A few shots from the opening at Dedee Shattuck Gallery in Westport on Saturday, September 3. Such a great gathering. Thanks to Dedee Shattuck and her terrific crew, curator Jodi Stevens, fellow artist Yizhak Elyashiv and to all who were there (with a special thanks to Rebecca Adams for documenting the night with many of these photos.)

Dedee Shattuck Gallery
Deborah Barlow
Yizhak Elyashiv
August 31 – September 25
1 Partners Lane
Westport MA 02790
508 636 4177

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Carl Belz

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Carl Belz, 1937-2016 (Photo: Darryl Hughto)

So many artists have warm and heartening stories to share about Carl Belz. He was, after all, a larger than life figure in the Boston area. Some studied or worked with him at Brandeis University when he was the director of the Rose Museum. Others were championed by him in that solid, authentic way that he wrote about art he respected, art that he loved to look at and live with.

My friendship with Carl began in 2010. We struck up a writing exchange and discovered a slew of common interests. I have hundreds and hundreds of pages of our explorations in the visual arts, art criticism, contemporary culture, music, sports, our families. During that time we did a book proposal project and worked on getting all of his art writing digitized and catalogued. There were the intermittent visits to his aerie in New Hampshire, but our connection was primarily through written words.

He was an artist’s kind of writer, someone whose sensibilities were so tuned in to the interior experience of art making. He could listen rather than pronounce, soften into a work rather than bristle against it. I could always count on him to find the very words my artist sensibilities would have liked to have found but so often fell short of finding. He spoke eloquently for so many of us who were unwilling to give sway to the drift towards art that was cool, detached and ironic. His passing this week has left me bereft. There will never be a replacement for this man.

Paintings I really like I think about living with, like the paintings of Ronnie Landfield and Sandi Slone and Darryl Hughto. The worlds they take me to are generous and accommodating, pleasured by art that is meaningful in and of itself, art that is justified simply by being, like nature. I like to think there’s room in my own lived world—even in the lived world at large—for that kind of experience. I share Matisse’s dream of “an art filled with balance, purity and calmness…a spiritual remedy…for the businessman as well as the artist”—even though I’m no businessman or artist myself.

Carl Belz

To read my previous posts about Carl:
The Carl Belz Archive on Slow Muse

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Most of us have a list of artists, writers and musicians who have touched us so consistently that we are ever ready to reach out to each new work that emerges. Once ensconced in my personal hall of fame, my list of carefully chosen creatives are my personal canonicals. I show up for everything they do.

Anna Deavere Smith has been one of my canonicals for a long time. Seeing her perform Fires in the Mirror in the early 90s was a revelation. Smith’s extraordinary insight is that language changes when it is spoken, verbatim, by someone else. She exposes complex meta narratives that live below the surface of the words we choose to use. And when they are set apart, out of their native habitat, the multidimensionality is more easily deciphered.

Why this works still baffles me, but Smith has consistently demonstrated the scope of this discovery. By applying this approach to highly charged social issues, her performances are some of the most powerful contemporary examples of art engaging the political. She does this without getting tangled in the wonkiness of political action or dropping into the tiresome cliches of 24/7 news reportage.

Her latest work is Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education, now at American Rep in Cambridge. Once again she unpacks some of the most unpleasant realities of American life, ones we would rather not face—racism, inequality, educational failure, the school-to-prison pipeline, poverty, the tragic waste of human lives. In this extraordinary telling, these issues are exposed as a complex nest of interrelated problems. You can’t fix just one.

As painful and sorrow-filled as these topics are, Smith is not going to let anyone slip into passive detachment. Using her finely tuned vignettes, she brings a variety of viewpoints to bear on these topics: bureaucrats, law enforcement and prison professionals, educators, psychologists, students, policy experts, politicians, parents, cons and ex-cons. (Her performance of the pastor Jamal Bryant‘s eulogy for Freddie Gray will live on in my mind for the rest of my life.)

Wisdom abounds in the people Smith captures in her vignettes. Here’s a taste of the strong voice of Sherrilyn Ifill who heads up the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, from an interview with Smith in the Los Angeles Times:

“We’ve been spending enormous money on the back-end of the problem,” [Smith] said. “You know how much it costs to have a person incarcerated? Sherrilyn Ifill says it’s not that we’ve stopped investing in mental health resources, but that we’ve been doing it in prisons. The most eloquent people are saying these resources need to be put on the front end, so that interventions can be made in communities of poverty.

“It’s not going to be cheap, but why not spend some of the money earlier?” she asked. “Because, remember, for a long time before these people were in prison they were doing things that were not productive for society.”

