Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Week at Sarsota's Hermitage...or summer camp?

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to be one of eight decorative artists from around the country invited to spend a week at the Hermitage on Manasota Key. The Hermitage is an artist retreat, which was originally started by the Sarasota Arts Council and is now self sustaining, from what I understand. You can read all about it on their website.

For our 'retreat', eight decorative artists from around the country, were invited to spend a week here to paint a mural, which was given to the town of Englewood. Originally, we thought we might collaborate on one large mural, but quickly decided to showcase, in effect, what each of us does on a daily basis. So we each painted a four by eight foot panel.....outside....under a tent....and the stars. It was quite the experience, and THAT is an understatement.

The artists, as I mentioned, came from all parts of the country.....
We had two brothers, Todd and Eric Lindburgh, from Virginia Beach, VA. Shannon Clark, from Hollywood, CA. Tania Seabock from San Francisco. Pat Ganino from somewhere in Connecticut. Elena Ortega from Key Largo, FL. Skip Dyrda (me)....from good old Sarasota and last but not least, Erik Schlake, from Englewood. It was Erik who had the original idea and posed it to Bruce Rodgers, curator at the Hermitage and then to the Englewood Community Redevelopment Authority. Ultimately, the entire project was funded and unanimously approved by the Sarasota County Commissioners.

By sundown on a lazy Sunday, we had all arrived and began to get to know each other. A few had met at various conventions and shows and most of us at least knew about each other but never met. It really didn't take long for all of us to be best of friends. Some credit for that has to go to Debbie Marks and her assistant Jesse, from the CPA. They were sort of our 'camp councilors' I guess.....or house mothers:-) A more appropriate title might be 'amazing' since they treated us like royalty and fed us way too much food. I think much of the food was donated from various Englewood restaurants (I'll get that list later) but Debbie would show up bright and early most mornings with the best baked goods, that she made! That coffee cake was deadly

The plan was that we would start painting Monday morning but some of us just couldn't wait to get started and began working on our panels Sunday night. Each panel had it's own, very large easel and they were all set up under a huge tent on the Southern edge of the property. For the first few days we didn't have many lights since no one figured that we would be painting until the wee hours of the mornings. I don't think anyone quit painting before 11pm and most painted well past midnight, even on Monday night after we got slammed by a fairly strong storm. All the panels got wet and one mural basically melted off it's panel. The muggy weather made the donated paint dry way too slow for some of us but by the end of the week, all eight panels were finished and hanging in downtown Englewood. In fact, the contractor was picking up finished panels by Friday noon. That's only four and a half days. Of course, we all worked a minimum of 14 hours a day.......

And it wasn't ALL work. Like I said, we ate well. And this is where the summer camp part comes from......more like summer camp with no adult supervision:-) I'm being facetious, of course....sort of......
For example, Tania, the artist from San Francisco, has been a part of the Burning Man festival with her husband for several years. They perform in a show that involves dancing and in torches and breathing. So.....she taught us how to do that....the fire breathing part. It was very interesting. Pretty wild, actually. No people, animals, plant life or structures were harmed during our lessons:-) See the video here.

And then there was "The Red String Incident" Those of you that know about my work know also that I include a red string in all my work. I've done this for about 15 years. One day after painting all morning, I walked up the hill to the main house to have lunch. I hadn't realized that most of the other artists were already there and that Debbie was there making sure everyone had enough to eat. Tuesday was leftovers day so I opted for a slice of pizza. When I went to serve myself, I was instructed to sit at the table and I would be served. OK....fine.
My pizza arrived with a nice piece of red string on top. Cute:-) Thanks, guys. The it took me about ten minutes to realize that everyone had red strings tied around their wrists. that was really nice, I thought.
But little did I know that they weren't done with me. That night, after painting for several hours after dinner, most of us had congregated in the main house. Many had their laptops out and others were just talking. I think it might have been between midnight and 1 am when I finally decided to head down to my cabin to call it a night. Early the next morning, I stumbled my way back up to the main house to make a pot of coffee, only to find Erik (the one from Englewood) standing in the was already made and he had this huge grin on his face. I asked what he was so happy about and he mumbled something about food and friends and everything going so well. I poured a cup of coffee, walked to the window and looked out to the parking lot to see my white Ford Explorer......completely covered in red string, along with several trees, benches and the fence! Too cool.....I was smiling all day. All week. Still......

And that little story was what this little experiment was all about.....friends. I made friends that week that I'll never forget.....I may never see some of them again. I hope that's not the case. Regardless.....this was an experience I'll treasure forever. We worked hard.......had fun....ate too much and became the best of friends...all of us. And the little town of Englewood received eight kick-ass murals for a fraction of what we would have normally charged any of our clients.....basically for room and board.

Thanks to Erik for the idea and all his hard work to make his dream a reality. To Debbie Marks and her assistant Jesse, for waiting on us hand and foot (and cooking). All the donors of food, wine, easels...everything. Bruce Rodgers for agreeing to host the project and putting up with eight crazy artists. To Sarasota County for funding the project. And most of all, to my new friends......
And oh, my wife.....for allowing me to go to summer camp with no adult supervision:-)

I'll eventually update this page with a link to a website all about our experience as well as a video I'm creating from the photos everyone took. In the meantime, enjoy the photos below....and sorry for the long post....


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What great fun! So glad you had a good time - and I LOVED the red string on your truck!

Skip's Little Sister :)

7:51 PM  

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