made it difficult to get close to artwork, so it became more of an exercise in getting through it rather than stopping at each painting to enjoy the moment. Sometimes I spent more time in the gift shop.

I was depriving myself of "looking slowly," a new term for me. That's a recent movement in the art world in which you stop to examine a piece of artwork to uncover the hidden meanings to better understand the artist's intent – and to have a more enjoyable experience. 

As the Tate Museum in London explains, "It is an approach based on the idea that, if we really want to get to know a work of art, we need to spend time with it…Slow looking is not about curators, historians or even artists telling you how you should look at art. It's about you and the artwork, allowing yourself time to make your own discoveries and form a more personal connection with it." The museum offers tips on how to maximize your experience and advises "Devote your time to truly getting to know a few artworks. Try to think of the gallery as a menu, rather than a to-do list."

It was a revelation when I stood in front of several pieces of art in the Sarasota Art Museum's current exhibition State of the Art 2020: Constructs which is described as an exploration of how contemporary art – is produced all across the country including regions outside traditional art centers – reflects the present moment. 

These constructs include several ideas woven through the piece. It's up to the viewer to decide what she sees. Under the guidance of Stephenie Frasher, Arts Advocates' lead docent and also a docent at SAM we viewed only four pieces and I was surprised to learn that we spent an hour doing it. The time flew by.

Here is a painting "A Forrest of Uncertain Things" (2019), by Amy Casey. My first impression was that the cutoff trees and falling houses signified the end of civilization. But maybe not. If you look more closely, in this snippet from the painting, you'll see sprigs of greenery. Are they the last vestiges of civilization or do they signify a renewal of life? Up to you to decide.

I had a college professor who said he would visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art to look at one painting. He would stay for a while and then leave. I thought it was strange at the time, but now I realize he was "slow looking" and was satisfied with just one enriching experience. 

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Still Going Strong

Time hasn't slowed Jean Allen, a member of Arts Advocates for almost 40 years. At age 98, she recently renewed her driver's license and drove to the recent scholarship luncheon where she renewed friendships and celebrated our scholars.

In a recent conversation, Jean reminisced about the early years of Arts Advocates, then known as The Fine Arts Society of Sarasota, Inc. "We were a much smaller organization then," she said. "I headed docents at the very beginning for the Van Wezel tours of our artwork and was involved in many other ways." The organization has evolved over time, she said.

"For years we had a Christmas luncheon where we celebrated the holidays and members donated jewelry to auction off and raise funds," she said. It was more of a social organization. Now, she noted there are so many other groups vying for people's time.

Jean taught home economics in Michigan public schools for 21 years and her former husband was an athletic director at Michigan State University where Jean earned a master's degree. For a time, they also managed the Mackinac Island Chamber of Commerce. Her second husband William Allen died, and Hodgkin's disease was fatal to two adult sons.

Jean's faith in God has always sustained her, she said. She offers individuals spiritual guidance, has lectured extensively, and written several books. Her "Threads of Time…Lives Well Lived 1484 – 21st Century" describes the struggle for civil and religious freedom in America. The dedication of her pamphlet, "Mystery of the Messiah…key to understanding" reads "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find." Matt. 7:7. 

Never one to be idle, Jean kept busy during the worst days of Covid by enjoying one of her favorite hobbies – designing and making her own clothes, as she has for many years.

Soon Jean will take off for Mackinac Island for her annual summer vacation, returning to Sarasota in the fall. Bon voyage, Jean, and we look forward to seeing you at future Arts Advocates events for years to come.

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Breathtaking Glass Art

Located in an old industrial area, just a short drive away in St. Petersburg, the Imagine Museum houses one of the largest collections of contemporary glass in the United States.

Philanthropist and artist Trish Duggan began collecting contemporary American Studio Glass with the intention of opening a museum for it to be displayed. Artists such as Dale Chihuly, Marvin Lipofsky, and Fritz Dreisbach played seminal roles in popularizing a new method of using a small, inexpensive furnace that made it affordable and possible for the first time for artists to blow glass in independent studios.

Breathtaking masterworks by these artists from the US and now from artists around the world are included in the museum's permanent and rotating exhibits.

The collection of 1500 pieces continues to grow. At any one time, 400 works from the collection are on display. According to the museum:

  • It can take up to two years to create one life-size cast glass sculpture
  • Glass must heat up to 2000 degrees to melt
  • Large cast glass sculptures can take as long as six months to cool in an annealing oven even after the casting process is complete
  • Hours and hours of grinding and polishing create the transparency and shine in the glass

If you appreciate the beauty of blown glass, then a visit to the Imagine Museum is a must.

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Opening Night at the Asolo - Saturday, April 23rd

The new musical Knoxville opens tonight at the Asolo Repertory Theater in Sarasota. The Tony-award winners composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens reunite for this musical adapted from James Agee's Pulitzer Prize Award-winning autobiographical novel "A Death in the Family."

The book is by Frank Galati, who directs, and is also an associate artist at the Asolo. The trio worked together on Ragtime, the smash musical, that has been revived and produced on stages around the world ever since.

The creative team for Knoxville gathered earlier this week at the Asolo's Cook theater for a behind-the-scenes discussion to describe the creative process and the musical's long journey to the stage.

The Asolo commissioned Knoxville four years ago. It was scheduled to open in 2020 but was delayed by the pandemic. The intervening years were frustrating but allowed the creators to refine and improve their work. The refinements continued this past week during preview performances.

"We listen to the audience and make adjustments based on their reactions," said Flaherty. Ahrens persisted until she got the team to agree to change one word after the previous evening's show.

Who Does What?

While each creative has a role, the panelists all agreed that it's a collaborative effort. In anticipation of the question what comes first, Ahrens, said, "sometimes it's the lyrics and sometimes the music." Flaherty noted, however, that Ahrens prefers to get the music first.

Ahrens was the first to discover "the music" in the book, as she put it, and that dispelled her initial skepticism. The lyricist "is the liaison between the book and the music," she said. "We're basically telling a story in music."

Sharing the stage (from left): Michael Donald Edwards, Asolo’s producing artistic director; Lynn Ahrens; Stephen Flaherty; Bruce Coughlin; Tom Murray; and Caleb Hoyer.

Tony award-winner orchestrator Bruce Coughlin works closely with the composer, who writes the music. The orchestrator writes the score, assigning parts to various instruments that reflect the composer's intent.

The role of music supervisor is difficult to explain, said Murray, and the position has only existed for about 15 years. "Basically, my role is to listen to achieve the composer's vision and communicate it to everyone so that we're all on the same page. I help to crystalize the story to support the narrative and make everything cohere."

The music director hires the musicians, rehearses the musicians and performers, and conducts the orchestra. In Knoxville the musicians are on the stage and several of the cast also perform on instruments, which is not typical, said Caleb Hoyer, the music director.

The entire creative team has input on the tempo, sound, and musical emphasis. Too loud and the audience might not hear a lyric critical to the story telling.

What typifies the creative process is constant change, they all agreed. The team is editing the words and music throughout a production as they respond to what they are seeing and hearing from the audience.

An audience member asked the panelists, "What's next – Broadway? Is that your Oz?" At this moment there are no future plans although a Broadway run would be ideal, the team said.

"What's our Oz?" replied Ahrens. "Right now, the Asolo is our Oz."

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How I Learned to Write a Play

As a writer, I've been a newspaper reporter, written blogs and websites, annual reports and more. But I've never written a play, so I decided to attend a Hermitage Artist Retreat program with a lecture by Paula Vogel, the celebrated playwright who won a Pulitzer Prize for "How I Learned to Drive."

Her many plays have been performed around the world, a little intimidating for a novice like me. As she roamed the stage in front of a flipboard on the grounds of Booker High School, she challenged members of the audience to create a play in what she called a Bake-Off. She describes this as a quickly written exercise on an assigned theme that folks do within a quick 48 hours – in other words, a play. We were given the "John Ringling Bake-Off" for homework.

Getting Started

Every play needs to include these elements, Vogel said:

  • Plot
  • Thought/Theme
  • Language/Dialect
  • Character
  • Music
  • Spectacle/Plasticity

Where do you start? Surprisingly, she said there are unlimited possibilities.

We could start writing the play wherever we want – at the beginning, the end or the middle. The plot could be linear: it moves from A, to B, to C, etc., or it could jump around from H to B to A. Or the plot could be circular: it begins and ends back in the same place.

Character refers to who the actors are portraying. The writing and direction must leave enough room for the actor to create the character who talks like a real person. Music is hearing the rhythm of the play in your ears as you're writing.

We've all marveled at spectacle – Spiderman or flying gods in a chariot. Plasticity involves how you design the words on the page. The playwright is never on stage, she said. The actors and directors need the space to visualize your ideas to get into character.

Writing a play is a long and arduous process. What looks seamless on stage is an intricately designed work of art. Maybe that's why I quit my playwriting career almost before starting.

I have always respected great playwrights and it's unlikely I'll be joining that esteemed club anytime soon.

Playwright Paula Vogel
Andy Sandberg, Tony-award winning producer and director, and CEO of the Hermitage Artist Retreat.
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Backstage at the Asolo

Vic Meyrich, Production and Operations Director, Koski Center, with a prop produced for the Sarasota Ballet.

The smell of the grease paint – the roar of the crowd. How our heart races in anticipation of a theater performance as the lights dim and the curtain rises.

That's been my experience over the years of attending live performances. Actors bring the show to life but there many more people behind the scenes who help make it happen.

That's why I was so pleased to be invited to a recent tour of the Asolo Rep Robert and Beverly Koski Production Center on Tallevast Road in Bradenton. It is a huge beehive of activity where carpenters, painters and other artisans make sets for plays, props, wigs and costumes in preparation for productions at the Asolo Repertory Theater and other companies including the Sarasota Opera and Sarasota Ballet.

The Koski Center also constructs sets and props for cruise lines and other performing arts organizations around the country. For example, it is currently building oversized wooden replicas of books for a cruise line show.

Led by Vic Meyrich, Production and operations director, who has been with the Asolo for more than 50 years, visitors saw dozens of chairs, desks, lamps and other props that that are used in productions. If one doesn't already exist, then the exact prop needed is built from scratch. Huge wooden panels dot the floors ready to be painted and turned into sets for future shows.

The Koski Center built the moving ladder (photo) for the production of "Evita" and the moving staircase for "Hair" (photo).

Preparing for the Future

The Asolo is in the middle of a fundraising campaign to expand its Koski Center and community outreach initiatives. A new building will house the Ted Weiller Rehearsal Hall and additional space for the costume shop. Upgrades in technology will provide state-of-the-art facilities to attract world-class artists and spawn productions that could transfer directly to Broadway.

While all this is happening, though, the Asolo is in the middle of high season with performances of three shows on sets that the Koski Center built. These have to be assembled, broken down, and re-assembled as the shows rotate performances over the next several weeks.

How fortunate we are to have this world-class theater and production center right here in Sarasota/Bradenton. For ticket information visit Asolo Rep.

Cast of Asolo Rep's production of HAIR, Photo by Cliff Roles.
Cast of Asolo Rep's production of EVITA. Photo by Paul Miller.
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What Does a Curator Do?

An interview with Mark Ormond, curator for the Arts Advocates collection of paintings and sculptures. With over 25 years of experience in the art world, he has organized dozens of museum exhibitions, and authored, edited, and contributed to numerous brochures, catalogs, and publications on artists. During his ten-year association with the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, he was appointed senior curator & deputy director for collections and programs. Mark became the first curator and then was appointed director of the Center for the Fine Arts (now the Miami Art Museum). 

Q: What does the term "curator" mean? What are the responsibilities of a curator of art?

MO: The denotation of the word curator is someone who is the caretaker or custodian of a collection of objects. The curatorial responsibility usually includes being responsible for the exhibition of objects in the collection.

A curator researches evaluates, compares, and studies works of art. A curator may be hired by a museum, college, corporation, private individual, or other organization with a collection. A curator monitors the safekeeping of the artwork, the display of the artwork and its condition, and the accuracy of the database about the objects in the collection.

A curator may write about an artist or a specific work of art or a collection of works by one artist or a group of artists. If the collection has an acquisition budget or accepts donations the curator will make recommendations for purchase or acquisition. A curator also organizes exhibitions of art.

Q: How does someone become a curator — what is the typical career path?

MO: One can go to university and study art history and know-how to make art and have an advanced degree and most curators do. However, the only way to becoming a good curator is to have spent your life being in the physical presence of quality objects.

The most important experience someone must have to be a good curator of any period of art or artifacts is actually having observed and studied objects first-hand over many years. A curator learns by informed comparison and that means having seen the best examples and knowing how to recall that first experience with a new experience with a new similar object. That new object may be by the same artist or the same time period or from the same location as the object the curator may have seen yesterday, a year ago or ten years ago.

It is best that the curator has experience in the subject area of the collection. The person should be well-read in the subject area and be able to research and write about the work in the collection. A network of other individuals in the collection area is also useful.