Smith is a consummate performer with a highly developed sense of how theater moves us. The minimal yet sophisticated staging along with the presence and soundings of bassist Marcus Shelby speak to her pitch perfect professionalism. But the material is still tough. As Smith has said, “Because I’m a dramatist, I like moments when there’s something unsettled. I’m in this business of looking at conflict. Conflict is never absent.”

I was so moved by this work even though I do have an issue with the overall design of Doing Time. Smith’s passion is authentic and palpable, and I believe it is that verve in her that led her to make a bold decision: After the first half, the audience is broken into assigned discussion groups where theatergoers are encouraged to enter into conversation about these issues. Before we broke into groups, Smith told us she wants the audience to take an active role in these narratives. She also referenced the call and response format that is used so frequently in the collective African American culture.

The intention is honorable, but the implementation fell short. This approach might work in a less professional setting, like community theater. But Smith is so luminously spectacular at bringing these themes into form that the stark transition into awkward groups of strangers forced to interact with each other felt almost punitive. Unfortunately it also strangled the carefully crafted throughline that Smith established in the first half. While the audience was reassembled for a “coda” performance by Smith that included lynchpin vignettes from wise elders like James Baldwin and John Lewis inter alia, the essential energy of the night was concentrated unforgettably in the those first 90 minutes.

It is the raw power of that first half that has me telling everyone they must see this production. Even with a disrupted delivery format, this is Anna Deavere Smith at her most memorable. These are the social issues right in front of us, the ones we must solve now. This nest of issues, along with climate change, should be at the forefront of every debate and stump speech during an election season. That they are not speaks to the primacy of Smith’s project.

The Doing Time experience is available at the American Reperatory Theater through September 17.

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The opening reception for the show at Dedee Shattuck Gallery is two weeks from today. I hope you will stop by if you are anywhere nearby—Fall River, New Bedford, the Cape, Providence, Newport—over Labor Day weekend.

Details:

DEBORAH BARLOW
YIZHAK ELYASHIV

AUGUST 31 – SEPTEMBER 25

Reception: Saturday, September 3, 5 – 7pm

DEDEE SHATTUCK GALLERY
1 Partners Lane, Westport MA 02790
Wednesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sunday 12 – 5pm
dedeeshattuckgallery.com | 508-636-4177

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My partner Dave having a moment with Richard Diebenkorn at the Cantor Center, Stanford University

When asked for advice about how to navigate the visual art space, I increasingly say that for most of us, it is just DIY. The old atelier model of “I make the art and someone else sells it” is gone for all but the .01% of us. As one friend—a full time artist who has been successful at exhibiting and selling her work through multiple channels—tells her art students, “I have 15 different jobs in addition to being an artist, from marketing manager to bookkeeper, from carpenter to project manager.”

It isn’t just visual arts marketing that has changed over the last 10 years. Many of my friends who write and compose also talk that way. The creative arts promotional support systems that were once de rigeur have morphed into something else or have disappeared altogether, like the once ubiquitous publisher-sponsored author book launch and media tour.

As a result, creatives have to learn new skills, many of them business-oriented. When younger artists ask me for career advice I encourage them to see themselves as an artist and an entrepreneur. You make art, that’s first and foremost. But you also run a business. It’s a start up. And like most start ups, it is probably underfunded.

Many books have appeared recently with a similar message. The advice now is plentiful about the practical aspects of art making, going well beyond just studio techniques or gallery representation.

What has also emerged from this increased blending of business and the arts is the other side of that same coin. Business practices increasingly incorporate art making skills to improve product development, increase corporate creativity and stimulate innovation strategies. Along that same trajectory, a number of business schools have partnered recently with art and design schools to increase creative thinking in MBA students.

Two books released this year speak to that “art informs business” side of the coin. Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life is by Amy E. Herman. An art history graduate who went on to become an attorney, Herman returned to her primal love of visual art by creating a course that uses fine art to help first responders, doctors and other professionals increase their skills of perception. Offered through the Frick Museum in New York, her course became so successful that she captured her course content in a thoughtful and useful book.

It is sometimes easy for artists to forget that a visual orientation is similar to being born with musical talent: Some just have it, and others have to learn it from the beginning. Herman’s book brings those valuable artist-centric perceptual skills closer to people whose work lies outside the creative fields. She makes useful distinctions, like the difference between observation and perception. (Observation is the auditing of detail and is objective. Perception is how we interpret what we observe and therefore subjective. It is easy to confuse the two, and our observation skills improve when we know what alters our perceptions.) Her reliance on art to build visual acuity is a valuable aspect of her transformative work.

