Updated: Mar 29
Growing up I always loved History and English. I loved reading, writing, and hearing stories of amazing people, events, and how they might connect. In short, I loved learning, and still do. It has always amazed me how small the world really is, and how many creative and brilliant people there are all around us.
As a teacher for decades now, it has been especially amazing to see the natural abilities, creativity, and determination in my students. So many beautiful souls, with so much to offer the world. What a gift and privilege it is to help influence and shape a child’s life in some small way, and then to watch them take flight. Some students I have had for a short season, and others for years. Most though, have stayed in my life in some shape, way, or form through the years…and my life is richer because of that!
If you are anything like me, you will recognize that there are people afraid to celebrate other’s accomplishments for fear that they may detract from their own. There are also those so insecure they will go to great lengths to silence others and try desperately to extinguish the light God gave them, for fear it will outshine their own. This, of course, is not true. The more you celebrate those around you, the brighter everyone shines.
One of my favorite quotes is by Erma Bombeck. She said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would have not a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything You gave me.’”
I have been privileged to know many amazing people in my lifetime. One such person who has had a lasting impact on my life is the late prolific sculptor, Frederick Hart. He most certainly used everything God gave him, and then some! Although it was three decades ago that I had his sons in my studio and modeled for two of his pieces, it seems like yesterday.
Rick, Lindy, and their two sons Lain and Zander were a part of my very first Summer performance series held at the Front Royal/Warren County 4-H Amphitheater back in 1988, as well as subsequent Summers. Those were charmed days for sure. In my youth I did not realize the importance of Rick’s work. Sitting for him though was one of the highlights of my life, and when I finally saw pictures of the finished sculptures after his death, I wept.
It has been a blessing and honor to remain friends with his family, and to see how they are carrying on Rick’s work and preserving his amazing legacy. While future Blogs will introduce you to Lindy and Zander, let me introduce you to the very talented, brilliant, and oh so sweet Lain Hart…
What is your favorite childhood memory of your dad?
For many years, my father was afraid of flying. When we took family trips down to Florida together, to visit my grandfather, we took a train. Then, when his career started taking off, I guess he felt like he had a lot of gallery events to attend. He must have felt like he really had to conquer this fear. So, he did it.
By the time I was eleven or twelve, my father had completely overcome his fear of flying. He was taking trips on planes pretty regularly. One time, he and I were flying together. I can’t remember exactly why, but it was just the two of us sat together. In the two seats in front of us, there was a young couple, and when the plane hit a patch of turbulence, the woman got really upset. Her husband tried to console her. Clearly, she was afraid of flying, and every time the plane shook, she started crying.
I remember them having a really hard time. I think the flight attendant even came over. Then my father tapped the woman on the shoulder. He explained to her that he himself had once been afraid of flying. He started telling her what he done to get over it. He told her what worked, and what didn’t work, and he just kept talking, joking around with her, until the woman calmed down completely. She just kept listening to what he said, and when the plane shook, it didn’t seem to bother her so much. Everybody was laughing. She was sort of embarrassed. She and her husband were both really grateful. It seems like a small thing now, but at the time, to me, my father was this hero, this person who helped a stranger, this leader who calmed the whole situation.
What are your memories from your Summers spent at the N VA Academy of Ballet?
I feel like I can picture the place perfectly. I remember the main studio, the large room with wood floors where we practiced. When I picture it, I hear music? To me it’s a place with a special purpose. It’s a place dedicated to beauty, like a garden, or a shrine. All the surfaces reflect beauty and resonate with beauty.
I remember the smaller rooms off the main room, too, where we worked on set design. I loved that. I remember doing chalk drawings on the sidewalk outside. I remember our performances. I remember my costume. And I remember the people, of course. I remember you, and a teacher named “La,” and all of the other students, my “Puss-in-Boots” cast-mates!
A little bird told me (your mom) that you still remember choreography from one Summer spent at the NVAB - Is that true?
Maybe — but I think it might be physically impossible for me to achieve fifth position!
How did dance fit into your life, and your family’s life in Fauquier/Rappahannock/Warren County, and in what way did it inform you as you moved through life?