Q: Are there different kinds of curators who work in different fields or mediums? Do their roles differ?

MO: Every collection area has curators with different specific knowledge about those collection areas. There are curators of historical artifacts who work in history museums. There are curators who are experts in science who work in science museums. There are curators who are experts on animals who work in zoos. Basically, their jobs are the same. However, a curator in a zoo is responsible for living creatures and so what the animal eats and its habitat are of primary concern.

Q: As curator for Arts Advocates, what are your responsibilities? What do you do for the organization?

MO: My responsibilities for the Arts Advocates collection is the same as what is described above. I maintain a database of information about the objects in the collection that I update whenever I discover new information. I make recommendations for the new acquisitions either by purchase or donation. I research and write about objects in the collection and I organize their movement, exhibition and display.

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So, You Want to Play the Piano

Have you ever dreamed that you could play the piano? Or maybe you yearn to strum the strings of a guitar. It's never too late to learn to play a musical instrument.

You don't need to become the next Vladimir Horowitz or Eric Clapton. It's only important to challenge yourself by learning a skill that you can enjoy for yourself. Music is fun and also good for your brain. How do you get started and where do you find an instrument to play?

Sarasota Music Schools

This list is by no means complete, and not meant as an endorsement, but there are a surprising number of music schools in Sarasota. While most are geared to children, they also offer adult and private lessons. Here are three I found in a web search.

The Music Compound offers "lessons for all ages, instruments and genres…our memberships offer a variety of services for all ages and stages."

Sarasota Music Conservatory offers both adult and children's classes. Luca Stine, one our Arts Advocates scholarship winners, attended (his jazz ensemble is performing at Selby Gardens on February 17th).

The Suzuki Institute School of Music offers piano lessons, as well as violin, cello, saxophone, clarinet and voice lessons.

Many schools offer online lessons, too. If you don't own an instrument, you can rent one before buying it. Cadence Music rents by the month and your payments can be applied towards the purchase of the instrument if you decide to buy.

I wrote earlier that you can "challenge" yourself in learning an instrument. It is a challenge and you need to be disciplined in the early days of your experience while navigating in unfamiliar territory.

Practice, practice

To succeed, you must practice.

I know that from my own experience in learning to play the cornet. I was 10 years old when I accepted an invitation from the music director of my school to start lessons. I wanted to quit after the first week but I had promised him I wouldn't so I plodded on. I'm so glad that I did.

I learned to read music, participated in my award-winning high school band's performances, and marched in front of Santa Claus in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for four years. Playing a musical instrument has enriched my enjoyment when listening to music and attending concerts.

I know that you, too, will love playing a musical instrument if you make the commitment to learning. 

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Fanfare for the New Year

It's thrilling to hear a trumpet fanfare preceding the entrance of a luminary or start of a special event. The rich, piercing sound of this instrument can give you goosebumps. A trumpet fanfare is especially timely to welcome the New Year.

Trumpets Soar

The fanfare is usually played on a trumpet, sometimes the French horn, or on a long horn with a ceremonial banner hanging from it, such as in the fanfare played for Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953.

One of the most famous is the fanfare that precedes the Kentucky Derby's "call to post" signaling the start of this famous horse race.

Fanfares are often accompanied by drums, such as Aaron Copeland's iconic Fanfare for the Common Man.

A series of short notes, called ruffles and flourishes, precedes the fanfare Hail to the Chief which is played to announce the arrival of the President of the United States at his inauguration and at other official functions, although many modern presidents have eschewed the practice.

We asked Luca Stine, an Arts Advocates scholarship winner, who is majoring in jazz trumpet performance at the University of Miami Frost School of Music, to record a fanfare especially for us. Watch the video below.

Trumpet vs Cornet

Why my special interest in this musical instrument? Maybe it's because I played the cornet as a schoolgirl and got to march in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade directly in front of Santa Claus.

What's the difference between the cornet and trumpet? While the cornet is shorter than the trumpet fingering the notes is the same. However, the trumpet has a more piercing sound, while the cornet's is warmer.

As trumpets herald the New Year, my best wishes to you for a healthy, happy and prosperous 2022!

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Dancing On Your Toes

The Sarasota Ballet is back on stage with the women dancing on their toes, or on pointe and sometimes on their toes moving in very quick, small steps, or bourree, across the stage. While ballet originated in Italy in the 1500s, the art form migrated to France and over time French became codified as the vocabulary of ballet everywhere.

The dancing may look effortless, but ballet dancers are also finely tuned athletes. They practice during the day and perform at night, a rigorous schedule that calls for strength and endurance. Unlike other athletes who can throw themselves across the finish line of a race, or somersault into the end zone, dancers have to look and perform beautifully until the end of the piece.

To become a refined and accomplished dancer is extremely hard work. In fact, recent research determined that dancers have the most physically demanding job of all in the U.S., ahead of athletes, aerobics instructors, laborers and other demanding occupations. Dancers are excellent employees because they are always on time, rarely miss a day at work, and have endless energy.

That's why I greatly admire a well-known member of Arts Advocates, not only for her dedication to the arts, but for her skills as a ballet dancer in the early days of her career. Can you guess who this is? (Answer at bottom).

The Five Positions

It isn't necessary to know all this, of course, to enjoy the exhilarating experience of a performance. But understanding the basics can lead to a deeper appreciation for this art form.

Classic ballet training is based on five basic positions. (courtesy Wikipedia)

First position: heels together, toes pointing outward
Second position: feet point in opposite directions; heels spaced approximately 12 inches apart.
Third position: One foot placed in front of the other, heel of front foot near the arch.
Closed fourth position: heel of each foot overlapping the toe of the other foot.
Opened fourth position: heels lined up, one directly in front of the other.

Dancers practice these positions at barre (a stationery handrail for support) class every day. They are the foundation of classical training.

Who is She?

The photo above is of Donna Maytham, Past President of Arts Advocates, when she danced with the Richmond Ballet, which she founded. And here she is now with Ricardo Rhodes, a Principal dancer with the Sarasota Ballet, at the after party following a recent performance of the company.

Brava, Donna!

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A Joyful Experience

A college professor once told me that he visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to view only one painting, a particular favorite, and then he would leave. The Met is the largest museum in the United States with more than 1.5 million art works on display.

How could he have resisted the impulse to wander through at least one or two other galleries with paintings by some of the world's greatest artists? His answer was that he wanted to enjoy his favorite painting to the fullest without any distractions and could always return. Why spoil a singular moment of enjoyment?

That's how I came to select only one 10-second video for this post to showcase a waterfall with colorful fish lazily sliding their way around a pond at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. I had taken many other photos during my recent visit but I was captivated by the beauty of this singular image. 

As I sat on a bench alone with my thoughts and my senses alive to the splendor before me, I realized I didn't need more now. I could always come back another time.

Art Moves Us

Viewing art is an emotional experience if we allow ourselves to live in the moment. It's also a physical experience. At the World Economic Forum in 2016 artist Olafur Eliasson wrote:

"Most of us know the feeling of being moved by a work of art, whether it is a song, a play, a poem, a novel, a painting…When we are touched, we are moved; we are transported to a new place that is, nevertheless, strongly rooted in a physical experience, in our bodies. We become aware of a feeling that may not be unfamiliar to us but which we did not actively focus on before. This transformative experience is what art is constantly seeking."

That moving experience, sitting by the pond and enjoying the riot of color around me, took me to another place, at least for the moment. That's the real beauty of art. 

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The Splendor of Tiffany Lamps

A highlight of any trip to New York is a visit to the New-York Historical Society, the home of 132 Tiffany lamps. It is the largest such collection in the world.

These intricately designed lamps created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are identified with the Art Nouveau movement known for the use of modern materials, including iron, glass and ceramics.

Art Nouveau artworks were inspired by natural forms such as plants, flowers and leaves winding their way through lamps and other pieces. These elements are found in abundance in Tiffany's designs.

Louis C. Tiffany founded his company and was the creative impetus for the use of stained glass in his lamps, windows and luxury objects. But more recently, Clara Driscoll, head of the company's Women's Glass Cutting Department, has been credited as the designer of many of the firm's leaded glass shades.

Driscoll and her staff, called the "Tiffany Girls," labored in anonymity. Art historians credit Driscoll as the designer of Tiffany's signature Dragonfly lampshade.

The lamps were made in Tiffany's own factory in Corona, Queens, across the river from Manhattan. There chemists experimented with new glass recipes and sheet and blown glass to create a vast variety of colors and textures. Male workers cut the glass into the correct shapes and carefully inserted them into the designs created by the "Tiffany Girls."

Tiffany lamps and stained glass windows can be found in many museums, including The Morse Museum in Winter Park, FL, which claims to have the most comprehensive collection of works by Tiffany, including jewelry, pottery, paintings, art glass, leaded-glass lamps and windows.

It also houses the chapel interior from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Winter Park is about a two-hour drive from Sarasota if you'd like to see these gorgeous pieces of art in person.

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Music is Fun and Good for Your Brain, Too

The Sarasota Orchestra recently launched its new season with a concert at the opera house. I personally can't wait to enjoy their concerts over the next few months. I'm happy when I listen to music, and you probably love it, too, whether you're a fan of the classics or the Top 40.

Music is also good for our brains, scientists at the University of Central Florida (UCF) have learned. Those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease and lose their memory of almost everything else can remember the lyrics and melodies of songs.

Tony Bennett is one of the most popular singers to ever grace a stage. But at 95 he's suffering from Alzheimer's. Although he's losing his memory, he can still belt out songs without needing to read the sheet music.

His recent concert with Lady Gaga was a sell-out at Radio City Music Hall. He sang for hours from memory. How was that possible?

Muscle Memory

Dancers are famous for remembering steps to a piece with "muscle memory." That means their muscles remember the steps – or rather their brains store the steps away in the recesses of their brains.

Now we know that singers like Tony Bennett and instrumentalists have musical muscle memory, which doesn't wither and die like other parts of the brain that control memory. If you're interested in the science behind this, click on How the Brain Responds to Music.

Listening to music is not only enjoyable but has many health benefits, according to UCF researchers. "If you play someone's favorite music, different parts of the brain light up," neuroscientist Kiminobu Sugaya explains. "That means memories associated with music are emotional memories, which never fade out — even in Alzheimer's patients." He teaches a course "Music and the Brain" with renowned violinist Ayako Yonetan.

Music Heals

While you're enjoying your favorite piano concerto or listening to the latest pop sensation, you're also causing your brain to:

  • Change your ability to perceive time
  • Tap into primal fear
  • Reduce seizures
  • Make you a better communicator
  • Make you stronger
  • Boost your immune system
  • Assist in repairing brain damage
  • Make you smarter
  • Evoke memories
  • Help Parkinson's patients

Tony Bennett on "60 Minutes"

Tony Bennett's remarkable ability to remember his American songbook in front of 6,000 fans in a concert at Radio City Music Hall was documented in a recent CBS episode of "60 Minutes." Yet afterwards he had no memory of singing at the concert. Here is the segment if you haven't already seen it. 

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Race and Art Matters

That's the title of the collection of stunning artworks by Robert Colescott now on display at the Sarasota Art Museum. The African-American painter and sculptor gained fame with his pioneering paintings that transformed well-known masterpieces by changing the white faces into black characters.

As the museum's introduction notes, "this provocative strategy challenging the long-standing taboos about racial stereotypes…to interject black objects into art history."

Colescott's debut came in the 1970s with a show at the Spectrum and Razor Galleries in New York. He reconfigured figures in the compositions of prominent artists in history including Vincent Van Gogh, Eugène Delacroix, Emanuel Leutze and Pablo Picasso as Black people. He also blended the images of white and black figures in his exploration of race and identity. His style morphed into a cartoonish style inspired by the comic strips that he enjoyed as child.

A recent trip to the museum confirmed that the renderings were meant to shock and they still do.

A sampling of his prolific output fills the entire second floor of the museum. There is still time to visit before the exhibit closes on October 31st.

Here is a small sample of the museum's display of his paintings. 

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Why Arts Advocates?

I was lucky to meet Donna Maytham when she invited me to join a group she hosts for discussions about ballet, one of my passions. Through her I learned about Arts Advocates when she invited me to attend "Speaking of the Arts" presentations by Tony Award®-winning writer and lyricist Lynn Ahrens and Baltimore Symphony Music Director Marin Alsop. Donna is currently our Past President and Gallery Director.

What We Do

I was impressed by the speakers and the organization's purpose, which gave me reasons to join – so I did. I'm the President now and honored to have been asked to take on this important role. It's clear to me why I joined and why Arts Advocates is so deserving of my support.

What makes us unique is our collection of paintings and sculptures, our role as a leading organization in Sarasota supporting all the arts, and our respected scholarship awards program for students who plan careers in the arts.

