Five things worth knowing this week
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1 – Our House, is a Very, Very, Very Fine House
The big lights are off. The marley is rolled up. The theater has been cleaned. And the splendiferous Seattle Dance Collective dancers are no longer here at VCA. After a week that can only be described as pure magic, the candle has been blown out for the last time. With luck you were part of it.
What we did together this past week . . . performers, presenters, stage crew, donors, ticket buyers, all of us . . . is write the story of what happens when we link hands and dare to reach further than any of us thought we could. We dared. We stretched. We grasped. We caught lightning in a bottle.
SDC at VCA was a moon shot and we did it together.
In the house Sunday afternoon were the current Artistic Director of PNB, Peter Boal, and the legendary founding Artistic Directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell. These are dance royalty of the first tier, and they and our 1,148 guests were blown away by the experience of seeing world-class dance in our building.
This was as true for the people who bought $75 seats as it was for the students who sat rapturous in their $10 seats and everyone in between.
During the week these wonderful young dancers were on the island, they stayed in local homes, bought their coffee at The Burton Coffee Stand and Minglement. One got his hair cut at James’ Hair Design.
They ate at The Hardware Store, May’s, La Biondo Farm, Gravy, Earthen, and Ruby Brink. They drank Nashi perry and nibbled on nibbles from Bramble House. They became our resident dance company and we became their family. Hundreds of people came from off-island to enjoy our island, watch world class dance in “our house,” and support local businesses.
Many forces had to be woven together to make all this happen. And to anchor it, we needed space. One of the needed spaces was our wonderful dance studio/atelier in the second floor of the Blue Heron Education Center. The SDC dancers took one look and knew they were home.
The other necessary space was the Katherine L White Hall, a physical space that takes a back seat to few others.
But our campus, our buildings are more than spaces. They are also a place. A place that draws guests to our island. A place that supports artistic and scientific inquiry. A place that organizations like VIGA and Vashon Nature Center can share with VCA as home. A place where the community can gather for a Cinco de Mayocelebration. A place of which we can all be proud because it is our space.
I believe we face two existential threats. The first is alienation from each other. The second is alienation from our environment. At VCA, we are committed to doing our part to address both.
Art, in all its forms, is one of the most direct and specific antidotes to the entropy of modernity that daily drives us apart. Through the arts, we learn to see through another’s eyes, feel what it’s like to dance in another’s shoes, to know the beating of two hearts as if they were one.
This desire to provide place and space, programming and education, gathering and sharing so that we can find each other through art and inquiry animates everything we’re doing at VCA.
In the words of Graham Nash,“Our house, is a very, very fine house” because we are turning our building more and more from space to place, a place that helps us see and celebrate what makes us Vashon and what makes us human.
2 – Clay Kids
Our summer art camp season is in full swing, and there is no better clue than summer clay camp with island icon Liz Lewis.
Camps are a taste of history and culture, skill-building and (let’s be honest) some risk-taking. My good colleague Stephanie Johnson Blomgren peeked into class last week and related watching some brave, talented kids on the wheel, working the thin, wobbly walls of emerging pots, gently coaxing them upward.
Says Stephanie . . .
Liz and her assistant, Annie Crawford, were offering students reassuring, sound advice, including the wise words like: “Sometimes, it’s good to quit while you’re ahead.”
The students’ lanterns, ready for a Raku firing, are incredible–alongside coiled pots, and hand-built tea services in the style of 16th century Japanese general and tea master, Furuta Oribe. Each piece is precious–and somewhat precarious at every stage, from concept to final realization. But what a payoff: building skills and returning home with something beautiful.
There are still some spots for Liz’s next Wild and Swampy Clay Camp. Click here to enroll.
3 – Week three of Vashon Summer Arts Fest is about to open
Not sure what to do this weekend (before, after, or instead of Strawberry Festival)? Why not visit Friday at 6:00 at VCA to see the latest round of fabulous art, all of which has been created and displayed by your island friends and neighbors. Or come Saturday! Or Sunday!
