Tag Archives: art

Paul Arsenault: An Artist’s Journey

Paul Arsenault, Paul Arsenault: My Journey as a Painter. Banyan Arts Social and Pleasure Club.  156 pages. $65.00.

To suggest that artist Paul Arsenault has led an improvised life may risk implying that his path has had no direction. That’s not it at all. Mr. Arsenault’s life has themes, goals, and – though perhaps less than some of our lives – plans. Still, he has been open to chance, and that openness has paid him and all of us back in astounding measure.  Travel being a defining necessity throughout his career, this curious wanderer has traveled from one place to another, always ready to seize an unexpected opportunity, ready to improvise the next step when connections bog down or money runs low.  He has bartered instant (or nearly so) paintings for a room at the inn. PaulArsenaultMuralPortrait

What for some is “playing it by ear” is for Paul Arsenault playing it by eye and by intuition. Like the speaker in Theodore Roethke’s great American poem “The Waking,” this determined artist might say, “I learn by going where I have to go.” Some call it living in the moment.

The impression on the beholder of Mr. Arsenault’s paintings is of viewing vistas caught in the moment. Often enough, and with deliberateness, his paintings capture seaside villages, quiet but colorful neighborhoods, and architectural specimens on the edge of change. There are no contemporary cityscapes. No portraits. There is the interweaving of nature and culture. Mostly, Mr. Arsenault’s canvases hold “nature methodized,” as Alexander Pope wrote, the tamed nature of human habitation. The garden more often than the wilderness. In his paintings, Paul Arsenault is a conservator of what might be gone tomorrow.

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Because he has made his home base in Naples, Florida since the mid-1970s (with plenty of roving around the world), Mr. Arsenault’s paintings of Naples and Florida in general are well known in his community. What his entrancing new book offers, both for him and for us, is an opportunity to absorb and measure the broader achievement: New England (with homage to Gloucester and Nantucket), many other North American locations, the Caribbean (his stories of Dominica are marvelous), the Pacific islands, Central and South America, Europe, Asia and Indonesia. More recently, he has done his work of preservation through art in Hawaii, where he and his wife Eileen have another home.

What the book has done for its author, I believe, is to reacquaint him with parts of his own story, elements of his legacy, with which even he had partly lost touch. He is excited about what the long journey has added up to so far, and that excitement has energized the future. In allowing his story-telling to frame the paintings, the painter-author has reengaged with them and rebalanced his identity as a creator. . . .

To read this feature article in its entirety, along with an excerpt from Mr. Arsenault’s book and a sampling of his paintings, see the January 24, 2013 Naples Florida WeeklyFlorida Weekly – Arsenault 1 and Florida Weekly – Arsenault 2. It also appears in the Bonita Springs edition, but without the illustrations.

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Guy LaBree’s Brushstrokes: A Tribute to the Seminole Nation

Guy LaBree: Barefoot Artist of the Florida Seminoles, by Carol Mahler. University Press of Florida. 232 pages. 42 color plates. $34.95.

[photo below shows Guy LaBree and Carol Mahler]

The attractive book is at once oral history, biography, art education, a glimpse into Seminole culture, and a generous portfolio of the work of an outstanding self-taught artist. Carol Mahler manages to tell not only a good deal about the life of Guy LaBree, but also about the life of each painting.

As Ms. Mahler traces Mr. LaBree’s early years growing up in the community of Dania, near Fort Lauderdale, she details his grade school friendships with the Seminole children from the Dania Reservation who were his schoolmates. Many of those relationships have lasted until today. Young Guy formed a bond with the Seminole people that matured and deepened over the years. He was fascinated by their traditions. In time, Guy LaBree became their spokesman in paint. That is, he translated their stories, legends, and way of life into a glorious series of vivid, respectful, and celebratory paintings. The respect was mutual, as Seminole leaders opened up to him, repeating their people’s narratives over and over until Mr. LaBree – always ready to ask questions and hear another version – knew them as if he had been reared with them.

To see the review in its entirety, as it appears in the May 12-18, 2010 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 13-19 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Carol Mahler – Guy LaBree

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BOOK BEAT 14 – Millie Clarkson

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   October 11-17, 2006

by Philip K. Jason

In February of 2005, Millie Clarkson attended the Naples Press Club’s Authors & Books Festival. Not only did she enjoy meeting agents, authors, and publishers and participating in Writers’ Conference workshops – but she also made the connection that led to the publication of her new book, Edna Hibel: An Artist’s Story of Love and Compassion. Jan Fehrman was on a panel representing Pelican Publishing, and when Clarkson asked if Pelican might be interested in her book proposal, Fehrman encouraged her to provide more information, which she did. “Meeting in person like that is what I think resulted in my big break.” Clarkson also made many good friends there: “The very best thing . . . was meeting other aspiring authors.”

Dubuque-born Millie Clarkson had a great Midwestern childhood filled with love, good family, sports, and religion. Marrying quite young, by twenty-one she had three children and a husband who suffered from mental problems. His condition deteriorated when the family moved to Elgin, Illinois, and as Clarkson approached thirty, she realized that she’d have to be the breadwinner while staying at home to watch over her children. Not having a college education, she drew upon her high school hobby and opened a ceramic studio in her basement. She sold her own work and gave lessons.

Following her divorce, Clarkson took the opportunity to sell her ceramics at a Santa’s Village in nearby Dundee, where she developed a prosperous business that employed fourteen young girls. She worked off-season as a painter, decorator, and publicity assistant. Then Clarkson learned to teach ice skating at the Polar Ice Rink that was part of Santa’s Village. Moving her family to Rowayton, Connecticut, in the early seventies, Clarkson taught at the Darien Ice Rink, eventually directing the skating school and became assistant manager of the facility.