Our Place in History 

Jeannette Paladino, Donna Maytham, and Barbara Hyde, VP, at Arts Advocates Gallery opening reception. ©2021Maria Lyle

Arts Advocates owns perhaps the most extensive collection of Sarasota Colony artist paintings and sculptures anywhere. They've been on exhibit at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall for many years. But with the pandemic's suspending performances there, it became apparent to the Board of Directors that we needed a space of our own for our renowned collection. The Arts Advocates Gallery at the Crossings at Siesta Key, with key pieces from our collection on exhibit, opened in July to great acclaim and media coverage. 

Arts Advocates Gallery at the Crossings at Siesta Key. ©2021 Maria Lyle

We are the essential organization collecting and preserving these works of arts by the Sarasota Colony artists. They are embedded in Sarasota's heritage and deserve our loving care.

Founded in 1969 as the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota, Inc. and now known as Arts Advocates, the organization over the years has added to our collection of paintings and sculptures by artists who migrated to Sarasota from the 1930s to the 1970s.

Represented in our collection are well-known artists including Syd Solomon, Ben Stahl, Jon Corbino, Mary Sarg Murphy, Helen Sawyer, and Jerry Farnsworth. Their works are also exhibited in leading museums in the US and around the world.

Mary Sarg Murphy – “Center Ring” ©2021 Maria Lyle
Jon Corbino – “Palette” ©Maria Lyle

They were inspired by Florida's natural beauty and the circus, which provided an abundance of subjects. Many began their own schools of art, helped found Ringling College, and made Sarasota an epicenter for the arts.

As Bill Hartman, owner of the William Hartman Gallery and son of William Hartman, a founding member of the Sarasota Colony, recently told me, the fine arts were the foundation on which our rich cultural community was formed. Throughout the 40s, 50s, and 60s there were dozens of art schools and galleries showcasing Florida artists. The foundation for the performing arts in Sarasota was laid by the Colony artists.

Our Programs

Our art collection and scholarship programs help to define our purpose, but we are so much more than that. Even during the pandemic, we have continued monthly programs on zoom with prominent speakers from the arts world, held an in-person gathering at a Meet & Mingle event, and launched our first ever gallery. Next month we will gather in person for a luncheon program at the Bird Key Yacht Club.

In September, we started a new program to spotlight the professional artists who are members. Each month the works of an artist member will be exhibited in our Gallery and the artist will hold a painting demonstration on a Saturday from 2-5 when the Gallery is open to the public

I couldn't be prouder or happier to be part of this wonderful organization. I hope you feel that way, too. Our members are the backbone of Arts Advocates. You make it possible for us to do all that we do and I thank you for your unwavering support. I hope to see you soon at a program – online or in person. 

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What Is Art?

That's a question that bedevils art experts and "civilians" alike. It's not set in stone but there seems to be a common understanding that art is an object that is created for others to experience.

The key word is "experience." Does that necessarily mean you have to enjoy a work of art? Do you have to love it?


Every new artistic movement has had its early detractors.

The Impressionist movement was led by masters like Monet and Degas, yet conservative critics panned their work for its "unfinished, sketch-like appearance." Impressionism originated in France in the 19th century and the subjects were mainly landscapes and scenes of everyday life

These artists were among the fathers of what is known as "modern art." Does anyone today not believe that Monet and Degas are masters of the genre? Do you know anyone who doesn't love their art? Here is one of Monet's water lily paintings. 

Expressionism, which also has its roots in the late 19th century, is defined as an artistic style in which the "artist seeks to depict not objective reality but rather the subjective emotions and responses that objects and events arouse within a person."

One of the most famous examples is Edvard Munch's The Scream, which sold at auction for $120 million!

Vincent Van Gogh is recognized as one of the masters of German Expressionism although he never sold a painting in his lifetime, only becoming famous after his death. Here is his famous Sunflowers.

…And Now

From the 1943s through the 1970s, Sarasota was a thriving art colony, recognized nationally for the celebrated painters and sculptors who had homes and studios in the area.

These artists came from across the United States and had a significant impact on the local art scene, representing major styles and trends of 20th century art. They were inspired by the lush flora and fauna as well as the Ringling Circus.

Arts Advocates has the foremost collection of Sarasota Colony paintings and sculptures on public display. You can experience them by visiting the Arts Advocates Gallery. Descending Yellows by Hilton Leech is the first painting acquired for the collection.

Then enter Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and others who led the Contemporary art movement. Incidentally, there is debate about whether these contemporary artists are simply an extension of the modern movement.

But Warhol no doubt shocked the art world with his famous Campbell Soup Cans. Why did he choose these objects? It's said that he asked a friend for inspiration and the friend suggested the soup cans.

The Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles saw the collage and offered the artist a show in the summer of 1962. For that exhibit Warhol also painted one of each of the 32 varieties of Campbell soup. The show caused a sensation.

I happen to think that Andy Warhol was creating artworks, including his striking portraits of celebrities, such as Elizabeth Taylor, and I like them. But not everybody does. Maybe you do -- or don't.

Is This Art?

This brings me to an "artwork" that I saw a few years ago at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a paragon of contemporary art. I snapped this photo because I wanted a record of something I couldn't believe I was seeing with my own eyes: a shopping cart filled with hub caps.

I definitely do not like this piece. However, my reaction to it fits the definition of art that we started with – that art is an object that is created for others to experience. Well, I did have a gut feeling about the piece. But I have to say I don't consider it art.

That's the beauty of art. As the saying goes, it's all in the eyes of the beholder.

Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts about this shopping cart creation. Do you think it's art? 

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Could You Live in a Tiny House?

Is a home more than just a house? Does the size and design matter if you have a bed to sleep in and a roof over your head?

The design of the houses we live in has evolved over the years. The famed Sarasota School of Architecture originated during the post-World War II housing boom and became famous for dwellings with clean lines, open-plan structures, and large windows to view the indigenous terrain and facilitate ventilation.

The renowned Umbrella House, designed by Paul Rudolph, was described by Architectural Digest as "One of the five most remarkable houses of the mid-twentieth century."It still stands today and the Sarasota Architectural Foundation gives tours (now on hold). 

Umbrella House

The post-war housing boom is also renowned for the thousands of houses built for returning GIs in the new community of Levittown on Long Island. They were considered small at 750 square feet.

Then – and Now

How small can you shrink a house – and still call it a house? A growing trend is tiny houses, defined as less than 400 square feet. Different styles were on display at a recent tiny house exhibit in the Bradenton Convention Center. Many of these houses are on wheels so it was easy to tow them right onto the floor of the large convention space.

It was surprising to walk through a 215-square house and not feel too claustrophobic even if you did have to duck to climb the stairs in one house on display that actually had a small loft on a second level.

The houses had gleaming stoves, sinks, and even dishwashers and air conditioning. Every space was utilized with pull-down tables and couches that opened up into beds. Small touches like a decorative pane of glass in a front door, wall hangings, and bowls of flowers added to a sense of hominess.

Take a brief tour and decide: could you live in a tiny house?

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Why Take a Docent tour?

By Stephenie Frasher, Docent Team Leader

The word "docent" in Webster's dictionary means teacher or lecturer. Today, the word docent has taken on a different meaning. A docent today is a "guide" to learning not a lecturer. Why is that important?

Over the last 10 years, museum educators have realized that having someone tell you a lot of facts about the artist and the time period is interesting but certainly not what the artist intended. There is so much more to a work of art than facts. The facts we can learn on the internet. Really looking at an artwork, standing in front of it, is a whole different experience. Nothing can replace that in person experience!

Art Speaks to Us

If an artwork can "speak to us" through its colors or brushwork, do we need anyone to help us? What draws us to one artwork in a room and not another? As viewers we all need a toolbox to explore art, to help us consider the elements and really get a sense of what the artist wants us to see and feel. Can we do this on our own? Of course!

Does having a "guide" by your side facilitate this? Yes. And this can lead to a richer and more fulfilling visit with any work of art. Are the facts and history of the time important in learning about the artwork? Yes. But two weeks after your visit, will you remember the dates the artists was born or where they went to school? Or will you remember the artwork you saw and how it moved you?

So what's in the toolbox? Place yourself in the artist's shoes…what are the choices they have made when creating an artwork? Color, light, line, composition, will it be realistic or abstract, will it be large or small? Is there a donor paying for it or is this the artist's creative outlet? So many choices.

The Docent's Role

The first thing a docent will do is invite you to look…really look at the artwork. Take in all of those choices the artist has made…line, color, composition, brushwork…. The next step is to analyze what you are seeing. How do we do that? The best tool is to describe the work. Imagine yourself on your cellphone talking to a friend and tell them what you see. If every picture tells a story, what is the story here? This step is very important because now we have a connection with the work.

Does the title give us any information? How does the artist's choice of colors affect our feelings? What mood has the artist created? What might the brushstrokes tell us? Where is the light source? Where is the artist leading our eyes to "look"? Has the artist placed the scene close up to the front of the picture plane so that we become part of the scene or have they pulled us back into the scene? How have they done this?

You can certainly enjoy a work of art on your own but sharing your discoveries about an artwork with someone else is so much more enriching. A docent will not only guide you with that "toolbox" but will weave interesting facts about the artist and what was happening in the world and the artist's life at the time…what we call the inside scoop. This makes the artwork truly come alive.

Bringing Art to Life

One of the best experiences I had as a docent at the National Gallery of Art was on a tour of our Modern Sculpture collection. One of the gentlemen in the tour told me upfront that he hated Modern Art and he was only there because his wife said he had to come along. As we progressed through the tour, and I used that toolbox of discovery, he began to look and ask questions and really became engaged.

A light bulb went on for him and he began to understand that like all art, it is the artist's creativity and choices that inspire us. He thanked me at the end of the tour for helping him to see the many possibilities and challenges for an artist. It had completely changed his feelings about Modern Art!

I invite you to discover the Sarasota Colony Artists works with our docents. The collection is a so varied in style and techniques. You will have lots to explore and discover. It is an outstanding collection.

Our Docent tours are offered to the public on the first Wednesday of the month and private tours for groups are available.To make an appointment for a tour visit Arts Advocates Docent Tours. 

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Open to the Public

Our new Arts Advocates Gallery opens to the public on Saturday, July 17. Join us then between 2-5 pm and enjoy viewing 19 paintings from our renowned collection by the Sarasota Colony of Artists.  

©2021 Maria Lyle

From the 1930s through the 1970s, Sarasota was a thriving art colony, recognized nationally for the celebrated painters and sculptors who had homes and studios in the area. They came from around the country representing major styles and trends of the 20th century.

Our exhibit includes works by famous painters (see paintings below) whose other creations are owned by major museums around the world.

Over the years, our works of art have been on display at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and will continue to be shown there as well.

The exhibit will be open to the public every Saturday from 2:00-5:00 pm. No appointment is required. Written information is available for self-guided tours. We are located in the Crossings at Siesta Mall on Tamiami Trail and Siesta Key Drive (enter through the north entrance next to Connors restaurant).

Docent-guided tours of the exhibit are open to the public at 11:00 am on the first Wednesday of each month. Group and special tours can be arranged through Stephenie Frasher, docent team leader, at or by calling 443-454-2206

What You'll See

Included in the 19 paintings in the gallery exhibit are:

Hilton Leech. His "Descending Yellows" is the very first painting we purchased. 

Helen Sawyer. We own "Summer." She was married to Jerry Farnsworth, whose painting "Night Wind" is also in our exhibit. They lived and worked in Sarasota for more than 50 years.

Jimmy Ernst. His paintings are owned by the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, and the Smithsonian. We own "Image Scape."

Mary Sarg Murphy. In the 1930s she was well known for her magazine illustrations and children's book designs and later gained recognition for her portraits. Like other Colony artists, she was inspired by the circus in Sarasota. We own "Center Ring."

Jon Corbino. He is represented in 64 U.S. museums. We own Palette "to Eva Lee."

William Hartman. His son Bill Hartman still owns the William Hartman Gallery started by his father. It's located on Palm Avenue. We own "Circus Wagons." 

Ben Stahl. He was an award-winning artist who also gained famed for creating hundreds of illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post and other popular magazines. We own "Alice Mattock of Spirt Lake."

Shirley Clement. We own "White Dress." In the 1930s she was well known for her magazine illustrations and children's book designs and later gained recognition for her paintings.

We hope we've whetted your appetite to visit the Arts Advocates Gallery and enjoy more paintings in our wonderful collection. See you there!

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Together Again in Person!

How sweet it was for members and guests to gather for Arts Advocates' first in-person get-together in over a year. More than 35 people enjoyed our "Meet & Mingle" event held on June 9th in the beautiful social room of the Beau Ciel condo.

Old friendships were rekindled and new ones forged as attendees enjoyed wine and cheese over conversations long delayed by the pandemic.

For the first time, Arts Advocates' new posters were unveiled featuring images from our collection of paintings and sculptures. For a donation of $35, guests could also obtain packets of note cards with images of four paintings in the collection. Judy Cole, who is a new member, won the drawing for a $100 gift certificate for Michael's on East.

