- July 12, 2018
They say two heads are better than one, but what about six hands rather than two?
Earlier this season, abstract artist Grace Howl decided to collaborate on a piece of art. The first person she asked was her friend and fellow artist Kate Hendrickson, whom she met at her “Together and Apart: The Love Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz” exhibit in fall 2016.
Hendrickson was immediately drawn to the idea, and soon after the pair asked their mutual friend, printmaking and collage artist Amy Ernst, to join them. She was the final piece to what was about to become a deeply impactful — and potentially historic — collaboration.
Howl presented her artistic partners with the idea of a work that would benefit a local nonprofit, and again, she received a unanimously positive response. The trio researched several organizations before choosing the Pines of Sarasota Foundation, which they came across through a MagnifyGood ad for its campus improvement campaign, Love Lives Here.
Howl says the decision wasn’t easy. The women care about a wide variety of causes, but their hearts were especially moved by the mission of the Pines.
Pines of Sarasota is a nonprofit senior care community center that provides rehabilitation services, nursing, memory care, educational programs and assisted living for seniors. The center helps residents of all financial backgrounds, but about 50% of Pines residents have outlived their resources, so the foundation raises money to pay for their care.
“We might all be there someday, that’s the reality,” Hendrickson says.
Ernst adds that most people don’t grow up living with grandparents anymore, and it’s very common for families to be spread out around the country. Thus, supporting Pines residents means acting as stand-in family.
The Pines opened 70 years ago as the first senior care community in Sarasota, which has resulted in a great legacy, but an aging campus.
That’s where this $3.9 million campus improvement campaign — and three canvases — come in.
One day, Pines of Sarasota Foundation President Janet Ginn got a call from Howl. The two had never met, so Ginn was surprised to learn that an artist on the other end of the line had such good news to share.
The Pines is a space that runs on the principles of respect, dignity and comfort for its residents, Ginn says, so hearing how passionate the artists were about the idea of honoring these ideals by aiding the campaign moved her.
Soon after, Ernst, Hendrickson and Howl met with Ginn, who gave them a first-person look at the work of the foundation. Ginn says the four became fast friends, and adds that she’s continually honored that they chose the foundation as the beneficiary for their show, “Reflections of Collaboration.”
The idea for the project was born in December, and the trio had their first studio session in early February. Originally, their intention was to create a single piece, but somehow, in the midst of a creative whirlwind, they ended up with three. Each work will be sold through a silent, anonymous auction from now through April 6 at Howl’s studio and gallery space, Grace Howl Contemporary Art.
Early on, it was decided that 100% of the proceeds from the silent auction would go to the foundation, but once the single piece turned to three, Howl thought they should host a slightly larger show also featuring individual works from each artist. Howl decided she would give 50% of the sales of each of her own pieces in the show to the foundation, and the other artists followed suit.
“A gallery usually gets 25-50% of the sale anyway,” Ernst says. “We feel that giving 50% would even further supplement the cause.”
Every dollar bid on both the collaborative and individual artist works will be matched by a two-for-one donation from the Esther & Harold Mertz Foundation. And everything raised past the $3.9 million goal will also be matched for future developments.
Ginn says the money raised will help create brand-new living spaces for residents, all of which will include a private bathroom and some of which will include a kitchenette and living room.
“They’re not only assisting our 40 residents and giving them new homes,” Ginn says. “It’s for generations to come — we all have to rally to save Pines.”
When the artists first convened in Howl’s Rosemary District studio, they had no plan. No sketches. No outline. Their only intention was to create art they would work on simultaneously.
“It was done through a lot of conversations and dialogue,” Hendrickson says, noting how organic the process was. “We came together and let it grow.”
All three artists were surprised by the results.
Ernst says the first step was to lay out their materials, which ranged from traditional paint brushes to rare rice paper. Then, they dived into combining the disciplines of drawing, collage and painting.
Hendrickson says she’s the one who values structure, whereas Howl thrives on a lack of structure, and Ernst is somewhere in the middle. All three built on one another’s strengths and kept communicating throughout.
Often they would put something on the canvas and turn to one another with questions such as, “Do we need to balance this?” and, “How does the composition work?” Hendrickson says.
“The idea was to let it flow,” she says. “Then we would re-evaluate and see if it made sense.”
All three artists agree that the collaboration was a phenomenal learning experience. Howl got to use tools she has never used before. Hendrickson got to pick up a paint brush for the first time in countless years. And Ernst got to take off her gloves for once — usually she’s working with so many strong chemicals that she needs them to avoid being poisoned.
“There was nothing negative about it, I never felt apprehension,” Ernst says.
Ginn finds parallels between their artistic process and the style of how the Pines is run: by valuing community and collaboration.
“I looked at their three pieces and one speaks to me in an amazing way — I can see the hope in that painting,” Ginn says. “I think about how some people look at it (Pines) as a place where people come to die, but really, it’s a place to live.”
Hendrickson says she couldn’t sleep after studio sessions with Ernst and Howl. She was too “jazzed” when she left.
Ernst, on the other hand, says she was exhausted. But in the best way possible.
“This is not about ego at all,” she says. “It’s about putting that into something else, into love that is going to regenerate into the community.”
The trio notes how unique the experience was — potentially even historic, Howl says.
“I have never seen three visual artists making art together by choice,” Hendrickson says.
They agree that female artists are already underrepresented in the art world, so perhaps their project can bring some exposure to women-made mart.
But at its core, the project is about connecting the community to a nonprofit in need, Howl says.
“We want this to be a big win for the Pines,” Howl adds. “It’s the community’s turn to respond … I’d like this to be a great start.”