In the context of my life, and my family’s life, I’ve noticed some pretty interesting connections with ballet. One really interesting connection has to do with my father’s sculpture, “Ex Nihilo.” A few years ago, Graham Lustig choreographed a ballet, “Between Stillness,” using “Ex Nihilo” for inspiration. The postures of the dancers in the ballet are modeled on the figures in my father’s sculpture. Lustig apparently spent a whole morning in front of the cathedral, studying those figures, and then he created this ballet. It’s meant to express the same idea, the idea of coming into being. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it, but my mom has. This is something she and I both like, going to the ballet, and I try to take advantage of every opportunity I get to go with her. Hopefully, I’ll be able to see “Between Stillness” soon!
Also, I am reminded of ballet whenever I practice yoga. Of course, I’m not as diligent about it as I’d like to be, but yoga has been a fairly consistent thing in my life for over ten years now. Especially when I’m being disciplined about it, when I get into a solid yoga routine, it feels really good.
Did you realize at the time that I was modeling for your dad? What was that like to know or meet the models and then see your dad’s finished pieces?
No, I did not realize at the time that you were modeling for my dad, but I think that was pretty typical. Growing up, one of my best friends was Jan Ford, and his older sister, Isabella, even babysat my brother and me when we were younger. Many years later, I recognized Isabella’s face in one of my father’s sculptures. Up to that point, I had no idea that she had sat for him, or if I had been told, I had forgotten.
I do remember meeting some of the models who stayed at our house. For instance, whenever I see “The Herald,” I remember meeting the man who modeled for it, and I’m pretty sure his name was Ken, but I’m also aware of the fact that I never really knew much more about him than that. At the time, it was very normal stuff to me. Even a little boring. There was nothing unusual about it. It was just parent stuff. As a kid, I just assumed this sort of thing was not so different from what anyone would do for work.
I guess the big exception to that is Jim Connell. He is the Marine who modeled for the central figure in the statue at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He became good friends with my dad. One time, when my dad was mad at me, Jim came to my room and gave me a bit of a talking to. And Jim has a real presence. I think that’s why my father saw him as the central figure of that group. But in person he’s the nicest guy, very positive, very thoughtful. He was a real role model for me when I was growing up.
Your parents were ordinary people with such extraordinary gifts of grace, and beauty; and had such an ability to portray that through volumes of work. Did you realize as a child the impact that your dad’s work was having or would have on the world? If not, at what point in your growth and development as a young man did you realize?
When I was growing up, and living at home, none of it seemed unusual. At the time, I assumed that what my father did for a living was not so different from what anyone did for a living. Naturally, after I left home, I acquired a whole different perspective. But it didn’t happen overnight, and it’s not easy to explain. Nor is it easy to explain how I feel about this now, how I feel about the impact that my dad’s work has had on the world. My ideas about this are always changing, but there is one thing I saw recently which struck me as an illustration of the impact that I think my father was trying to achieve.
In 2013, I attended a festival called Burning Man. It’s a pretty big art festival, which brings together a few thousand people each year. It has a pretty fearsome reputation for sex, drugs, and mayhem. But Burning Man, for me, turned out to be something very different.
The festival takes place in the desert, where the whole place is shrouded in dust. Through this cloud of dust, you glimpse works of art. There are thousands of them. Rising up out of the dust, and towering over all the other works of art, you see one colossal crystal figure: “Truth is Beauty.”
“Truth is Beauty” is over fifty feet tall. Sculpted by Marco Cochrane, it depicts a woman in a ballerina pose. What struck me most was that pose. It seemed as if the figure had stepped right out of one of my father’s sculptures and assumed a monumental size. In fact, sculpting an enormous monument out of clear acrylic was one of my father’s great unfinished projects. It had been one of his dreams, which he never achieved before he died. Based what he created on a smaller scale, based on what his artistic vision might have been, I imagine that the work he wanted to create might have looked something like “Truth is Beauty.” I really think my father would have liked to see that. I think it would have made him feel pretty cheerful about the future of art in America.
Can you tell me a little bit about what you are doing to carry on and preserve his work? I want to hear about your mom and brother’s work as well – hence the three-part blog posting – but fill me in on all the wonderful things you are doing.
In 2017, we established the Frederick E. Hart Foundation for Educational Opportunity. This grew out of my teaching experience. At the time, I was working in the immigrant, refugee, and asylum-seeker community in the Bay Area of California, mainly in San Francisco and Oakland, where we provide free SAT classes for high school students, and U.S. Citizenship Test lessons for adults.