Gallery Director and Past President Donna Maytham described the new Arts Advocates Gallery located in the Crossings at Siesta Mall that will open to the general public on July 17. This is the first-ever gallery for the organization.

Seventeen paintings of Sarasota Colony artists have been removed from the Van Wezel, where our collection has been housed for many years and will be on display for the enjoyment of our members and guests in our own Gallery. Arts Advocates workshops and special events will be held in the Gallery.

The exhibit will be open to the public every Saturday from 2:00-5:00 pm beginning July 17th. Docent-guided tours of our exhibit will be offered at 11 a.m. on the first Wednesday of each month. Group and special tours can be arranged through Stephenie Frasher, docent team leader, at or by calling 443-454-2206.

Donna asked guests who belong to other social organizations to invite their members to visit the Gallery individually or by scheduling a group tour.

Special thanks to the following for their donations to the event:

  • Cabot Creameries – cheddar cheese
  • Cecelia Condor– the space and bartender
  • Jeannette Paladino – wine
  • Donna Maytham -- $100 gift certificate and note cards
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The Legacy of the Sarasota Colony

They liked nothing better than painting and sculpting. But artists also enjoyed having fun at costume balls and gallery openings during the golden age of the Sarasota Colony in the years following World War II.

William (Bill) Hartman, owner of William Hartman Gallery on Palm Avenue should know. His father, represented in Arts Advocates' collection with the painting "Circus Wagon, "was one of the leaders of the movement.

Many Art Schools

"What ignited the art scene was the GI Bill," said Bill. This government program offered to return veterans tuition and living stipends for college or vocational programs. Airbases throughout the state trained thousands of pilots. Many came to love the area and decided to stay and study at more than a dozen art schools that opened to meet the growing need.

The core Sarasota Colony consisted of about 60 to 70 artists who were full-time residents, according to Bill. Many of these artists also had their own schools or taught at the Ringling School of Art, including Syd Solomon and Wilfrid Berg. Another was Hilton Leech who owned the Hilton Leech House and Amagansett Art School on Hillview Street that is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Seasonal visitors and retirees from the north provided additional students for the art schools. Sarasota, with all its charm, provided the subject matter. The Ringling Circus, headquartered in Sarasota, figured in many paintings

"My father attended the Ringling School of Art on the GI Bill where he met my mother," said Bill. He opened the Hartman Gallery in the building that now houses the Sage Restaurant. Next door was the Syd Solomon Sarasota School of Art.

Heart of Town

In the 1950s downtown Sarasota was the heart of the arts community. Businesses would pick an artist to showcase with an exhibit of their artworks. They would take out ads and host opening day parties that were well attended. Dozens of artists exhibited their paintings at the Sarasota Art Association.

"At that time, Sarasota was best known for the visual arts," said Bill (pictured below with a painting by his father.) The formation and growth of performing arts organizations came years later.

In 1956, Ben Stahl, a staple of the colony, was commissioned by the Catholic Press of Chicago to create 14 paintings of the Stations of the Cross for a new Bible.

"These paintings were fairly sizable and he wanted to show them locally. There was only one gallery big enough and it was owned by parents. My dad made all the frames for the paintings. Over the next two weeks, there were lines out the door and 5,000 people came to see the show. That's how important the visual arts were," said Bill.

Women artists were an important part of the Sarasota Colony. In 1953, The Petticoat Painters was founded by Martha Hartman to showcase the talents of female artists. Helen Protas, an early abstract artist, was a founding member. The by-invitation-only group still exists.

But it wasn't all work and no play. Besides gallery parties, "There were dances at the Lido Casino and the Beaux Arts Ball," said Bill. Colony artists showed another side of their artistry at this annual party where prizes were awarded for the wildest and most original costumes.

By the 1970s the members of the colony began to pass away, their artwork a lasting legacy of a movement that has only become stronger as Sarasota grew to become a destination for visitors and residents who have flocked here because of our flourishing arts and cultural community. 

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Public Art in Sarasota

As the cultural center of the Gulf Coast, Sarasota is home to museums like The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art which owns a world-renowned collection of paintings by the Flemish artist, Peter Paul Rubens.

Less well known is that Sarasota has a significant public art collection including sculptures and murals. John Ringling donated the first pieces of public art in the 1920s and the collection has grown over time.

There is now a City of Sarasota Public Art Committee that "facilitates the creation and exhibition of a wide variety of publicly and privately initiated artworks through commissions, acquisitions, donations, and loans."

These works of art are sprinkled around the city and you may drive by them every day without a second glance. But these treasures deserve our attention as much of the artworks behind the walls of our notable museums. John Ringling is quoted as having said, "There are no great cities without great art." That includes public art. A New York Times article last week documented that art is "proliferating in the public square."

Sarasota is a great city, admired by visitors who come here from around the world to enjoy our museums, symphony, opera, theaters, ballet, and performing arts hall. Our public art should be included when we claim bragging rights.

Here are just a few of these pieces of art, a couple taken from my car window, to whet your appetite. You can see all the pieces in a picture book recently published called "Public Art. Public Spaces. The Sarasota Collection" that is available for download here. Enjoy!

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A Stroll Through the Gardens

 A butterfly flew onto my hand in the Butterfly Garden, one of the largest in Florida, as I wandered through Selby Gardens Historic Spanish Point in Osprey during a recent visit.

This colorful winged creation of nature is only one of the treasures of this bayfront property that is a revered part of Sarasota's storied history. Century's old trees, native Florida plants, sculptures, and old restored buildings dot the landscape as you walk along nature trails littered with crushed shells.

Ancient History

The gardens date back 5,000 years. In the "A Window to the Past" exhibition visitors can step inside an ancient shell midden and be surrounded on three sides by what lies beneath the surface.

In 1867, the Webb family from Utica, NY, established a homestead on the grounds. This heritage is preserved, and visitors can tour the carefully restored 1901 Guptill House, the rehabilitated Mary's Chapel, and a reconstruction of the Webb Packing House.

In 1910, Bertha Palmer bought over 80,000 acres of land in and around Sarasota and Manatee County. Of that total, 350 acres were on Little Sarasota Bay that included the Webb homestead. Palmer called it The Oaks.

She preserved the pioneer buildings and connected them with lavish formal gardens irrigated by shell aqueducts, still on view, to carry water thorough her scenic gardens. Three of them – the Sunken Garden, Duchene Lawn, and Jungle Walk – are available to visitors today.

These photos capture only a small portion of the beauty of the Gardens and are a taste of what you can expect if decide to visit.

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Meet Harry Potter’s Illustrator

Mary GrandPré, the original American illustrator of the Harry Potter books that became an international sensation, turned down the job when first offered to her. "I was just too busy with other work," she told Arts Advocates members at our April virtual meeting.

When Scholastic still pushed by sending her the first manuscript, she was hooked. "We had no idea that it would become this international phenomenon," she said, while showing the virtual audience examples of her Harry Potter illustrations along with her other art works. She also created the typeface for the famous Harry Potter logo and illustrations for several Harry Potter spinoff products.

Everything was hush-hush as the books were published to continued acclaim. "The manuscripts for each book were hand delivered to me and I immediately locked them in a safe," she said. Only her husband knew she was creating illustrations for the books. 

Her New Paths

While she is best known for her Harry Potter illustrations, she already had a thriving career as a children's book writer and illustrator. She was also the conceptual artist on Dreamwork's animated film "Antz" and on Blue Sky Studios' animated film "Ice Age."

Her "new path," as she calls it, has led to her current oeuvre of abstract paintings on large wood panels. "Jazz inspires me and helps me find movement and shape in my work," she said.

Mary lives and works in Sarasota. During the pandemic, she has found an outlet for her anxiety by moving down another path. She started creating Sock Monkeys, works of art made with real socks that she auctions on Instagram with the proceeds going to a charity that feeds the hungry, while continuing to work on her abstract paintings.

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What Does a Docent Do?

If you've ever visited a museum or taken a tour while on vacation – and most of us have – then you've most likely been guided by a docent, who was probably a volunteer who served without pay.

You no doubt have wonderful memories of docent guided tours that enriched your experience and possibly other tours that you'd rather forget. Mark Ormond, who advises Arts Advocates and recommends additions to our collection, is also an experienced docent.

In a recent presentation for potential docents to guide tours of Arts Advocates Florida artists' collection, he explained what docents do and how they can help viewers have a more emotional and intellectual experience when viewing a painting or sculpture. He cited works from our collection as examples to illustrate how light, color, form, architecture, and media can influence how we see a work of art. Does the painting or sculpture draw you in by stirring a memory, making you feel happy or sad, or just plain bored?

Audience Engagement

Mark pointed out, "A docent shouldn't be a talking head. He or she must engage the audience, scan their faces and read their body language to gauge their interest and involvement in the work. Ask questions to learn what they're seeing and experiencing. Every time you view a painting or sculpture you see something new that changes your previous perspective and enriches your experience."

A docent should also have a broad understanding of the works and historical significance in order to be prepared to answer questions. Docents need to make a significant commitment of time for training and continuing education. These are the requirements, for example, for docents at The Ringling Museum of Art.

Here are a number of works of art from Arts Advocates collection. Let a painting or sculpture speak to you. What are you seeing? What moves you? What makes you happy? What makes you sad?

Experience These Paintings

To create appealing and seductive paintings artists must understand color theory and be able to mix colors that attract our attention. This is particularly true in an abstract painting. Guided by this color wheel can you find all the colors that Syd Solomon uses in his abstract painting titled Stravinsky. 

Humberto Calzada is an artist who understands not only color theory and composition, but also mathematics and physics. He had to create an architectural plan in his head for his composition using geometry and understanding perspective so that we might have the joy of discovering the puzzle of this illusion of space he presents for us on his two-dimensional canvas.

Can you find the perspectival lines and vanishing points in the Calzada painting?

Jerry Farnsworth who created the painting on the right called Night Wind continues a long tradition of painting women looking out of a window in a composition that challenges the artist to balance the light and atmosphere of an interior space with that of an outdoor space. Can you think of what you experience when you are inside looking out a window?

The Arts Advocates Collection includes the watercolor Wilford Loran painted in 1965, called Land's End. It was his impression of the natural site on the bay front that the Van Wezel now occupies. Loran's approach to painting was similar to Monet in that he was not interested in an exact realistic depiction of Nature. Are your memories of nature exact or more like impressions and sensations?

Bruce Marsh who is represented in the collection by his oil painting Amalfi IV uses his own photographs as a reference point for his construction of a painting. He often grids his canvas and chooses to focus on what he observes in small areas of an image to form a large composite image of a place. Do you think you do the same in your mind when you try to remember some place you have visited in the past?

If you enjoyed this brief tour of Arts Advocates collection, then explore our other artists by clicking here. Enjoy!

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Speaking of the Arts … Francisco Serrano

In January 2021, we Zoomed over to London for our "Speaking of the Arts …" presentation with Francisco Serrano, a member of England's Royal Ballet. Serrano shared his star-studded journey from Sarasota to London via New York and Havana, as well as video clips of him performing and rehearsing. You can watch the conversation with this award-winning dancer here:


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Pioneering Women Artists

Women's History Month is celebrated each March to honor and tell the stories of women who transformed our nation.

Arts Advocates celebrates 11 women artists whose works are included in our unparalleled collection of paintings and sculpture from the movement now known as the Sarasota Art Colony. Starting in the 1930s through the 1970s, Sarasota was a thriving art colony, recognized nationally for the celebrated painters and sculptors who had homes and studios in the area.

Hundreds of painters and sculptors moved here and drew inspiration from the orange groves, celery farms, cattle ranches, beaches, and tropical splendor. John Ringling brought the circus to Sarasota, also influencing these artists. Ringling is often credited with planting the seeds for the flourishing arts community that we now enjoy in Sarasota.

You can enjoy and celebrate these pioneering women artists by clicking here to see their works along with all the paintings and sculptures in our collection.

Women artists represented in Arts Advocates collection include:

Beth Arthur "Beach Garden Cities"

Carol Baumgartner "Sea Drift"

Lynn Davison "Pressing Leaves"

Shirley Clement "White Dress"

Glenna Finch untitled abstract

Edna Hibel "Oriental Figures"

Dorothy Gillespie "Song of the Raindance"

Sophie Johnstone "The Secret"

Helen Sawyer "Summer"

Lois Bartlett Tracy "The Portal"

Mary Sarg Murphy "Center Ring"

Click on the social media links below if you'd like to share this post with your followers so they, too, can enjoy the 53 outstanding paintings and sculptures in our collection. 

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Glass Sculptures Dazzle at Ringling

Glass sculptures designed by famed artists including Dale Chihuly, Giampaolo Amoruso and Martin Blank are gracing a gallery at the Ringling College of Art and Design. These dazzling creations are in an exhibit called "A Few of Our Favorite Things."

The sculptures are from the Richard and Barbara Basch Collection and feature some of the most exceptional examples of art glass and brilliant one-of-a-kind commissions by the greatest masters of the medium from around the world. Barbara Basch narrates a short film describing the provenance and intent of the pieces. Photos of several of the sculptures are shown below this post.