This week we open solo shows featuring photography, oil paintings, recycled materials and watercolor comprise this collection of artists: Christopher Allen, Jo Robinson, Karlista Rickerson, Kate Munson and Lenard Yen. They are joined by a group of plein airartists who painted the gardens featured in the 2019 VCA Garden Tour.
The work is fabulous.
One of the shows you’ll want to spend time with is Jo Robinson’s “Between the Blossom and the Fruit – the Secret Sex Life of the Food You Eat” (photography).
Many of us became aware of Jo through the publication of her wildly successful book, Eat Wild. It’s only been in the past couple of years that she’s done anything serious with photography . . . and in true Jo style, she went after it with a curious mind and wound up producing an astonishing and original body of work. It’s being shown for the first time at VCA.
I sat down with her the other day. This is what she had to say (lightly edited).
Me: I met you over a book and I didn’t realize that you are, have been making art for years.
Jo: Actually, I only started seriously since I retired from writing. So, it’s been three years. That’s it.
Me: Say some things about what inspired this show.
Jo: I’ve always liked to take pictures of food and as time went on, I wanted to get closer and closer to it.
I was doing fruit portraits and I found it wasn’t close enough. And then I, I learned about the macro world and I decided I wanted to get right in the face of these plants when they were caught between the blossom and the fruit. I wanted to make art out of the sexual reproduction of plants. And because the more I got into it, the more I saw it.
It’s a beautiful world. We can’t see it with the naked eye. You can’t take a picture of it with ordinary camera techniques because only one plane is in focus. I wanted every detail in focus, so I had to learn a new technique called focus stacking. That’s where you take a closeup camera, you add an extension tube, which gets you closer and closer, and then you take multiple images of the same specimen, slices of it, and then Photoshop thankfully merges them into one.
Me: How did you know that there was a thing called photo stacking and who taught you how to do it?
Jo: The Internet taught me how to do it and I knew about it because people do that to take really close to pictures of insects. But it took me a couple of years to realize that’s what I absolutely needed to get the picture I wanted.
The first couple of years I was so struggling with focus and focal length . . . this is focused but that’s not. Then I found I needed a camera with a bigger frame, a full frame camera. Then I needed this rail that you put your camera on so you can take a picture and then move it millimeter by millimeter closer. The final images in some case are built up from as many as 42 “slices.”
Me: How did you pick the subjects for what you’re showing here?
Jo: Well, I happened to take a picture of a strawberry and it vaguely looked interesting. When I saw it on my computer monitor, I thought that it was an entire world. I felt like I was looking into the cosmos and that was it. You know, I wanted to take that world that nobody sees and make it a part of our understanding of plants.
Me: This sounds like the muse came and camped on your shoulder and made you pay attention.
Jo: Yes. I was just pulled to it and yeah, and it’s like a theme and variation. You’ve got just a couple of reproductive parts and they’re in all of those images, but they’re in different colors and different shapes and, and, and it’s such an amazing look at the variety of nature in a really small format.
These are all plants that you’re quite familiar with. You’ve been looking at plants like these for decades. But you see something different now.
I knew very little about botany until I started taking these pictures. And the more I saw, I just had to understand it, like, what the heck is going on there? And so, I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into botany and it becomes more and more magical the more I learn. I get to photograph it and I get to learn about it. I get to read what Darwin said about it and what he was interested in. And you know how the fact in the 18th century you couldn’t talk about plant reproduction. It was all God’s creation. It was perfect. Nothing happened to them. They were unchanging. Um, and finally, you know, plant sex.
For a hundred million years, plant reproduction has been the way it is, and people don’t understand that. They’ve never seen it, and they don’t know the infinite variety and how beautiful it is.
So now with this technology and these techniques we’re just introduced to a whole different level of plant beauty.
. . .
Read more about the entire show here. The show runs July 19th to July 28th. Gallery Hours (starting July 1) Tues – Fri 12-5pm, Sat & Sun 12-4pm (closed Monday)
4 – Song Writer Camp
Five years ago, the thoroughly fabulous songmaker Havila Rand reached out to our Arts Education Director, Wendy Finkelman as she was scouting art and community centers to partner with. She chose VCA.