Another book is Art Thinking: How to Carve Out Creative Space in a World of Schedules, Budgets, and Bosses, by Amy Whitaker. Whitaker is an exceptionally credentialed go between. With an MBA as well as an MFA in painting, she speaks fluently in the languages of both business and art.

Whitaker’s book is essentially a business book, peppered with the business case studies that business book readers expect. But her ideas and approach are different from the many books on corporate innovation and creativity that I have read. Her aim is more personal, providing a set of constructs that can assist anyone—inside a corporate setting or on their own—as they embark on a new project. She advocates for many of the skills and approaches that artists will recognize. However as familiar as these approaches are to artists like me, I was inspired by how she codified her content into useful form. Her chapter titles give you a sense: From a Wide Angle; In the Weeds; To the Lighthouse; Make a Boat; To Be in the Fray; To Build a House; To See the Whole.

Here are a few samples of her ability to speak to both audiences.

To adapt a definition from Heidegger:
A work of art is something new in the world that changes the world to allow itself to exist.

Traditionally defined, art itself has a long history of scrambling the idea of efficiency. Ever since the invention of photography, making a painting at all is an act of willful inefficiency.

You need to develop habits of what I will call “studio time”—ways of setting aside empty space in the landscape of your life. Paradoxically, in order to fully access these advantages, you may need to relax your hold on goal completion and efficiency enough to even feel like you’re wasting time.

Creativity as a process only has traction with the present moment.

When I teach business to artists, I often tell them that they are asked to be generous, to put something out there before they get something back. Creative work in any field asks you to risk offering something first.

That moment of pause represents the act of being and not doing. It represents seeing and accepting things as they are, even if the reality isn’t great. That pause creates a stability and openness from which creative flexibility can develop, helping you to access your fuller capacity while not yet knowing exactly where you are going.

We create our lives, we build our workplaces, we design our society, we make our world. Art thinking is the process and business is the medium.

On a more personal level, I have seen a similar blending of business and art making when I look at my relationship with my partner Dave. He was a fresh MBA grad when I met him 37 years ago. We have spent those years teaching each other what we each know how to do, and his practices are now so much closer to mine in the studio than what they were all those years ago. I think we both do our work better for mixing things up, and Whitaker’s book is a good reminder of how valuable that cross pollination can be.

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Jamuna, pure pigment on canvas, by Natvar Bhavsar (Image: Asianart.com)

Political language is a tongue, one that is optimally designed to infiltrate both thinking and feeling at the same time. Sarah Hurwitz, speechwriter for Michelle Obama, is a master at getting words to work at all those levels at the same time. Oratory brilliance takes me straight to awe.

Writing about art is strangely similar. When done well it speaks to our cerebral consciousness as well as our emotions, those often inchoate feelings that reside somewhere in our bodies other than our brains. The best writers about art, like the best orators, know how to hit all those spots.

I wish I had those skills. I am a visualizer with a huge crush on verbal language done well, so I catalog more words than I create. This blog is a compendium of my favorite passages, the ones that have achieved that thinking/feeling connection.

Some artists can do both the visual and the verbal well. Here for example is a description of Natvar Bhavsar, an artist I admire, by the cultural cultural historian Marius Kwint:

To listen to him is to be struck by the poetic authority of his language. One is instantly brought into a world of absolute precision and infinite expanse…His speech is as much an art as his painting. His phrases are as original as the aggregations of color on his canvases, his verbal faculties no doubt honed by the fact that his art pretends to no linguistic sophistication but plays only to the foundations of our sensory-cognitive apparatuses. Bhavsar confesses to a “certain Romantic affliction with words.”

In his interview with Bhavsar, Kwint elicits this lovely passage from Bhavsar:

We have been given a very special place to understand things larger than ourselves, all the time, intuitively sometimes, and sometimes through exertion. Buddha, for example, went through all kinds of processes—hunger, torture, everything—to get knowledge, and finally decided that those were not the paths by which he could be enlightened. So he adopted the path of life, and concluded that wisdom and Enlightenment are not based on staying away from reality but on staying very close to reality and, at the same time, trying to understand it. The depths of knowledge and the depths of perseverance, and character-building—these are essential aspects of any creative process, where you submerge yourself to understand something, and not worry about the historical footnotes.

From the same monograph, Irving Sandler makes this point:

Bhavsar is attracted to pure pigment because of its physicality, and the way in which it makes color, or rather color/pigment, physical. But Bhavsar believes that the materiality can also be transmaterial or spiritual. In the West, matter and spirit are generally viewed as incompatible. But not in India.