The exhibit closes on March 27th.It is necessary to make an appointment to visit these colorful and unique sculptures as the Ringling is limiting attendance during the pandemic.

To schedule an appointment for your viewing, email

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Q&A – Teresa Carson

How does poetry complement and influence other art forms?

Every great work of art, in any form, attempts to give viewers/readers/listeners access to the eternal truths that exist underneath the world of appearances; therefore, all art forms complement each other. Furthermore, I believe that multi-disciplinary collaborations, live or not, have the power to influence, even expand, one's work in unexpected ways … and that's always a good thing!

Why is poetry important to our lives?

Sometimes I jokingly call poetry the "cod liver oil" of the arts because people are always insisting, "it's good for you," which, in my opinion, carries an unspoken, "you won't like it because poetry tastes terrible." But, as William Carlos Williams wrote, "It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there." So what IS found there? Awe. Wonder. Eternity. Connection. Soul. The trick is finding the poems with which you can have a deep conversation.

You describe poems as "conversations." What do you mean by that?

For most of us the way in which we were taught to approach a poem was with one question: What does this poem mean? As if the reader's sole role is to break poem's code. This approach not only disregards the complexity and depth of a poem, but also ends up making us feel stupid when we can't crack it. So I'm a mission to teach those who have been shying away from poetry, and to expand the tool-kits of existing readers, a far more accessible approach which consists of entering into a deep conversation with a poem. In this approach the reader doesn't interrogate the prisoner-poem until it gives up its secret; instead the reader deep listens and pays attention to every aspect of the poem (including punctuation and spaces). In time the reader will discover the multiple and varied layers of meaning inherent in the poem.

Serendipity on a visit to Ostia Antica, an extinct city near Rome, inspired you to write a series of books about that experience. What was so inspiring about that singular event?

It's difficult for me to talk about what happened at Ostia Antica on that day in 2014 because I don't actually know what happened. The outing was planned as a perfunctory visit in order to check "extinct city" off of my sightseeing list. But the place had other plans. Here's the best way to explain my experience: as soon as I walked into the Porta Romana entrance, everything in the place started talking to me. Does that sound somewhat wackadoodle? Trust me, going through the experience felt even more wackadoodle! We ended up spending hours roaming in and around the extensive ruins.

By the time we arrived back in New Jersey, where we were living at the time, the titles of a five-book series based on Ostia Antica had already appeared in my head. I also knew that each book would be bi-lingual (English & Italian). Deerbrook Editions published Visit to an Extinct City, the first book in the series, in January. Lucky for me I have a publisher who is willing to commit to such an unusual poetry project!

You lived in the northeast most of your life before moving to Sarasota three years ago. Has that life change also influenced your poetry?

Oh, yes. Before moving to Sarasota I had lived exclusively in densely populated urban areas where nature was at a premium. Noisy, dirty cities were my natural habitat … and I loved them. Since my daily experiences become the source material for my poems, that urban environment is very much evident in my first three books.

But Sarasota opened my eyes to the beauty of sky and clouds, birds and flowers, water and sand. I almost fell to my knees in astonishment the first time I saw a fox on my morning walk! I'm currently collaborating with fellow Arts Advocates member Leslie Butterfield, a visual artist, on Seven Sacred Pauses, which is a series of 8 paintings and poems based on the beauty of the natural world in this area.

What are your plans for Arts Advocates to encourage more people to read and enjoy poetry?

As mentioned earlier, I'm on a mission to engage people in the conversation of poetry because "what you find there" can change your life. For Arts Advocate members, I'm open to suggestions—possibilities include a talk, a workshop, or a reading. Additionally, members may receive my weekly "poetry blast," la poesia della settimana, by providing their email addresses to To find out more about me, my work, or my ideas about engaging in a conversation with poetry go to or CavanKerry Press Teresa Carson on Poetry

Part X (From Visit to an Extinct City)

O Ostia of uneven surfaces, where Romans walked; we walk; others will walk.
Sea, sun, the soul, and desire linger in your temples.
What votive offerings may new ghosts bring to old?

Fresco fragments, which never again will be a whole, cling to your walls.
The "day's work" of its artist decayed.
He lived, his name lived, his memory lived for years but not beyond.

Ostia of erasure, letters on a torso sink into stone.
What words did they make? What sentences? Who was meant to read them?
Were they meant to be funny? Angry? Sad? Profound?

Tell us. We'll understand.
Landscape of incomplete, of unswept, of cut open, of gone.
O Ostia, how can you bring us back to before when there's so much after?

Teresa Carson's work centers on the themes of time, memory, and the stories we humans tell. She is the author of four collections of poetry: Elegy for a Floater (CavanKerry Press, 2008); My Crooked House (CavanKerry Press, 2014), which was a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize; The Congress of Human Oddities (Deerbrook Editions, 2015); and Visit to an Extinct City (Deerbrook Editions, 2021).

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Moving Forward – Power Your Passion

Arts Advocates members, like many people around the world, have made it a priority to stay involved with the arts in these unprecedented times. We hope all arts lovers will make support of Arts Advocates a priority as we work to stay connected and plan for an exciting future.

A donation to Arts Advocates allows you to power your passion for the arts through supporting the creative young people in our community, preserving and helping us exhibit our singular collection of Florida artists, and helping us offer ongoing programs that bring the community closer to the arts.

Power your passion for:

• STUDENTS: Can you imagine what a difficult time this is for students of the arts? They are dealing with new levels of complications and minimal interactions with their peers and teachers, which is especially difficult in the performing arts. Through Arts Advocates scholarships, the financial burdens are eased for our scholarship recipients.

• ART: Through the temporary closure of the Van Wezel, the Arts Advocates art collection remains inaccessible. Our collection team has been working diligently to find a new home for our collection. The care and exhibition of the artwork depends on donations we receive annually.

• ENGAGING PROGRAMS: Arts Advocates' "Speaking of the Arts …" series was Sarasota Magazine's Best of Sarasota 2020 Editors' Pick for Best New Speaker Series. We have moved from in-person events to Zoom programs, which, with support, can be more widely offered so more people can hear from high caliber artists from a variety of genres.

We understand that, with the pandemic still very present, humanitarian needs are enormous, but support of the arts also remains critical. The arts provide solace, promote understanding, and inspire empathy – all things we need now more than ever.

Please consider making a donation to Arts Advocates so that we may continue to provide vital support to creative young people, access to our stellar art collection, and educational programs for the community.

There is so much we can accomplish together. 

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Contribute to Arts Advocates Using AmazonSmile

Good news! You can now support Arts Advocates by using AmazonSmile, a simple way for you to donate to us every time you shop on Amazon, at no cost to you.

What is AmazonSmile?

AmazonSmile is available at on your web browser and can be activated in the Amazon Shopping app for iOS and Android phones. When you shop AmazonSmile, you'll find the same low prices, vast selection and convenient shopping experience as, including Amazon Prime member benefits, with the added benefit that AmazonSmile will donate 0.5% of your eligible purchases to Arts Advocates!

Choose to Support Arts Advocates

On your first visit to, you will be prompted to select Arts Advocates (Fine Arts Society of Sarasota) to receive donations from eligible purchases before you begin shopping. Amazon remembers your selection, and then every eligible purchase you make on AmazonSmile will result in a donation.

Managing Your AmazonSmile Account

You can manage your purchases and other account information on and AmazonSmile using a single account. You can use your existing account on AmazonSmile if you have one, or create a new account at if you don't.

Purchases Eligible for Donations

Tens of millions of products on AmazonSmile are eligible for donations. You will see eligible products marked "Eligible for AmazonSmile donation" on their product detail pages.

Thank you for your support – and happy shopping!

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Book Review: A History of Visual Art in Sarasota

"A History of Visual Art in Sarasota" was authored by Pat Ringling Buck, a historian and freelance journalist; Marcia Corbino, an arts writer and critic; and Kevin Dean, a curator and director of the Selby Gallery at the Ringling School of Art and Design. All three authors lived in Sarasota, so their research is meticulous.

Whether you are a history buff, an art aficionado, an artist, or just want to know more about Sarasota, this book is an extraordinary resource and a fascinating story. A few highlights:

1. You will acquire a deeper understanding of the evolution of the arts in Sarasota, and a window into the work and social scene during the mid-20th century.

2. Art stimulated the growth of Sarasota as a locale for artists and collectors. You will gain insights into the importance of the visual arts in our community and region.

3. You will see the role played by the arts organizations and schools in providing a foundation in the arts for future generations.

The book also charts the beginning and the 50-year evolution of the Fine Arts Society, now branded as Arts Advocates. Page 41 contains the following: "To cap the decade, in November of 1969, an arts organization was formed: the Sarasota Fine Arts Society. It was instituted with five charter members: Winifred Clark, Emily Holmes, Adrienne Robbins, Annamae Sandegren, and Marion Storm. The founders planned to recognize the distinctive work of Florida artists by creating a permanent collection. In 1970 they made their first purchase, a Hilton Leech painting. The opening of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in January of 1970 provided the growing collection with exhibition space in the lobbies and grand foyer."

"A History of Visual Art in Sarasota" is available on Amazon with both new and used copies.

Hardcover. Full-color photographs. 160 pages. University Press of Florida; 1st edition (April 9, 2003).

Review provided by Tonya Eubank 

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Speaking of the Arts...Lynn Ahrens

Lynn Ahrens with Booker High School students

In February 2020, we had the opportunity to eavesdrop on a conversation between Tony Award winning lyricist Lynn Ahrens and Celine Rosenthal, Asolo Repertory's Associate Artistic Director.  Secrets for developing the lyrics and music for a brand-new musical, Knoxville, were shared. 

Knoxville was to make its World Premiere in March, 2020 at Asolo Repertory Theatre. It has been rescheduled for May 21 – June 5, 2021, previews begin May 14.

Tune in to the fun, view the full interview at

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Sarasota Magazine's Best of Sarasota 2020

Our Speaking of the Arts lecture series is Sarasota Magazine's Best of Sarasota 2020 Editors' Pick for Best New Speaker Series. "We've heard fascinating insights from Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director Marin Alsop and lyricist Lynn Ahrens." Thank you, Sarasota Magazine! Read all the picks here: 

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Scholarship Interview: Shaina Helm, Studio Art

 SHAINA HELM – FASS Scholarship recipient in 2011

Awarded Bachelor of Arts Degree in Studio Art and Psychology, Florida State University - 2015 Awarded Master's Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis, University of South Florida - 2018

Like we hear so often from our Fine Arts Society Scholars, Shaina Helm's childhood was filled with access to explore and train in many aspects of the arts. She studied classical and lyrical ballet for nine years at Dance Theatre of Bradenton, stopping only when she discovered her passion for visual arts. She notes, "In elementary school I would pass the time in after-school care drawing. The positive reinforcement I received gave me encouragement to continue to develop that talent and pursue art."

Although Shaina discontinued taking ballet class, ballet images and ballerinas appear often in her work. Her painting of the three ballerinas in red raised over $1,000 when it sold at the Education
Foundation's Evening of Excellence live auction. The money raised provided funds to support the Sarasota County public school system. And in 2010, Shaina created original art in exchange for donations to raise money for Haiti Relief following the devastating earthquake. Isn't it wonderful when the arts can fund other worthy causes?

Shaina attended Booker High School and the Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) program helped prepare her for studying fine art at the college level. "The curriculum at Booker allows for ½ of the school day to be for art. By the time I arrived at FSU, I already had a comprehensive introduction to the foundations of art plus the technical skills and experience that put me ahead of other students," says Shaina. She adds, "My BA degree in Studio Art is based on broad ranges of art, not just one specific focus." You can see the results of this broad scope of techniques shown on Shaina's website including oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings; ink illustrations; mixed media; pencil drawings; digital art and sculpture. The three works shown with this interview are all there, including the patterned digital self-portrait of Shaina with a snake in her hair. That work was created from a photograph and, if you're wondering, yes, Shaina did have a live snake on her head.

More recently, Shaina earned her Master's degree in Applied Behavior Analysis and graduated from University of South Florida in 2018. She lives in Bradenton and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst working with children ages 2-15 diagnosed with disorders on the autism spectrum. "I don't use art per se in my daily therapy work," she says, "but it is one of the tools in my toolbox for connecting with clients. It's important that clients like spending time with me, so when I draw a figure they like, it lays a cornerstone for the foundation of the therapy process."

"While I'm still very much a painter, my therapy work is very rewarding and commands 40-60 hours per week of my time. I created 6 or 7 new works last year and will do commissions as time allows," says Shaina. 

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Scholarship Interview: Karissa Ratzenboeck, Violinist

KARISSA RATZENBOECK - Violinist with The Venice Symphony

December 2018

This month I am delighted to profile Karissa Ratzenboeck, a two-time FASS Scholarship recipient. First in 2008 when she attended Pine View School and then again in 2009 as a student at Florida State University. Karissa earned a Bachelor's degree in Violin Performance from FSU's College of Music and is now a violinist with The Venice Symphony. She also teaches violin by private instruction and at summer music camps to students throughout Sarasota County. 