This week, the fruits of her genius continue to bear in the form of her Young Songwriter’s Camp.
Regular readers know that words come easily to me . . . and I put a lot of them out there. I went to visit day-two of camp on Tuesday to listen to the work. And yeah, it actually left me speechless. Some of the songs are just plain sweet. A few are really profound. At least one tore my heart out.
The stories behind these songs are not mine to tell. Some of them would break your heart to know. That we are able to provide a safe environment, loving and caring support for exploring deep feelings through songwriting is the story I can tell. We are fiercely proud of these kids and the hard work they have all done this week to put something of themselves into a song and into the world.
More about Havilah . . .
Havilah Rand began her music career at the age of 6 when she began composing songs on an old piano given to her family by some friends. Heavily influenced early on by James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Rolling Stones, The Police and a wide range of other styles, Havilah’s songs immediately took on an identity of their own.
Havilah’s soulful and passionate vocal style would lead her to Interlochen Arts Academy and then on to Manhattan School of Music where she would train formally in both jazz and classical technique. Songwriting remained her true love and she soon left New York City for Seattle where she fronted pop-rock band Wish before picking up the guitar and moving on to a solo career of touring and recording. Havilah’s first three albums were recorded in the Pacific Northwest where she fell into a tight knit community of artists and musicians.
We are blessed to have her and blessed to have these great kids in our programs.
5 – A priceless gift: Bruce Morser
Bruce Morser’s history with and support of VCA spans many years. He has served on the board, advocated powerfully for the organization and the construction of our new campus, donated art (again and again), taught classes, made murals, and more.
Given the requirement to memorialize the history of “center” (I think the county was expecting a plaque or maybe a collage), Bruce invented, created, and constructed a sprawling new interactive art form (sponsored by Janet and Tracy Bishop) that charms visitors and elegantly and engagingly tells the story of our island and this intersection. You can see it for yourself in our “Thumb Gallery.” It’s magnificent.
Bruce’s voice provided the first seeds of inspiration to create Vashon Summer Arts Fest. Just in its second year, it is already established as an important platform for showcasing the rich artistic talent that finds a home on Vashon. Bruce has attended more meetings, brainstorming sessions, and coffee klatches at my request than he or I care to count.
Bruce is hardly alone in his love for and generosity toward art and culture on Vashon. He is just one of many who helped lift up VCA to what it is today. But he is uniquely Bruce, a treasured and valued colleague and friend to so many of us, and a tireless advocate for the power of art . . . a man who has given so much of himself, his energy, and his talents to VCA.
It turns out, someone else shares my appreciation for Bruce’s contributions to VCA. And so, I’m pleased to announce a donation has been made to VCA in the sum of $50,000 in Bruce Morser’s name, as a recognition of his contributions, in support of our mission, and as an encouragement to all of us to join hands in whatever way we can to claim a vibrant future for Vashon Center for the Arts.
6 – Finally, and this is a sixth thing
If you’ve been to a performance at VCA anytime in the past few months, you’ve probably heard me come out before things get going to say a few things. Apparently, this is actually called something . . . a curtain speech. Who knew?
One of the things I find myself saying is, “Welcome to Our House.” It’s what I feel and what it is. VCA is a lot of things these days, all of them about connecting us to us. It all happens in our house, a building that this community built, not without controversy, a building that I think stands as an incredible testimony to the importance of art and inquiry and a sort of prayer to a future worth having.
So, with all that in hand, I thought it would be fun to listen to the song that people of my generation immediately summon when someone says, “Our House . . .”
There’s a fun backstory about writing the song as told by Graham Nash. The line “Heartbreaking, but at least I have a heart to break” will grab you when you hear it.
Many years on, Graham Nash sang Our House at Joni Mitchell’s 75th birthday party, when Graham is 76! He still can sing.
And just because it’s sort of related (thinly), I always get a tickle out of watching Jimmy Fallon sing what I think is Neil Young’s best ever song, “Old Man.”