As a way of bringing this discussion back to the political from where it began, Sandler ends his essay with this poignant claim:

Bhavsar has dealt with an issue summed up by Geeta Kapur. “The classical civilizations of the Asian region hold out a continuing lure for the transcendental. In the matrix of Asian cultures, the metaphysical is a vexed category on account of the more recent secular convictions; this is precisely a matter for an aesthetic avant-garde to tackle.” In a world wracked by national conflicts, racism, genocide, famine, pollution, ecological devastation and crime, Bhavsar’s painting is an oasis of contemplation in which alienation, desperation, despondency, rage, and other psychic wounds can be calmed, a state of repose necessary to human being.

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A solitary figure walking through an empty landscape. That feels like a good description of what this month has felt like to me.
(My daughter Kellin, walking the beach at Duxbury a few years ago)

Years of solitude had taught him that, in one’s memory, all days tend to be the same, but that there is not a day, not even in jail or in the hospital, which does not bring surprises, which is not a translucent network of minimal surprises.

Jorge Luis Borges

 

The invisible, although it keeps itself hidden, makes itself felt. I cannot see the people I love as I write this, but I can sense their pull, and I act as I do because of their existence. Taken literally, that is how the cosmos works. An invisible mass alters the orbit of a comet; dark energy affects the acceleration of a supernova; the earth’s magnetic field tugs on birds, butterflies, sea turtles, and the compasses of mariners. The whole realm of the visible is compelled by the invisible. Our planet, our solar system, our galaxy, our universe: all of it, all of us, are pushed, pulled, spun, shifted, set in motion, and held together by what we cannot see.

Kathryn Schulz

 

What we overlook is that underneath the ground of our beliefs, opinions, and concepts is a boundless sea of uncertainty. The concepts we cling to are like tiny boats tossed about in the middle of the vast ocean. We stand on our beliefs and ideas thinking they’re solid, but in fact, they (and we) are on shifting seas.

Steve Hagen

 

An image is a stop the mind makes between uncertainties.

Djuna Barnes

 

The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.

Ursula K. Le Guin

 

Art’s true power comes from its ability to surprise, to turn down unexpected paths, sometimes despite the protests of the artist creating the work. These moments of revelation, which can be charged with fear and exultation, are the lynchpins of all artistic experience and the source of its value. The only path I have found to these moments of inspiration is the hard work of putting the first mark down, then the next.

Stan Berning

 

I’m heads down in the studio this month. These quotes expose—and relish—the importance of surprise, the unknown and the power of uncertainty. Helpful reminders all to staying open and humble.

I hope to be more fluent with my own words next month. That’s the idea anyway!

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George Wingate is a life long friend and an artist whose explorations have always been engagingly 360. His work has a staggering range. Most recently he has been mastering the weekend only installation: transforming empty storefronts, exhibit spaces or even the homes of friends.

This past weekend George expanded that pop up skill set to bring the indoor and the outdoor closer together, and he chose to do it on his own turf in Wenham MA. Partnering with the husband/wife ceramic team of Daryl and David Townsley, this latest Wingate installation is a feast, from his wonderfully worn and evocative barn studio to the exquisite gardens that surround his home. For urbanites like me who are garden-denied, this is pretty much pure nirvana. And the husband/wife dynamic was also at play with George since he and his wife Penny Wingate are jointly responsible for the lush world you can see in the photos below.

Note: I have documented some earlier Wingate installations on Slow Muse. Those links are listed at the bottom of this post.

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Reception in the breezeway

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Helping out with sales, Emma

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Into the rafters

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Uppage. Another neologism, thank you George

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George, in joy

For more George:

In Water Opens
Up Stairs In Sight: George Wingate
Another Wingate Moment
Take Me Deep: The Dark Room

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Untitled #5 1994 Agnes Martin 1912-2004 ARTIST ROOMS  Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/AR00177

Untitled #5 1994 Agnes Martin 1912-2004 ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d’Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/AR00177

Writing about the Agnes Martin exhibit that began at the Tate, moved to Düsseldorf, now at LACMA and (finally!) coming east to the Guggenheim in October, Hilton Als touches on some of my favorite aspects of Martin’s work.

From The Heroic Art of Agnes Martin, in the New York Review of Books:

On solitude and art making:

“We have been very strenuously conditioned against solitude,” she observes in her wonderful collection of writing. “To be alone is considered to be a grievous and dangerous condition…. I suggest that people who like to be alone, who walk alone will perhaps be serious workers in the art field.” Being an art worker was, she felt, a privilege, and one’s apprenticeship took as long as it took; art was not a race. “To live truly and effectively the idea of achievement must be given up,” she wrote in 1981 in an open letter to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Put unsentimental piety first, turn your back on the world, and get on with it.