Karissa has shared the stage with many great musicians and vocalists including Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban, Johnny Mathis, Kristin Chenowith, The Ten Tenors and Trans Siberian Orchestra, among others. She has also performed at Carnegie Hall – an exceptional accomplishment that many musicians never achieve in a lifetime of performing. How do you get to Carnegie Hall from Sarasota? Let's start at the beginning.

At the tender age of 4 years old, Karissa Ratzenboeck held a Suzuki violin in her tiny hands for the first time. It was placed there by her violin teacher Dr. Linda Vasilaki – and from that moment on, Karissa's life was changed forever. At the ripe age of 6, she was performing on stage with the Florida West Coast Youth Symphony. Then, after years of hard work and continuous practice, Karissa's dedication was rewarded when she won the Young Artists' Concerto Competition in 2006 and made her solo debut at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in 2007. Next stop, performing at Carnegie Hall as Concertmaster of the Florida West Coast Youth Philharmonic at the age of 17. When asked to describe her memories and feelings of that momentous accomplishment, Karissa recounted seeing the orchestra in place and making her entrance onto the stage alone. "I remember gorgeous gold ornamentation throughout the concert hall, the floor to ceiling curtains on the stage, the red velvet seats and the rich smell of wood from the instruments and the building itself. It was exhilarating. When you're prepared, you are not afraid or nervous. You put your heart into it and just make music."

At the tender age of 4 years old, Karissa Ratzenboeck held a Suzuki violin in her tiny hands for the first time. It was placed there by her violin teacher Dr. Linda Vasilaki – and from that moment on, Karissa's life was changed forever. At the ripe age of 6, she was performing on stage with the Florida West Coast Youth Symphony. Then, after years of hard work and continuous practice, Karissa's dedication was rewarded when she won the Young Artists' Concerto Competition in 2006 and made her solo debut at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in 2007. Next stop, performing at Carnegie Hall as Concertmaster of the Florida West Coast Youth Philharmonic at the age of 17. When asked to describe her memories and feelings of that momentous accomplishment, Karissa recounted seeing the orchestra in place and making her entrance onto the stage alone. "I remember gorgeous gold ornamentation throughout the concert hall, the floor to ceiling curtains on the stage, the red velvet seats and the rich smell of wood from the instruments and the building itself. It was exhilarating. When you're prepared, you are not afraid or nervous. You put your heart into it and just make music."

While Karissa's parents Harald and Monika are not musical, music was an important part of their respective family histories and they made sure it was also a part of their children's lives. Karissa's brothers Marcus and Derek are also both accomplished musicians. Derek is a violinist with New York City Ballet and Marcus is Concertmaster of The Venice Symphony. Music has been a strong lifelong connecting force for these three siblings. 

So, what is a typical day in the life of a concert violinist? "Ideally, I spend 2-3 hours practicing on my own and 3 hours of rehearsal for performances. When I play in the orchestra for the St. Petersburg Opera, that alone can be up to 6 hours of rehearsal. Professional musicians must prepare like professional athletes do…get adequate rest, take care of our bodies and keep optimally healthy to deliver the best performance."

Asking a musician to name their favorite composer is equivalent to asking a mother to tell you which of her children is her favorite (but I did it anyway!). While Karissa stopped short of narrowing the list down to just one, I did learn that for her, Bach sonatas and partitas are the gold standard and Mozart is a perennial favorite.

And now for the Full Circle Moment: Twenty years after holding her first Suzuki violin, Karissa at the age of 24 and her childhood music teacher, Dr. Linda Vasilaki, performed together professionally during Symphony on the Sand with the Anna Maria Island Concert Chorus and Orchestra. Since that time, Dr. Vasilaki has helped Karissa to build her own private instruction program. By teaching young musicians, Karissa can now pay it forward and honor those who helped her grow in her own lifelong musical journey – Dr. Vasilaki, Daniel Jordan, Jan and Ron Balazs, Damien Pegis, Kenneth Bowermeister, Jim Cliff, Beth Newdome, Eliot Chapo and Dr. Alex Jimenez among others. Karissa enjoys working with the next generation of musicians and helping them to find their inspiration. Her message to her students is "Don't let anything stop your dreams – even financial challenges. It's not easy to make it in the arts, but if you carry the love and persistence and determination, you will get there. Even if you fail in auditions or competitions, failure is not the end – it's part of the process on the way to success."

Brava, Karissa!

Elizabeth Rose and Elaine MacMahon
Scholarship Co-Chairs
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Scholarship Interview: Marcus Ratzenboeck, Concertmaster of The Venice Symphony

Past scholarship recipient Marcus Ratzenboeck is an accomplished and versatile musician with a successful career as a performing and recording artist.He has a recording studio, H&M Productions, and is currently in his 3rd season as concertmaster of The Venice Symphony.

Marcus was first introduced to playing music as a 9-year-old attending elementary school in Chicago where it was mandatory that all students play an instrument.Although he wanted to play saxophone, his hands were too small so he switched to guitar and eventually the violin.When Marcus' family moved to Sarasota a few years later he began private lessons with Miltiades Siadimas, a renowned violin soloist.Marcus credits his lessons with Mr. Siadimas as crucial to his development as a musician and notes, "Compared to other young musicians, I was relatively late in taking up the violin at age 11.My intensive studies with Mr. Siadimas during 2-hour lessons three times a week really helped me to catch up.Miltiades Siadimas was more than a teacher; he was my mentor."

After attending high school at Riverview and Booker VPA, our Fine Arts Society Scholarship helped support Marcus as he continued his studies at Florida State University, earning his Bachelor's of Music degree in 1996.From there he attended Indiana University and was awarded his Master's of Music degree in 1999.He was concertmaster of the IU Symphony and the Columbus, IN Philharmonic and appointed Principal Second Violin of The Louisville (KY) Orchestra.He was also an Adjunct Professor of Violin at the University of Louisville, a member of the acclaimed Louisville String Quartet and Concertmaster of The Louisville Bach Society.

As I have learned from interviewing other past scholars in the classical music field, there are many talented musicians all vying for very few positions.Marcus' advice to musicians coming out of school is to "be diverse and try new things beyond playing classical music.Exploring new software, technology and digital music are important and the professional musicians of tomorrow will benefit by having experience composing, forming ensembles and branching out into other genres." ​

Marcus has participated in numerous music festivals including Tanglewood, American Institute of Musical Studies (Graz, Austria), Sarasota Music Festival, Hirosaki Chamber Music Festival (Japan), and he served as concertmaster of Spoleto (USA) for several seasons.His professional experience also includes an impressive recording and touring career in a rock band along with work for several major and independent record labels and publishers.Marcus states, "Playing electric violin in a successful touring rock band is a completely different life than performing with an orchestra.After several years, I was ready to get back to my classical music roots, so I returned to Sarasota in 2012.I had to get back to serious practicing, full 5-hour days.I was subbing for orchestras here and played with The Florida Orchestra, Sarasota Orchestra, and St. Petersburg Opera. It took several years to get back to concertmaster, but I look forward to continuing an era of fine musicianship with The Venice Symphony."

The role of concertmaster is critically important to an orchestra.This musician is first chair violin and must know all of the music and all of the parts very well and work with the music director (conductor) to create a cohesive performance.A wonderful opportunity to see and hear Marcus perform with The Venice Symphony takes place on Saturday, May 23rd at 7:30pm.It's an outdoor Patriotic Pops concert at CoolToday Park, the Atlanta Braves spring training baseball facility in North Port.Gather your friends for a lovely spring night at the ball park listening to popular American classics.Click here for more information:

Photo Credits: Elliott Corn

Author's Note:If the last name Ratzenboeck sounds familiar, it is because Marcus' brother, Derek, and sister, Karissa, are also past Fine Arts Society scholarship recipients and professional violinists.Derek plays in the New York City Ballet Orchestra and Karissa performs with Marcus in The Venice Symphony. 

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Scholarship Interview: Adelaide Boedecker, Soprano

Adelaide Boedecker made her professional debut as Barbarina in Sarasota Opera's production of The Marriage of Figaro at the age of 17 while still a high school student at Pine View School for the Gifted. She was the first youth to ever be cast as a principal in the Sarasota Opera and became a two-time FASS scholar in 2008 and 2010. Adelaide is a shining example of the successes our talented Sarasota County student artists and performers can achieve with our support. She is the winner of the Santa Fe Opera Anna Case MacKay Award; winner of the National Opera Association competition, scholarship division; and second place winner of the American Prize competition for professional singers. Her talent has been recognized by opera critics throughout the country:

"Soprano Adelaide Boedecker set the tone for the excellence of Pittsburgh Opera's cast. Throughout the opera, Boedecker negotiated her part's high tessitura with flair and ample power, and offered more dulcet tones for her character's mainly gentle interpersonal manner."
-Pittsburgh Tribune-Review February, 2016

"Only soprano Adelaide Boedecker's Despina, whose urgent vocal performance was matched with a delightfully tough, sharp-edged portrayal, proved consistently interesting to watch."
-Opera News August, 2016

"Adelaide Boedecker is a reason to see the production…her singing is clear, direct and invigorating - - beautiful, without asking for attention."
-The San Jose Mercury News July, 2014

Adelaide is a former resident artist with the Pittsburgh Opera and was also an apprentice artist with the Santa Fe Opera performing as Ida in Die Fledermaus and Chorus Soloist in Santa Fe's world premiere of (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. Adelaide was also apprentice artist with the Merola Opera Program in San Francisco where she performed the roles of Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire and Despina in Così fan tutte. She has also performed with Opera Birmingham, Syracuse Opera, Hilton Head Choral Society, Opera Las Vegas, the Music Academy of the West in Montecito and our own Sarasota Opera.

Asked to share her earliest memories of singing, Adelaide recalls "Singing in the choir at Church of the Redeemer when I was a child. My two older sisters were in the choir and I wanted to be just like them. Then I saw a production of Arabica by the Sarasota Youth Opera. I loved the huge coffee bean costume and knew that I wanted to sing on stage. So, the summer after second grade I started doing youth opera and continued through high school. When Sarasota Opera's Artistic Director Victor DeRenzi had me perform with professional singers in The Little Sweep by Benjamin Britton, it occurred to me that I could possibly sing professionally. Up to that point, I thought I would become a lawyer."

Two scholarships from the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota provided financial assistance to Adelaide when she attended the University of Florida in Gainesville. There she earned her Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance. She then attended graduate school in Rochester at the Eastman School of Music and earned her Masters of Music in Vocal Performance and Literature. In addition to her core vocal curriculum, Adelaide took extra classes in acting and dance and performed in musical theater. "That training helped me to learn about blending acting and singing so I could convey my character's emotion physically while still maintaining control my voice. In a large theater, the audience may not always be able to see my face, but the way I move can help them understand what is happening internally for the character," notes Adelaide. She adds, "Eastman's Arts Leadership Program and Opera America's Career Blueprints have given me significant insight into 501(c)3 organizations and the business aspect of the arts and music. Grant writing class, website development, resume writing, auditions, branding, media, publicity and more have all been incredibly helpful in my career to date."

"It wasn't until I moved away from Sarasota that I realized how fortunate I was to grow up in a community that focused on the arts and gave opportunities for children to learn and participate. Those programs are the foundation that my career is built upon and to be able to complete my education without the tremendous debt of student loans is a wonderful gift that you have given me", notes Adelaide.

 Adelaide and her husband, Calvin Griffin, reside in Atlanta. Calvin also sings opera and the two have recently completed Audition Season in NYC. Audition Season is to performing arts what Pilot Season is to television programming. Theatre Companies from around the country descend on New York City and, from mid-November through mid-December, they audition talent to cast in performances the following year. Each day, vocalists can sing for several companies from throughout the United States.

"The opera community is a small, tight-knit group. It's a somewhat nomadic existence, but we're all in it together. My husband and I both approach our careers as a full-time professional job. My main goal is to continue to have a career singing professionally and that goal requires so much more than just showing up and performing. Every day we actively work on music, dialogue, translating the opera, etc. Our livelihood is contract-to-contract and proper preparation on each job can help secure the next job. Cultivating contacts and maintaining a reputation as a professional are critical" says Adelaide.

"I love the classic operas and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro is my favorite, but I also enjoy new works where the audience doesn't already know where the story is going and really immerse themselves in the performance. Each person's voice is unique, like a thumbprint, and the greatest compliment is when someone writes a new work hearing your voice in their mind."

In April, Adelaide and her husband Calvin will be in Columbus, Ohio performing in Opera Swings Jazz. This innovative program will combine arias with musicals and jazz and appeal to several cross-over audiences. It's being written now and there will be 4 vocalists accompanied by an orchestra and jazz ensemble.