Proximity to the writer-rich town of Westport inspired Clarkson to try yet another career – that of author. This ambition, and the desire to keep growing, led her to enroll in Norwalk Community College, attending classes before and after work.

Still in self-improvement mode, Clarkson started jogging, and she soon entered nearby races. On her fortieth birthday, she completed the New York Marathon. She became friends with sports legend Jim Fixx, author of The Complete Book of Running, who taught her the importance of being the first to publish within an area of expertise. At that time triathlons were in their infancy. Disregarding her fear of the swimming and biking components, she entered a triathlon. Clarkson was determined to become a published author, and her triathlon training was a step toward entering an Ironman competition and then writing about it.  

Clarkson received quite a bit of publicity after her first Ironman in 1982. Norelco Consumer Products Division, located in Stamford, gave her a four-month trial sponsorship the week before she went to Hawaii for a second Ironman, sending her off with sportswear embossed with the Norelco logo to promote Norleco’s healthcare products.

ABC Sports covered the event and highlighted participants with problems like cancer and diabetes. Clarkson was chosen to represent the older divorced woman. She finished the race, which was plagued by extreme wind and by a woman who had scattered nails over the course the night before the race. One minute before the midnight deadline, with the camera crews filming the last few hours, Clarkson finished the race.

She received a lot of human-interest publicity for Norelco, who had hired her for a national tour giving speeches, interviews and appearing on radio and television talk shows along with participating in marathons, triathlons and races in the cities she visited.

This experience and exposure led to her first book.  Low- Stress Fitness was published in 1985, and Norelco financed a national book tour. Clarkson’s job was to get in a plug for Norelco healthcare products and keep wearing clothes with Norelco’s logo. 

After ten years of grandmothering, decorating, cooking, and gardening, Clarkson got antsy again and enrolled at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas,  receiving an “Older Adults Specialty Certificate” and a Physical Fitness Specialist (Personal Trainer) Certification. She worked at Fiddlers Creek for four years, as well as several other fitness clubs in Naples, teaching Pilates, Tai Chi and Yoga.

Did I say Naples? While visiting her parents in Naples in 1986, Clarkson met a gentleman named Jim, whom she would marry soon after. It was love on the Naples tennis courts. They built homes in Naples as well as on Lake Muskoka in Ontario and now split the year between these two homes, spending October to May in Naples.

2001 found Clarkson working on her second book, Low-Stress Family Fitness. She spent the whole summer trying to obtain an agent. A few show some interest, but when 9/11 came, Clarkson rethought her priorities.  She decided to spend more time with her children and grandchildren, and she put writing aside.

Millie Clarkson first met Edna Hibel at the Gift Tree, an upscale, classy shop in Naples that was one of the premier outlets for Hibel’s art. After learning more about Hibel, she decided to invest in Hibel’s art, which she had first encountered some forty years earlier when all she could afford was a box of Hibel-designed note cards. As Clarkson began walking the beach the next day, she thought about writing a magazine article on Edna Hibel. By the end of the four-mile walk, the idea had become a book.

Clarkson then negotiated an agreement with Edna Hibel and her husband and family.  Clarkson was charged with doing the writing and find a good publisher and the others with providing the artwork. At some point, Edna and her husband desired to become co-authors. This was an added thrill for Clarkson, who collected Hibel quotes from the masses of research material they provided her in order to craft the Hibel sections. Theodore Plotkin, Hibel’s husband, made his own contribution, as did their son Andy.

On many occasions, Clarkson scolded herself for choosing a ninety-year-old rather than some twenty-year-old to write about. Hibel is an incredibly prolific artist who still wakes at 5am and works most of the day. Establishing Hibel’s career chronology was a monumental task. Eventually, the research and the manuscript were completed, but not without problems.

Mother Nature did not cooperate. Hurricane Frances destroyed Hibel’s studio in September, 2004. In 2005, Katrina devastated Pelican Publishing, located in Gretna, Louisiana. Clarkson returned to Naples a few days before Wilma, which played havoc with her computer and her nerves. The manuscript was supposed to be finished by the end of September 2005, but the contracts had not been signed by everyone involved until the middle of January, so the publisher gave Clarkson another month.

“We did it,” Clarkson wrote to me in early September, “and I can’t wait to see the printed copy!”

In Edna Hibel: An Artist’s Story of Love and Compassion, Clarkson relates Hibel’s upbringing by her European immigrant parents. Readers learn about the young girl’s general schooling and formal art training in and around Boston. Over and over, Clarkson stresses Hibel’s determination to improve. We learn of the artists and teachers who influenced Hibel, but we also discover a strong-minded individual determined to make her own mark. Hibel postponed developing her career until her children had entered their teens. Then her career flourished, with many notable exhibits and eventually her own galleries and a great number of devoted collectors.

Clarkson describes how Hibel’s world-wide travels brought her inspiration and audiences. Then came the Hibel Museum. Always adventurous, Hibel branched out beyond painting to lithography, seriography, ceramic plate and figure design. She lived to be the center of a family business as well as a living legend in the art world. All of this Clarkson relates meticulously and lovingly, and she explores Hibel’s themes and techniques as well. Most of all, Clarkson accounts for Edna Hibel’s broad appeal – the spiritual dimension of her art. Given her determination and her adventurous nature, Edna Hibel sounds a lot like Millie Clarkson.

This abundantly illustrated book is at once scholarly and personal; it is also accessible and attractively produced.

Readers can find out more about the subject of Millie Clarkson’s book at Hibel.com.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at pjason@aol.com.

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