In came Renoir, the bright impressionist who could make even a sunset look promising, or at least Renoir’s inspiration: Thursday afternoon, the 21st edition in the Turtle Trail, which has quietly grown into the single-largest public art project in Flagler County in the last five years, was dedicated in front of Intracoastal Bank on Palm Coast Parkway to commemorate the community bank’s 15th anniversary. Scores of supporters turned up.
The turtle is called “Renny,” inspired by Renoir’s “The Skiff,” which happens to echo the bank’s sailboat logo. “Renny” is the work of local artists Lisa Fisher and Nancy Zedar, who made the turtle their own.
“We’ve been wanting to contribute to the arts in our community,” Ryan T. Page, Intracoastal’s president, said. “We believe that art and creativity in general is integral to a well rounded life and well rounded community and been looking for a way, so this is perfect at our 15-year anniversary to do this.” It is only the second time in the trail’s geography that a turtle was situated in front of a private but publicly accessible business. The majority of the turtles are on government, school and non-profit grounds.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “The Skiff,” painted in 1875, features a sailboat in the distance, two fashionably dressed women in a rowboat in the foreground, and a steam engine in the far distance, among other motifs common to the impressionism of the era. Renoir was painting the Seine, the iconic river that crosses Paris, some 10 miles west of the city, according to the National Gallery of Art (where the painting hangs). The painting, one of many in the genre, reflects the role of water in Parisians’ leisure–a role made famous by the short stories of Maupassant, a Renoir contemporary and friend: —while Maupassant said of the painter, “He always looks on the bright side,” Maupassant said of Renoir (according to Renoir’s son, the filmmaker Jean Renoir), to which Renoir said of Maupassant: “He always looks on the dark side.”
Fisher, who specializes in computer graphics and iphonography art, and Zedar, a more traditional painter, went entirely bright, transposing Renoir’s motifs to Waterfront Park in Palm Coast, and placing a likeness of themselves themselves in the row boat, and a couple of friends in the sailboat, with numerous other humoristic touches in the painting. “We both learned a lot about Renoir and extended our comfort levels and learned new techniques in order to honor Renoir,” Fisher said, showing mockups of the project on her phone. The driving question as they worked: “What would Renoir do?”
There was a grit to Renoir that Zedar underscored: “Renoir painted up till the time he died, and he had arthritis. His last 30 years were in a wheelchair and he strapped the brush to his arm, his hand, so that he could paint.” Art, in other words, is irrepressible.
Nancy Crouch, the executive director of the fledgling Flagler County Cultural Council, may have had something to that effect in mind when, as she was presenting the unveiling to the crowd, she paused.
“I’d like to take a moment,” Crouch said, “to reflect on the tragedy that occurred in this past week at the Flagler Playhouse. The void of such activity is obvious and losing a community favorite is devastating to all of us. Volunteers are the guiding force of our arts community. It is the will of the people that drive our cultural, historical and arts initiatives. We know from sheer determination and virtue that with all of our collective health and support the Playhouse will rise from the ashes stronger and better than before.”
She then segued to the survey the cultural council has been disseminating for the past several weeks, asking the public to define the sort of cultural landscape they want to see in Flagler County in the future, while recognizing a recent past she had been a part of.
Sam Perkovich, the long-time president of the Palm Coast Arts Foundation, had initiated the Turtle Trail project under PCAF’s umbrella. Renny will be the last turtle to have PCAF’s imprint, now that the foundation has sunset. The Flagler County Cultural Council will be the new sponsor. Crouch, who had proposed the idea of a turtle trail to Perkovich when she was the foundation’s executive director, called Renny “our swan song,” at least regarding that its first phase.
But the project will continue in the same vein: an organization or a firm will sponsor the turtle wanted on a given property, artists will be chosen, ideas developed, and the work produced. The turtles aren’t cheap: “Quilty,” the sixth turtle and the only one to have been stolen, was valued at $8,000.
Once the work is completed, Flagler County public works picks up the turtles from the artists’ studios, takes them to Tom Gibbs Chevrolet, where the dealership applies an acrylic coat to protect and gloss up the turtles, then installs them at their permanent location. “This is a real community project,” Crouch said, with turtles on county and city properties, on the grounds of non-profits and, in just a couple of cases, on private land or in front of private businesses like Intracoastal.
Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin said he’s “made the journey from Monet to Renoir,” as he recalled the way five years ago the very first turtle sculpture, “Claude,” inspired by Monet, was dedicated on the grounds of the Palm Coast Arts Foundation in Town Center. That was also a collaboration between artists Paul Beaulieu and Tom Anastasio.
The turtles, he said, “have inspired us to enjoy creative cultural art in public places,” and at times in front of private businesses, like John Bramblitt’s “See” turtle, at Tomoka Eye Associates of course, and now in front of Intracoastal. “There aren’t too many locally owned community banks around anymore, whose personnel call you by name and show personal interest in your specific needs,” the mayor said.
Asked about what Palm Coast government may do to help the Playhouse, Alfin sounded a hopeful, if not yet defined, note: “What we’ll do is reach out and see if there’s something that we could do perhaps to use maybe city space if they wanted to do something to keep their performances alive between now and then. We have certain spaces. I don’t know if they’re appropriate, but that’s something I would bring up to city council and ask if we could help them bridge the gap. Because it’s going to be a long time and you don’t want to lose the enthusiasm that the Playhouse has spent many years building up. I mean, they had a very loyal clientele. So I’d like to find a way, if we can, to help.”
From a broader perspective, he said he’s “heard from so many different artists and folks that are are clamoring for more investment in arts and culture in the city. And I’m willing to take that on as a challenge.”