Adelaide is thrilled to be returning to the Sarasota Opera as an adult this spring when she will be performing the role of Pamina in The Magic Flute on March 1, 2019. For performance and ticket information, click here:

To view and listen to Adelaide performing on YouTube, click here:

To visit Adelaide's website, click here:

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Scholarship Interview: Max Landow, Fine Arts

​MAX LANDO THEN: Fine Arts Scholar 2005 and 2006 majoring in Theatre Studies at the University of Central Florida

MAX LANDO NOW: Institutional Giving Manager at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago

Max Lando is a 2005 graduate of Booker High School and a two-time Fine Arts Scholar when he attended the University of Central Florida.  Our FASS Scholarship program booklet noted that Max 'is an excellent student in both his academic and theatre classes and does many hours of backstage work in preparation for productions at UCF.  Max has proven himself worth fighting for and is creative, talented and works extremely hard while understanding priorities.  Max dreams of having his own theatre one day – in Sarasota!

When asked recently what the Fine Arts Society Scholarship meant to him,  Max simply answered, "It meant everything."  He added, "Even though I went to college in-state and had additional scholarships,  the reality is that I am still paying off student loans at 31 years of age.  It would have been so much harder to get through school and beyond without the support of the Fine Arts Society and other scholarship organizations."  Max graduated with honors from UCF in 2009 having earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theatre Studies with a Minor in Creative Writing.

In 2010 Max began his career back in Sarasota where he was Manager and Development Assistant for WRITE A PLAY at Florida Studio Theatre.  His responsibilities included managing the $80,000 operating budget, direct and subscription ticket sales and assisting the Development Director in securing individual, corporate and foundation giving in excess of $1,000,000.  While working in the FST box office that summer, he met (his now wife) Stephanie who was in Sarasota from Connecticut performing in WRITE A PLAY productions.

Having been a participant in the WRITE A PLAY program as a youngster, it was a full-circle moment for Max when, in 2011, he and Stephanie co-founded MaineStage Shakespeare in Kennebunk, Maine.  Max capitalized on his operational experience at FST to bring live theatre to children in an area that didn't have much arts-based education.  "Witnessing first-hand what theater can do for kids was very rewarding.   Often the 5 to 8-year-old participants were shy and didn't talk much.  Teaching them to write and perform really helped them find their voice and see themselves in a new way,"  says Max.

Next stop, New York City and co-writing/co-starring with his sister, Rebecca, in the YouTube online culinary video series Working Class Foodies – and 2 years working in Barnes & Noble bookstore honing his salesmanship skills and helping to pay the bills.  After a few years living in New York City Max and Stephanie relocated to Chicago in 2013.

Fast forward to 2018 and Max is the Institutional Giving Manager at the renowned Steppenwolf Theatre Company,  nown across the globe for innovative and artist-driven productions.  As noted on their website, Steppenwolf operates as a not-for-profit organization relying on community support to produce or present nearly 700 performances, readings and other events annually.  The theatre's artistic and educational programs attract multi-generational audiences of nearly 200,000 theatergoers.  They are committed to year-round programming that engages their audiences with thought-provoking productions that help develop new plays, new audiences and new artists for the future of American theater.  As we know, all of this takes money…lots of money. And that's where Max and the Steppenwolf Development Department staff come in - they are in the business of raising money for the arts.

When asked about the challenges of creating a continuous pipeline of funding for the theatre, Max commented that, while Steppenwolf is fortunate to receive year-over-year funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the overall reduction in government financial support and fewer grant opportunities have had a tremendous negative effect on the financial health of arts organizations all over this country.   As a result, the reliance on corporate giving and individual donors has increased.

Steppenwolf's Outreach and Education programs remind Max of what the arts can do for kids and as someone who grew up in Sarasota's arts-centric community, Max knows firsthand that the arts can change lives.  And speaking of kids and changing lives, Max and his wife Stephanie have just welcomed their newborn baby boy, Ezra, into the world - "Our finest production to date,"  said the proud father.   And with Max's parents still living in Sarasota, when asked if the dream of having his own theatre in Sarasota was still on his 'To Do' list, he enthusiastically replied "Yes! I still follow the theatre scene in Sarasota and the productions put on by Urbanite Theatre are along the lines of what I envision for myself.  They consistently tap into the new style of theatre productions that are taking place nationally and internationally. Edgy, bold and modern."

The Fine Arts Society has much to be proud of in Max's success and his contributions to the world of performing arts.   Congratulations, Max, and we look forward to you and Stephanie introducing Baby Ezra to our city someday soon!

To learn more about the Steppenwolf Theatre, please click this link:

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Scholarship Interview: Amanda Kai Newman, Artist & Costume Designer

This month's article features costume designer and artist Amanda Kai Newman, a multi-year FASS scholarship recipient having earned awards in 2008, 2009 and 2010.   Amanda attended Booker High School and was also an intern in the costume department at the Asolo Repertory Theater.  She then earned her BA degree in Art and Theater from Cornell College in Iowa and her MFA in Costume Design from the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.

In 2010 Amanda interned for six-time Tony Award winning costume designer William Ivey Long, 'one of the most influential Broadway Costume Designers of today'.   Amanda presently lives and works in New York City and has contributed as Costume Production Assistant, Milliner, Stitcher, Silk Painter and more.   Productions of note include the 2017 film The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum;  2016 television series Crisis in Six Scenes written/directed by and starring Woody Allen;  Wynn Las Vegas show La Reve (The Dream) voted Best Production Show for 8 consecutive years; as well as various Shakespeare Festivals.  Her most recent work has been as costume coordinator on the Fox television series 'Gotham' and shopper and receipt organizer for the upcoming Broadway Musical 'Tootsie'.  Upcoming work includes being shopper and swatcher on 'NOS4A2', a new television series on AMC network and milliner work (based in NYC) making hats for the Asolo Repertory Theater's coming production of 'The Music Man'.

To learn more about Amanda and view examples of her work, visit her website by clicking and read a recent profile about her by Cornell College

Amanda recently expressed her appreciation to FASS stating, "Being recognized by the culturally rich and artistic community in Sarasota helped me pursue my passion in costume design."

Amanda continues to study and evolve as an artist.  She enjoys ceramics and studied in Europe with an assistantship at La Meridiana ceramics school in Certaldo, Italy.

Elizabeth Rose email:

Elaine MacMahon email:

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Salon : A Tour of Jim Craig and Randy Johnson Painting Collection

 On Wednesday, December 11, 2019, we were invited to the home of Jim Craig and Randy Johnson for a tour of their painting collection comprising mainly 18th- and 19th-century American and European portraits and landscapes. The portraits range from famous actresses to society playboys, famous musicians, and military heroes, as well as characters from Shakespeare and classical antiquity. Jim and Randy's collection of antique furniture provides an ideal setting for the paintings, many of which are in their original gilt frames. Jim's encyclopedic knowledge of American art made him an exceptionally entertaining guide.

This was no ordinary open house as it included an extravagant buffet of refreshments. The eclecticism of the collection makes it a time capsule of colonial and Civil War America. And like the National Gallery in Washington this collection has its Modern wing full of surprises. Not only was the art exceptional, but so was the warm hospitality of the hosts.

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A Conversation with Lynn Ahrens

​When you see a really successful musical theater presentation, all kinds of questions must pop into your mind. Aren't you curious about the song-writing process? What does it entail? How do the songs for musicals get created to reflect the drama happening on the stage? What is the way into a song? What are the criteria for really engaging lyrics? How do you blend the work of the playwright, the composer and the lyricist? All these topics and more will be discussed in our next captivating conversation at Speaking of the Arts…... 

Arts Advocates is embarking on a collaboration with Asolo Rep to offer an exciting Speaking of the Arts…..! For our second offering, we have the opportunity to eavesdrop on a conversation between Tony Award winning lyricist Lynn Ahrens and Celine Rosenthal, Asolo Rep's Associate Artistic Director. They will let us in on the secrets of developing the lyrics and music for a brand new musical, Knoxville, which makes its World Premiere in March at Asolo Rep

The second in the Speaking of the Arts…. series will be held on Thursday, February 27 at the Art Ovation Hotel. There will be a cash bar opening at 6 and the program begins at 7. Please check the website for ticket purchase; tickets will be $50 for members and guests, $60 for non-members and $100 for patrons, who will get a chance to sip champagne and chat with Lynn Ahrens and Celine Rosenthal after the conversation. 

Want to know more about the upcoming Knoxville? The collaborative effort between Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty and Frank Galati, who worked in partnership with this team on Ragtime, will once again be the force behind Knoxville, with Galati writing the libretto and directing the show and Flaherty serving as the composer. But you will learn much more in this fascinating evening discussing the birth of a musical. 

Lynn Ahrens is a native New Yorker. She began her musical career fresh out of college on the renowned television series, "Schoolhouse Rock." Since then, she has written extensively for theater, film and television, winning theater's triple crown – the 1998 Tony Award, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for the lyrics of the acclaimed Broadway musical, Ragtime. In the same year she received two Academy Award nominations and two Golden Globe nominations for Best Song and Best Score for the animated feature film Anastasia

With her longtime collaborator, composer Stephen Flaherty, her many Broadway, off-Broadway and Lincoln Center Theatre credits include Once On This Island, Chita Rivera: the Dancer's Life, My Favorite Year, Lucky Stiff, A Man of No Importance, Dessa Rose, The Glorious Ones and Broadway's Seussical. Ragtime was revived on Broadway in 2010. For the recording of Songs from Ragtime and for the original Broadway Cast Recordings of Ragtime and Seussical, she has received three Grammy nominations. For her extensive work in children's television, she had received the Emmy Award and four Emmy nominations

Clearly, this much honored woman is a skilled lyricist and writer, and she will share the special talents of her craft with the Speaking of the Arts….. audience in conversation with Celine Rosenthal. Rosenthal is an NYU Tisch alum, Tony-nominated producer who is the Associate Artistic Director at Asolo Rep. Rosenthal is the recipient of directing fellowships at Manhattan Theatre Club and Asolo Rep, as well as an SDCF Observership. To register:

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Elling Eide Center Tour

Arts Advocates members discovered a Sarasota hidden gem on the November 6, educational tour to the Elling Eide Center.  Located at the end of a barely noticeable one-lane road off S. Tamiami Trail in a seventy-two-acre nature preserve on Little Sarasota Bay, the Elling Eide Center is a private research library dedicated to the study of classical Chinese literature and art. 

​Containing over 60,000 volumes and 300 scholarly journal articles, the library is a leading resource for Asian Studies in the southeastern United State.  Asian Collections Curator and Research Specialist, Ann Roddy, delighted the group with her knowledge and passion for the library and its collections.

Ann's demonstration and history of the collection of traditional 19th Century shadow puppets was a highlight of the tour.  The puppets will be on display in a special exhibition at the Ringling Museum beginning August 2020.

Interesting examples of decorative art from the Chinese and Japanese medieval period were displayed throughout the Guy Peterson-designed center.  The tawny band across the top of the piece below shows 100 ways to write longevity.

Sarasota is fortunate to be home to the Elling Eide Center and Arts Advocates members were fortunate to experience this local treasure.  For more information about Elling Eide, the fascinating man responsible for the creation of the center, see the New York Times article published in 2017 about Elling Eide,  For more information on the Elling Eide Center,

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A Standing Ovation

On Wednesday, November 13 at the ART Ovation Hotel, Arts Advocates launched the new "Speaking of The Arts …" series.  Gayle Williams, Music Critic for the Herald Tribune called this series "a Town Hall for the arts."  The  overwhelming success of this event is a tribute to Suzanne Weitz, chair, and committee members Barbara Blackburn and Bo Galford.  The Committee is grateful to our leading sponsor, The Maryann and James Armour Family Foundation and also support from the Art Ovation Hotel and Cumberland Advisors.  There were over 160 guests in attendance and among these were many leaders from local art and educational organizations: Bruce Rogers from the Hermitage, Lee Dougherty Ross from Artist Series and Miriam Wallace representing the Humanities Department at New College. 


"Donna and Suzanne, the evening was beyond my expectations. I don't think I've ever been to a better lecture. (Marin) did not have to raise her baton to impress beyond words. What an extraordinary woman!"  Karen Mathis "What a wonderful talk last evening at Art Ovation.  It bodes well for this series and I want to thank you and all who worked to get Marin to speak in Sarasota.  I loved that she mentioned Paul Wolfe who was so influential in starting the music scene in Sarasota,"  Judy Levine.  "It was a flawless evening."  Jay Wilson, new member.


"What a fabulous program--Marin Alsop was just terrific, engaging, informative, and delightful to hear!  We are so glad we attended this educational and frankly charming event.  Kudos to you all for presenting such a quality program.  Please keep me posted about all of your upcoming events/activities."  Sharon Prizant, Director of Community Engagement, Cumberland Advisors.


"Speaking of The Arts…" events give Arts Advocates an opportunity to collaborate with other arts organizations such as the Sarasota Orchestra, theSarasota Concert Association, Choral Artists of Sarasota and The Perlman Music Program. In addition, the series is a wonderful way to fulfill our mission: to Inspire creativity, advance education and connect the community to the arts. 