Some of these neighborhoods are pretty rough. The people there face a lot of the same problems that people in any low-income community face, but for immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers, these problems are compounded. We actually had to adjust the scheduling of some of the classes based on the time of year. If the classes end after dark, students don’t come. People with minimal English-language skills are often targeted by muggers.
But it’s really rewarding work. I’ve had students go on to great schools, like UC-Berkeley. I get texts from adult students when they pass their citizenship tests. Going to college, getting citizenship — this is the kind of thing that can really make a difference in a person’s life. It can even make a difference to an entire family. It feels like we are really making an impact. As teaching goes, what could be better than that?
Recently, too, we’ve gotten involved in the community in Hayward, California, where my girlfriend is from. This is another town in the East Bay, just a few minutes away from Oakland. It happens to be one of the worst school districts in the country. It’s a place that’s experiencing a lot of problems, a lot of pressures. Like a lot of other places in America these days, it’s a struggle for people to get a hold of basic necessities, like food, housing, healthcare, and education. We are just trying to help make sure young people have something like a normal life. I think of it as a way to give back, to make things right. Thanks to my father, and his achievements, I’ve been able to take advantage of a lot of opportunities that aren’t available to a lot of other people.
I am a writer of children’s picture books. I would love to hear about your upcoming Writer’s Conference in Italy that you are the Co-Founder of.
This grew out of my teaching experience, too. At Saint Mary’s College of California, I got to know some of the writers who taught in the graduate program, including Thomas Cooney. He’s helping me organize the Leopardi Writing Conference. Another friend of mine is a PhD candidate at an Italian university, and when I went to visit him three years ago, we discovered the perfect location. It’s a town called Recanati: Small, walkable, packed with peculiar old buildings, surrounded by beautiful parks, and full of great little restaurants, it’s the perfect place for a writing conference. You have the feel of a writing retreat — inspiring scenery, tranquility — but also plenty of opportunities for enjoying life with the rest of the group.
Also, Recanati happens to be the birthplace of Giacomo Leopardi, one of the most famous poets in Italy. Though he is rather less well-known in the English-speaking world, I think Leopardi is actually a really fascinating author, who deserves a bit more international attention. He wrote in the early nineteenth century and led an intriguing life. There are a lot of great places you can visit in Recanati to find out more about his work. The thought behind it is complex, and I am not sure exactly how to describe it. Humanist or pessimist? Classicist or Romantic? There is a thickness to Leopardi’s work that resists classification.
This year, we have a pretty amazing line-up for the conference. Actually, I have no idea how we did it, but we got some really outstanding authors to be our workshop leaders and guest speakers. I’m really looking forward to seeing them and meeting the students.
I remember reading a piece by Tom Wolfe that he wrote about your dad. He spoke about how your dad was being ignored in the Art world, and modern pieces of junk metal being thrown together were talked about instead of the prolific sculptures your father did, most especially The Vietnam War Memorial of the Three Soldiers. Your father was clearly given amazing gifts by God, and he used them to create works that are all over the world. His works reside in the homes of Kings and Queens, and Senators and Presidents, and at the Vatican in Rome. How has your perspective of his work changed through the years?
Recently, I had an opportunity to meditate on this a bit.
Back when my father was alive, and throughout most of the period of time when we were living together as a family, he worked in a studio down the hill from our house. I’m sure you remember it! The studio was so nearby that my brother and I often wandered down there for one reason or another. There were a lot of woods behind the studio, and we had our birthday parties there. The shed for the mower and the yard-work tools lay next-door. It was a very familiar place.
A little while after he died, the contents of his studio were packed away. My mother worked hard to find a place where his studio could be recreated, and eventually she settled on Nashville, Tennessee. The idea was to connect it to a school, and make it accessible to the public, so that art students and others would be able to come see how my father worked.
Just before the opening of the Frederick Hart Studio, my mother, my brother, and I went to Nashville to put the finishing touches on the recreation. We were using authentic pieces of sculpture and tools from the studio itself, things which had been packed away for years. Here were all the gargoyles and little clay studies that I remembered seeing in my father’s studio, things which had become so familiar, only to disappear, only to come back to life again. It was a wonderful feeling, and my mother, my brother, and I had the best time.