On a relationship with nature:

Walking through the show, one can see how ultimately unsuited Martin was to be a hard-core Abstract Expressionist; the movement was too noisy, and what did she have to do with bop, the Beats, that wall of sound and bodies that wanted to shout the squares down in favor of “kicks”? Martin was interested not in discord but in harmony. While Jackson Pollock said he was nature, Martin strove to represent how nature made her feel or should make us feel—humble, free. Nature was to her what it was to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “transparent eye” in his transcendentalist masterpiece, “Nature” (1836)—a space unrivaled in its ability to inspire and transform.

Emerson’s idealism—“Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us”—was not unlike Martin’s. Often, in her lovely, empathic writing, she tries to communicate what being an artist must mean if one is going to make real work: becoming a conduit of the beautiful, that which cannot be explained.

On the grid and how to encounter her work:

She used the grid as a forum for belief—a space where the viewer as well as the artist could contemplate the hand making the thing being observed. In her well-considered 1971 appreciation of the artist, Kasha Linville wrote:

Once you are caught in one of her paintings, it is an almost painful effort to pull back from the private experience she triggers to examine the way the picture is made. The desire to simply let yourself flow through it, or let it flow through you, is much stronger…. Her paintings exert themselves differently, depending on their line, their pattern, and the quality of the ground color on the canvas. Some are less lyrical, evincing aggression or tension…. Others suggest spaciousness or vast space, again without using illusionistic devices or the egotistical implication of infinitely extendible surface.

One pauses at the extraordinary line “the egotistical implication of infinitely extendible surface.” Unlike her male predecessors, not to mention contemporaries, Martin didn’t use the grid as a means of describing the infinite—the infinite “I” of being an artist. Instead, her work ends at the canvases’ edge.One begins and then one finishes; the grace is in the doing. Her touch was her personality… “Line is where she speaks most personally,” Linville said. “It is her vocabulary as the grids are her syntax.”

Making mystery “a solid object”:

Morris and Bell’s show is a commendable map that reveals Martin making her way, step by step, her pilgrim-like progress measured against all those flat skies, fields, trees, bodies of water, barely expressed emotions that made up her home. Before she left New York and gave up making work for seven years, Martin made a series of drawings and paintings, starting in 1963, that bled color out of her art…In those works and others she was trying to make mystery a solid object. When she returned to her art in 1973, the title she gave to the graphically strong, stark, black-and-white prints she produced first said it all, certainly with respect to the atmosphere that New Mexico could provide her with, day after day as she worked out there, blissfully alone: On a Clear Day.

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In Water, an exhibit currently on view at the Beyond Benign Gallery in Wilmington Massachusetts

Putting this show together, getting it installed and then celebrating with friends—pure pleasure. Thank you to so many who contributed to this effort: The great staff under Amy Cannon at Beyond Benign, Jerry Beck at the Revolving Museum, John Warner of Warner Babcock, all the artists who participated and especially my co-installer George Wingate, art playmate extraordinaire all these many years. (We shared a space in New York City in 1973. Yeah, it’s been a lifetime.)

Information about the exhibit and the gallery is here. If you are in the area, please stop in. While you won’t have the pleasure of hearing the soundtrack of water-themed music or drink wines with water-related names (very cool attention to detail, Amy!) this exploration into water by 6 different artists will be up through October 25.

A few installation shots of In Water (with work by Deborah Barlow, Kay Canavino, Rachael Eastman, Barbara Gagel, Susan Quateman and George Wingate) along with a few other photos:

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Intimate ink drawings by Rachael Eastman on the first gallery wall

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George Wingate’s diagonal installation is an indicator, a pointer, a propeller, a marker

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We wanted this second gallery to feel “bathyspheric”, as if submerged and surrounded by water

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On the left, encaustic monoprints by Barbara Gagel

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From the left: A mixed media painting by me, another encaustic monoprint by Barbara Gagel, and silk painting and photograph by Susan Quateman

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Two underwater photographs by Kay Canavino

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Hand cut and assembled, George Wingate created the In Water frieze along the upper wall

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Set up with George Wingate

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Special help arrived when Kerry Cudmore showed up

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Reception prep

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Jerry Beck, Amy Cannon (partial view) and Barbara Gagel

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Lesli Gordon along with unexpected guests from Saratoga Springs, Colleen Burke and Doodles

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Winner of the prize for the longest journey: Linda Gibbs (along with the Michaels, her husband and her brother) who drove up from Mamaroneck New York to be with Rachael Eastman and me

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