It’s a Smail World
The Firehouse Center for the Visual Arts was beyond maximum capacity last Friday night for the opening of an art show by Grand Isle artist Barbara Smail. “Not only did I see old friends, but I saw old paintings,” the 54-year-old creator says of “Life Pieces” — a retrospective inspired by her ongoing struggle with brain cancer.
Judy Kelly chose the paintings for the 10-day show, most of which were retrieved from private collections. Amy Tarrant and Bonnie Reid Martin underwrote the exhibit — a whirl of colorful canvasses full of life-affirming references to food, family and fish. Pictures of health. Former Governor Madeleine Kunin showed up to pay tribute to Smail, as did most of the visual artists in Vermont. “Everybody was there,” Smail says, “almost all my friends,” including fellow artists Lance Richbourg, Barbara Zucker, Lois Foley, Janet Fredericks, Ayn Baldwin Riehle and Barbara Wagner. The crowd literally spilled outside — a testament not only to Smail and her work, but to the visual art community she helped build over the last three decades. The turnout “shows how healthy the art community is — that was the most outstanding thing,” says Smail.
The Firehouse Gallery can certainly take some of the credit for that. On Monday, the Burlington City Council is scheduled to vote on a proposal that would transform the historic street-level exhibition space into a four-story, full-time community art center, complete with classrooms, offices and an adjoining outdoor sculpture garden. Burlington City Arts wants $300,000 from the city — over four years — to apply to a $1.5 million capital campaign goal. That’s a small price to pay for a safe haven dedicated to the expression of human creativity and, through Saturday, the indomitable spirit of Barbara Smail.
Yep, that was Rusty Dewees camped out in the “state building” at the Champlain Valley Fair. The actor put in 10 long days, alongside carneys and the “crack boy,” hawking his new video, The Logger. The celluloid version documents the first act of the popular one-man stage show Dewees wrote, performed and toured in Vermont last winter and spring. But the intro and outro footage may throw you for a loop. Dewees starts things off with a real chainsaw, and plays both pans in a crackerbarrel dialogue between himself and his pipe-smoking French-Canadian uncle. The epilogue finds him interviewing old Vermonters about dowsing, snowfall, global warming and, of course, flatlanders. It gives you an idea of what that Vermont accent is supposed to sound like. But the old-timers are eating it up — Dewees is scheduled for 28 public performances and 20 private shows over the next few months. The video is on sale in Stowe, Johnson, Morrisville and Waterbury Center.
The mothers and lovers in Nora Jacobson’s next movie are based on a Mexican myth. The Norwich filmmaker has been reel busy documenting the works of Dragon Dance Theater in Worchester. She has accompanied the troupe on two separate trips to Oaxaca, where they are collaborating with local performers to dramatize a creation story. Jacobson’s very human task is to cut 18 hours of footage down to a short fundraising film without making it look “too hokey,” she says, conceding, “working with puppets is tricky.” Indeed, one member of her camera crew had to save a Chilean actor from a Vermont lake several weeks ago during the Stateside filming of Sol y Luna — the story of two foundling children adopted by an old woman who is romantically involved with a deer. The actor was swimming across for the camera wearing a large deer head when the waterlogged mask started to weigh him down, necessitating a water rescue. “It was sort of scary,” Jacobson says.
You don’t have to speak German to translate the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke — not if you’re Galway Kinnell, that is. The Sheffield poet has just published a bilingual collection of elegies, sonnets and “thing poems” from the puzzling poet who helped perfect the image of the suffering artist. His translators have not had it easy, either, as Kinnell explains in The Essential Rilke, referring to the growing pile of past efforts as the “Rilkean Bermuda Triangle.” Dual deciphering was required to untangle complicated, sometimes nonsensical, passages. Hannah Liebmann provided the literal translation from the German, while Kinnell, a Pulitzer Prize winner, interpreted the meaning. Since his first “spellbound encounter” with the works of Rilke half a century ago, Kinnell writes in the introduction, “I thought I sensed under the words of the translation another, truer Rilke struggling to speak.” But he humbly admits the ventriloquy was one tall order. “I sometimes felt like I was in a darkened room, trying to imagine, on the basis of verbal descriptions, what I would see from the window if I only knew how to raise the blind.” You can check out the view when he makes the reading rounds at the end of the month.