The Rickie Report shares an interview between artist, Ruth Palombo Weiss and Janeen Mason, Curator at the Lighthouse ArtCenter. Janeen Mason, the new curator at the Lighthouse ArtCenter, comes to her job with a depth of experience seldom seen. Janeen is a national award winning children’s author and illustrator; has served as Vice Chair of the Florida Council on Arts and Culture; was a board member of the Citizens for Florida Arts; was a member of the Division of Cultural Affairs Strategic Planning Task Force; and has also served as a board member of the Arts Council of Stuart and Martin County. Janeen is well steeped in most aspects of the art world where she has spent years giving of herself and making connections. Ruth’s personal journey includes professional experience as a journalist. We know you will enjoy this article!
MEETING JANEEN MASON
Janeen arrived at the Lighthouse in January this year. She lives in Stuart with her husband, Kevin, two sun-loving cats and a rescued boxer named Bing. She has been a studio artist since 1989. “There was never a time I wasn’t interested in art; there was never a question of what I was going to do. I was going to grow up to be an artist, and I was going to write and illustrate children’s picture books.”
Janeen has shown her fine art in solo exhibitions in museums around Florida, invitational art shows across the country, and wildlife art expos. Her art has been licensed for worldwide reproduction on puzzles, note cards, stationery, apparel and more. Janeen has written and illustrated 14 picture books including the Ocean Commotion series. Her books (written and illustrated by her or illustrated for other authors) have garnered dozens of awards including: The Ben Franklin Award, iParenting Media Award, the Mom’s Choice Award, and the U.S. Maritime Literature Award.
“I love illustrating books either written by others or by myself. If the idea captures my imagination I’m all in. Books were always important in our house when I was growing up. My mom, my brothers, my sisters all read for pleasure. Dad is the only one who watched television! I have early memories that involve a spectacular children’s department at the library, which was just down the street. We moved a lot when I was young, but I always had a dog to love, a good book to read, and a tattered sketchbook to record ideas,” she says.
Then life got in Janeen’s way. “I got into college early, married a man who went into the Navy, and spent time raising my children. When our kids were in elementary school, I took a trip Europe with my sisters. After being exposed to the beautiful architecture, the fabulous museums, and all of the careful attention to detail I found myself on cultural overload. I hadn’t sketched in years, but I woke up in the Netherlands, walked down the old stone steps of a friend’s house and discovered a violet growing up out of the cracks in the early morning sun. That splash of purple glowed, and I was instantly overwhelmed with the need to paint again. The promise to create children’s picture books had never left a quiet little corner of my brain, but I was always doing something else. I was just too busy. Yet on that day, no different than any other, it was very clear, ‘If not now, then when?’ The rest of my traveling companions went off to another museum, and I stayed back to paint that violet.”
When she got back to the states, Janeen bought a drafting table and went to work sketching again. It took twelve years from that point to get her first book in print. About the books in her Ocean Commotion series, she says, “My dad sold boats and ran marinas. We were always on the water, which has been an integral part of my life. So when I had the opportunity to write and illustrate my own books, it was natural for me to go back to the area that holds the most fascination for me. The ocean provides subject matter that I absolutely love, and the ocean desperately needs our help. I get the chance to tell kids what I think is important with my books and perhaps, just maybe, in this way I can do my part to change the world. I have great faith in our future, because I have great faith in kids.”
Janeen’s teaching credentials are also impeccable. She has made hundreds of school visits over the past several decades where she engages students with science, technology, engineering, art, and math. In her book Ocean Commotion, Caught in the Currents, she uses reader’s theater and a giant map of the world to have students recreate the events that occurred when 28,000 rubber ducks went overboard during a terrible storm on the night of June 10, 1992. Where did they go? How did they get there? Who discovered them? How long did it take? And most importantly, why are these bathtub toys important to us?
It is her love for teaching and ability to reach out to communities about the ocean—pardon the pun—that floats Janeen’s boat. She explains, “In 2013, we had a summer when there were dreadful discharges from Lake Okeechobee,” says the Stuart resident. “There are five watersheds in Florida, four of which are draining into Lake Okeechobee. Because the levees around the lake are old, they can’t let the water in Lake O rise. This has been an ongoing problem, but Facebook was a game changer. It called worldwide attention to the billions of gallons of toxic freshwater which is still being released daily into the St. Lucie River and the Indian River Lagoon – important salt water estuaries.”
“I watched angry adults pointing fingers at each other over the heads of children and worried that if we scared our kids away from the water it wouldn’t matter how clean we made it, they wouldn’t love it. They wouldn’t grow up to take their kids to it. You only care for the things you love.” Asking herself what she could do to make a difference, Janeen hatched a plan. “I was scheduled to speak at the Blake Library in Stuart about my latest book. Instead we created 1,000 twelve inch die-cut wooden fish that were painted black with a white skeleton silkscreened on one side, and we invited children and families to come to the library and help us “turn it around”, together we all painted the other side. We called these the Solidarity Fish. They became a monumental temporary public art installation that covered the front of buildings in Martin County for weeks at a time. The colorful art stopped traffic and turned passers-by into participants. Everyone became ambassadors of the project”.
Janeen asked Cynthia Trone, Director of the Lighthouse School of Art, to help her, along with the kids and environmentalists in Stuart, make the ornaments for Florida’s Christmas tree on the Ellipse in the President’s Park in Washington, D.C. The Solidarity Fish were even displayed in the White House. The Solidarity Fish have been from the Everglades Coalition Conference in the Florida Keys to the New York Times. They’ve been to the South Florida Water Management meetings, the Big Sugar Summit, and the Governor’s office. The Sierra Club has adopted the movement and as a result this meaningful art installation has grown. “We have over 3,000 Solidarity Fish now and they’ve been used to completely cover the steps of the Capitol Building in Tallahassee. Each colorful fish represents the belief that our voices make a difference,” she says, “Alone we can do so little, together we can accomplish so much.”