"The Speaking of the Arts…" Committee (Suzanne Weitz, Barbara Blackburn, Bo Galford and advisors Waddy Thompson and Mary Ann Armour) are currently collaborating with Asolo Repertory Theatre to bring a 'high profile' personality from Broadway to spend an evening with us in Sarasota.  For this event, the format will be an interview and there will be an increased opportunity to interact with the audience.  A late March or early April date is planned 

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Computer Art Pioneer Ken Knowlton

Ken Knowlton speaking at Arts Advocates meeting

"It's a long story", Ken Knowlton began. Indeed it is. It's been more than 50 years since Knowlton and fellow Bell Labs engineer Leon Harmon created what is thought to be the first computer produced nude. It started as a prank.

Knowlton and Harmon decided to see if they could create a portrait of choreographer Deborah Hay by scanning her picture, keeping the outlines, and using numbers and symbols in place of the colors. (Needless to say, this is a wholly untechnical description of the groundbreaking process.) In addition to the challenge, they thought it would be funny to hang the 12' long image in their boss' office to surprise him when he came in the next morning. Their boss was not pleased. In his view, the image--now titled "Studies in Perception #1"-- was pornographic and had no place on the walls of the venerable Bell Labs. But that's not the end of the story.

"Studies in Perception #1" by Knowlton and Harmon (with an assist from Bell Labs)

While Knowlton's boss wasn't enamored of the portrait, the art community was. To the dismay of the Bell Labs' PR department, the image began to get some press coverage. Knowlton and Harmon were told to keep Bell Labs' name out of it, thank you very much. Then "Studies in Perception #1" found its way into the New York Times after Robert Rauschenberg heralded the portrait at a press conference held at his loft. Knowlton and Harmon asked that the image be attributed only to the two of them. Alas, Bell Labs got credit as well when it was published. When "Studies in Perception #1" received a positive reception, Bell Labs decided it was art after all and was happy to be associated with the work. The lab's name was prominently listed thereafter, including when a smaller version of "Studies in Perception" appeared in an exhibit at MOMA entitled "The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age." 

Knowlton's "Statue of Liberty"

Over time, Knowlton began to create his own pointillist portraits with his computer. Cleverly, many of his images use words and symbols related to the subjects. Helen Keller was captured using visual Braille; Samuel Morse out of Morse Code; and the Statue of Liberty from key phrases from the Statue of Liberty poem. (I'm sure you know the one about the United States taking in "the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.") In this picture, you can see how the image becomes more distinct the further away the viewer stands.

Knowlton eventually began to explore the use of other mediums (for lack of a better word) to create mosaic portraits. His trusty computer still plays an important role in his process.

Tom Magliozzi (aka Click) by Ken Knowlton

 With a computer assist, he "draws" the contour lines of the image. The canvas is then placed on the floor and the work of creating the image with his objects begins. Mirrors are positioned above and to the side to enable Knowlton to determine the positioning of the pieces before gluing them onto the canvas.

In a nod to Magritte's painting "This is not a pipe," Knowlton used pieces of a teapot to devise his work "This is NOT not a Teapot." Two companion portraits portraying Click and Clack from the famed NPR radio show "Car Talk" were created using toy cars. His Julia Child emerges from an assortment of fruits and vegetables. The smaller the item used to create the work, the higher the difficulty of the puzzle.

Today, Knowlton uses seashells as his material. He does, after all, live in Florida. (In case you're wondering, he orders the seashells online rather than scouring our local beaches for them.)

"American Gothic (Version 2) after Grant Wood" by Ken Knowlton

Initially, he arranged the shells in straight lines in the manner of his other portraits. But the curvature of the shells has enabled him to ratchet up the complexity of his creative process a notch. Now when he's in the thick of things he searches his bins for shells with both the desired reflectivity and shape. It's a labor of love -- and a far cry from the seashell art featured in the gift shops of the Panama City Beach of my youth.

Thanks to Arts Advocates for the introduction to the work of Ken Knowlton. For more information about Ken Knowlton, click here. And to learn more about Arts Advocates and its programs, click here.

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Speaking of the Arts... Marin Alsop Video

Speaking of the Arts... Marin Alsop, Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony and Sao Paulo Symphony Music Director, will speak 11/13/19 at the Art Ovation Hotel on "Adventures On and Off the Podium".  Tickets available here: Gain insight into Ms. Alsop in this video where she answers a quick 20 questions.

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Fine Arts Society rebrands as Arts Advocates

For 50 years, the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota has been working to preserve and support a variety of art forms and their creators. It will continue doing that under

a new name.  The organization announced Monday a rebranding program that ......

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Art Ovation Hotel presents Robert Doyon: Walkabout

Lisa DiFranzo, cultural curator of Art Ovation Hotel with two Doyon paintings

I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's the rare hotel that has its own cultural curator. I'm not talking a concierge who can secure tickets for a show or suggest a local restaurant. The job of a cultural curator is to ensure cultural experiences within the hotel for its guests and the public. Enter Lisa DiFranzo and Art Ovation Hotel.

On my inaugural outing with the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota (FASS), we met DiFranzo for a tour of the Robert Doyon: Walkabout exhibit. First, however, she gave us some background on Art Ovation. 

"Connect the Dots"

The goal of the Marriott "Autograph Collection" hotels is to provide guests with opportunities to engage in activities reflective of the local community. In Sarasota, that means the arts.

At any given time, Art Ovation has multiple art exhibits on display. Guided tours are offered weekly for a small fee (with glass of wine in hand if you choose). There's a studio in the lobby with an artist at her easel--or the equivalent--during the cocktail hour. Each room is stocked with a sketch book and colored pencils for guests inspired to create their own art. The first page of every book contains a drawing by a student at Ringling College of Art & Design.

Musical entertainment can also frequently be enjoyed in the lobby. And if you want to make your own music, every room has its own ukulele, with free lessons given on Friday afternoons. Other instruments from the cello to drums will be delivered upon request. (Headsets are provided so as not to disturb other guests.)

Doyon with his work -- Don't miss the continuation of the exhibit in the restaurant!

This is a long-winded intro to the work of Robert Doyon, which is now on display at Art Ovation. Doyon was on hand to share his work with our group. While I'm sure DiFranzo would have done a terrific job, it was great to hear from the artist firsthand.

Doyon refers to himself as a "Swiss artist's knife" due to the variety of his artistic endeavors. In his earlier life, he worked in design and fabrication at Disneyworld and other Orlando area theme parks. But the time came when he wanted to focus on his own work. He went back to school at Ringling and graduated at the age of 48. For the past 25 years, he's been creating his own style of abstract and conceptual work.

When discussing his work, Doyon repeatedly returned to the idea of balance. It's a concept particularly important to him because he suffers from PTSD from his time in Viet Nam. And while the works do have specific meanings to him, he referred to them as "colorful Rorschach tests" that will evoke different moods and interpretations in each person. (For me, his "Connecting My Dots" called to mind an Easter egg. In my defense, lunchtime was approaching.)

"Mirror Twins"

I particularly enjoyed hearing about his inspiration for "Mirror Twins." Doyon's father and uncle were what he referred to as "opposite twins." When the brothers faced one another, they appeared to be mirror images. Their personalities were equally opposite, with his left-brained father working as an engineer and his right-brained uncle as an art professor.

Doyon also shared the backstory to how he came to call this exhibit "Walkabout." The term refers to the Australian aboriginal practice of sending young men out into the wilderness where they live on their own for several months. The 1971 movie of the same name captured Doyon's imagination. In it, two citified kids find themselves lost in the Australian outback and are befriended by an aboriginal boy off on his walkabout. The concept of the trio figuring out how to make their way together spoke to him.

Thanks to FASS for organizing this interesting tour. Robert Doyon's "Walkabout" will be on display at Art Ovation through October 2. To check out the hotel's schedule of events, click here. It's a great addition to our cultural community.

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Art at the Van Wezel

The World Within by Humberto Calzada

I suspect I'm not the only person guilty of rushing into a theater without taking the time to enjoy my surroundings. Sure, I'll notice the architectural elements of the performance space, but it's unlikely I'll walk the building to check out the art. And when it comes to the Van Wezel, there's definitely some art worth enjoying. Happily, the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota conducts free monthly tours during the season. It was an hour well-spent.

The Van Wezel was built in 1969, the same year the Fine Arts Society was founded. From the beginning, the Society has used the Van Wezel as gallery space to showcase its Florida-inspired art collection. Our tour guide was quick to note that despite the Florida theme, the artwork is not created by "sell your art on the beach" artists. Instead, the collection includes paintings--and a few sculptures-- by accomplished artists who either have a strong Florida connection or whose work features water.

Humberto Calzada is known for his paintings inspired by the architecture of his hometown of Havana. It's hard to turn down the invitation to enter Calzada's The World Within. The light is handled so beautifully, and the Caribbean awaits you. Calzada signed each portal into his dream-like world, a detail our guide helpfully noted. 

Thunder on the Beach by Ben Stahl (1976)

I would put money on the fact that most Van Wezel patrons haven't noticed Ben Stahl's Thunder on the Beach. Although it's located only two paintings down from The World Within, the lighting is so poor that our docent had to use a flashlight to illuminate it for our group. And that's a shame, because it's an interesting painting depicting America's sudden foreboding about the coming of WWII. "Wait," you can almost hear people say. "Is that a storm on the horizon?" Stahl's portrayal of the beachgoers in various states of undress represents the country's lack of preparedness for the war. And then there's the one fat cat sitting happily on the beach smoking a cigar. Is he a profiteer?

Our Angel by Craig Rubadoux

Stahl himself was quite an interesting character. He won a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago at age 12. In addition to being a painter, Stahl was an illustrator whose work graced the pages of The Saturday Evening Post. He created the poster for Ben-Hur and the illustrations for the 25th anniversary edition of Gone with the Wind. He had his own TV series entitled Journey into Art with Ben Stahl. And he was an artist in the Air Force, which brings us full circle to Thunder on the Beach.

From across the room, Craig Rubadoux' Our Angel has the look of an Art Nouveau painting. But as you approach, you realize the work is much more free flowing. The angel seems to float in a sea of color. How else could her golden hair mimic the shape her budding wings will eventually take? "Exuberant" is the adjective most typically used to describe Rubadoux' work.

Rubadoux is Sarasota born and bred and now works from his home on Englewood beach. His artwork can frequently be seen at Allyn Gallup Contemporary Art Gallery. Click here to read an article from The Observer about this charming artist.

Pressing Leaves by Lynn Davison (1996)

Lynn Davison is another Florida-based artist whose work can be found at Allyn Gallup. Davison also shares her alma mater of Ringling College of Art + Design with many artists whose work is in the collection.

Davison's interest lies in the human figure. Davison's depiction of her subject's bodies is impressively realistic, from the tension in the woman's knee and calf to the toes of her companion's feet. She said in an interview in Gulfshore Life, "I want my figures to provoke introspection. While they're essentially revelations of self, I hope they also portray universal truths about what it means to be exposed, disconnected, vulnerable and human."

Pressing Leaves was painted at a time when Davison took a somewhat surrealistic approach to her work. The figures and setting are classical, but what are this doorframe, Japanese style screens and spotlight doing out in the middle of nowhere? Not to mention the obvious question -- why is this naked guy sitting on these books? Today her work is more personal. To read the Gulfshore Life article and see more of Davison's work, click here.

Stravinksy by Syd Solomon (1971)

And what would a collection of work featuring Florida artists be without a painting by Syd Solomon? Solomon is probably the most acclaimed artist to have come out of Southwest Florida. He and his wife moved to Sarasota when he was still a budding artist in his late 20s. He had found his home. The Ringling Museum was the first of many museums to display Solomon's work. Solomon was a first for Ringling as well, as he was the first contemporary artist to have a painting displayed there.

Stravinsky is the perfect choice of Solomon's artwork to be on display at the Van Wezel. It is, after all, the home of the Sarasota Orchestra. Solomon began this painting while listening to one of the composer's works on the day of his death. The loss was more than that of a fellow creative soul. He was friends with Stravinsky's son Soulima, who also lived in Sarasota.

I learned from our docent that Solomon served during WWI in the First Camouflage Battalion, where he worked to conceal potential enemy targets located on the California coast and London. (To see pictures of the camouflage of California, click here.) But Solomon's primary job during the war was conducting aerial reconnaissance, a job that inspired his abstract art. Knowing this background does put a new spin on his work.

If you want to see more of Solomon's painting, the timing couldn't be better. Allyn Gallup has an exhibit on now through January 28. To read more about Solomon and the exhibit, click here and here.

The next time you're in the Van Wezel, take a few extra minutes to enjoy the art. There will no doubt be works that leave you cold. Art is personal after all. But there will likely be a few that draw you in. Thanks to the Fine Arts Society for sharing its collection with the public. For information on upcoming tours, click here.

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