Now, when you enter the Frederick Hart Studio, one of the first things you see is a portrait of James E. Webb, who was the Director of NASA in the 1960s. It’s definitely not my dad’s most famous work, and I don’t think the bronze casting is even displayed at the Air and Space Museum anymore, which is too bad, because it’s a really well-done sculpture. There’s this sense of life in the eyes, something soft about the surfaces of the neck and face. I think it’s the kind of portrait that draws you in, and forces you to stare at it, to wonder what sort of person this James E. Webb was — and this was one of the first sculptures that my father ever made!
The experience left me with a much greater appreciation of my father’s skill as a sculptor. Growing up, I suppose I just assumed that my father’s abilities came perfectly naturally, as easily as any natural talent. Now, of course, I realize that’s not really the way anything works. As an adult, what I have now is a much greater appreciation of my dad’s discipline, his skill as a craftsman. The local Nashville sculptors who installed the statues in the studio said some really kind, generous things about that. In fact, one of the sculptors could hardly believe that my father used the traditional techniques that he did — time-worn techniques, he said, which are risky to attempt, and difficult to master.
What piece or pieces of your dad, resonate with you the most?
That’s a tough one. At the moment, I’d say the piece that resonates with me the most is “The Source." I think it shows my father’s skill as a sculptor, his skill not just in representing details realistically, but in composing a powerful work of art.
“To create a sense of movement in an object that is at rest” — this has been said to be the task of the sculptor, and I think my father accomplished that in “The Source.” I think he accomplished that in the movement of water over the orb, in the sweep of the woman’s cloak, and in the dramatic glimpses he offers of her face and hands.
But I think there’s even more to it than that. I think this is one of those works of art that not only makes an initial impact, it rewards a lot of attention. When you look at “The Source” closely, you realize that it is not just a pleasant image. When you look at the details, the representational components, and the abstract components, you see that they fit together. “The Source” has unity. When you step back, you see that it works in a complete way. Its presence is its meaning. “The Source” is art embodied, mystery embodied. A figure never fully seen. The source of inspiration.
tempted to say it’s his masterpiece. Among a lot of my friends and family, “The Source” is a favorite, but I’m not sure if they interpret it in the same way that I do, as a revelation of the creative process, as a representation of “the source of inspiration.” Maybe that’s because I’ve been thinking about this process a lot lately.
Just recently, after the Frederick Hart Studio opened, I posted a few things about the studio online. That was when a guy I knew in high school got back in touch. I had always known him to be a really talented artist, and he sent me a picture. He had gotten two of the figures from “Ex Nihilo” tattooed on his arm!
I was blown away. Partly, I guess, there’s this feeling of pride. An incredible feeling of pride. Pride in the knowledge that this work of art actually matters to someone else. It matters so much to him that he would actually put it on his own skin! That’s amazing. But what I think I like even more is that it’s about one work of art leading to the creation of another work of art. When a work of art serves as a source of inspiration, it’s like something inside it wakes up. It’s a process, a reconfiguration, a reinvention — like the ballet, “Between Stillness” — and, in my view, nothing could be better than that!
Is there anything you’d like to share with our families, especially boys, about your time at the NVAB?
What is actually happening is that you have begun to arrive at that age when society starts to value your body in a very different way from the way that it did when you were a child.
Therefore, your understanding of your own body, your understanding of yourself, is in a state of transformation, and you are now facing all kinds of pressure. This pressure is likely to come from people your own age, from people older than you, and even (it will seem) from inside you. This is the pressure to make your body fit into certain forms, the pressure to look a certain way, dress a certain way, eat a certain way, exercise a certain way, carry yourself a certain way, run a certain way, walk a certain way, and talk a certain way — and even pose for pictures a certain way.
Instead of focusing on all that, focus on ballet. This will give you a way to think about yourself, and what you are able to accomplish with your body, which is superior to anything that anyone could possibly offer to you for this purpose.
Ballet is a store of knowledge. It is an accumulation of wealth. As you share in the beauty of ballet, help yourself to everything that you find. Take possession of what you discover and furnish your mind with it. Decorate your thoughts with the splendor of remembered images, choreography, and songs. Appreciating these things is important. As you go through life, remembering and appreciating beautiful things, beautiful people, and beautiful times will help you grow more and more attentive, more and more capable of recognizing and reproducing that beauty.
June 8, 2019
You can find Lain hard at work on his upcoming conference and his foundation here...
Lain is in the process of moving,across country, and I'm in the process of moving across town - ballet pictures will follow when one of us can unearth them, but for now enjoy the lovely photos below...