When asked about her main goals as curator at the Lighthouse ArtCenter, she notes, “It was a tough decision to leave my full time studio work, but I turned 60 and realized that as much fun as I’ve had and the amazing people I’ve met, I didn’t have a retirement, and I wasn’t 35 any more. Here at the Lighthouse, putting together these exhibitions, I get to use my lifetime of experience in the fine arts. The entire process scratches my itch for creativity.”
“As far as goals for the future of the Lighthouse ArtCenter — the cultural beacon in Northern Palm Beach County for 53 years — we have a devoted membership base and our School of Art is bursting at the seams with students who cross all demographics – from young to young at heart, from special needs to master craftsmen, from our seasonal residents to our Florida natives. We need more space!
“To that end, our board of directors has identified a perfect parcel of land for acquisition and we’re developing a five-year plan to build a new facility that will accommodate all of our aspirations. We are seeking patrons with deep pockets. What is my part in this? On the wall in my office is an exhibition schedule that is filled into 2019. My three-year calendar includes exhibitions that serve our members, the South Florida arts community, and shows of significant international acclaim,” Janeen explains.
SIZE MATTERS—an exhibition where the common denominator is only that of size–opened November 17th. Artists from Maine to Islamorada have been selected to showcase their work in all media that measures either 6’ x 6’ or 6” x 6”. Florida Artist Hall of Fame Award Recipient, Jane Davis Doggett, is participating as well Clay Kanzler, Terre Rybovich, Skip Hartnell, Kathleen Denis, and nineteen equally talented others.
In December, the Lighthouse will open ILLUMINATING THE DEEP: Explore. Learn. Act. (The Fine Art of Exploration). MacArthur Award winning deep-sea explorer, Dr. Edith Widder, working in collaboration with the artist, Dr. Steven Bernstein, has created an astonishing exhibition of photographs from the deep. This exhibit comes with tons of fascinating info-graphics.
You may recognize Dr. Widder’s name as the scientist who captured the first photos of the giant squid featured in the Discovery Channel documentary two years ago, or you may be familiar with her four TED talks. It’s possible you know her as the Senior Scientist of Ocean Research and Conservation Association. Added to Widder’s work is the cache of original paintings, Janeen recently discovered, which the gifted early 20th century artist, Else Bostlemann, created. Although her name has been lost to history, Else Bostlemann’s artwork brought to life the historic discoveries of Dr. William Beebe, the first scientist to descend to 1/2 mile down in the bathysphere in the 1930s during expeditions funded by National Geographic Magazine. National Geographic featured Bostlemann’s art in many of its publications and the originals on loan from her family have never before been publicly exhibited.
In addition, Dr. Widder is a worldwide authority on bioluminescence, and Else Bostlemann painted bioluminescent creatures previously unimagined. In the 90 years that separated these two women, science has proven that bioluminescence is the “language” of light underwater. “We wondered what you would say if light was your only language. So we are introducing a state-of-the-art virtual reality called the Tilt Brush. Our visitors to this exhibition, who pre-register, will be able to experience painting with light in 3D,” she says. Oceanography Magazine, recognized worldwide as the north star of publications in the ocean realm, is publishing a feature article in their December 2016 issue about Else Bostlemann written by Dr. Widder and this historic Lighthouse ArtCenter exhibition.
“Our largest annual fund raiser, D’Art for Art, has moved to the Harriet Himmel Theatre in City Place this coming January 14th, when all of our guests will enjoy the height of entertainment with fine music, delicious food and wine, and everyone takes home a piece of art of their choosing – but they have to be fast! It’s a D’Art for Art!”
The Lighthouse ArtCenter’s busy schedule continues with its 4th Annual Plein Air Festival (which has now received international acclaim), followed by the Best of the Clubs, the annual Members’ Show, the 44th Annual K-12 exhibition, and on. Janeen has two blockbuster exhibitions planned for the winter/spring seasons of 2017-18 and 2018-19, but urges everyone to stay tuned for more on them.
“I am continuing the fine tradition established for exhibitions in our galleries and engaging more support by ramping up the energy for future shows and by reaching into the rich cultural partnerships I’ve established from a lifetime in the fine arts. It’s exciting work with an exceptional executive director who believes in the power of art, a board of directors who are enthusiastic and forward thinking, and it’s deeply satisfying to have the support of a well prepared staff and team of volunteers as we move into the future by playing a role in the interconnected world of the twenty-first century,” Janeen says.
For more information about Janeen Mason: janeenmason.com
For more information about the Lighthouse ArtCenter: www.lighthousearts.org
Ruth graduated from Boston University as an English and fine arts major She studied art at Montgomery College and painting workshops throughout the country over the past 30 years. Ruth worked as a writer for the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. She took a career break after her marriage and her three children were born. When her daughters were in high school, she worked as a feature writer for the Montgomery County Gazette Newspapers (a subsidiary of the Washington Post). At the same time, she was a freelance feature writer for both local and national magazines. Since the early 1990s, she has contributed as a writer and editor to various publications for the American Society for Training and Development (recently changed to Association for Talent Development-ATD). Currently, she is editor of ATD’s Learning Executive Briefing. Concurrent with her writing career, Ruth has tried every form of art she could find including: painting, printmaking (monotypes, etchings), and sculpture (stone, wood and clay). She is an avid plein air painter and is a member of Plein Air Palm Beach and the Florida Plein Air Painters.
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