| by Krista Madsen |
Lannie Hart’s Southern accent really emerges when she starts talking about her beloved mayfly sculpture in progress. It’s larger than life. Or more like mammoth. One wing alone is 10-feet tall, and when the steel rod armature is wrapped in bright swaths of rubber it looks like it could set sail.
Hart lives in Sleepy Hollow but she’s been coming to a fabrication shop, Third Rail, in an industrial corner of New Rochelle to work daily leading up to the big May reveal. On the day of my visit, there were two welding warrior women nearby with formidable headgear to protect themselves from the sparks flying from their metal constructions; upstairs is a jewelry studio. The owner of this creative space, Bob Gregson, was Hart’s instructor at a Silvermine Arts Center class in Connecticut. She’s been renting here for six months.
“It’s good to be around people,” Hart said, both for the safety aspect when working with such machinery and for the potential helping hand with the heavy lifting.
Hart has been commissioned to construct this super-sized creature for LIGHTSCAPES, the “walk-through land art experience” (reads the promo) at Croton’s Van Cortlandt Manor, with all kinds of fantastical creations illuminating many May nights. Historic Hudson Valley (HHV), owner and operator of six historic sites in the region, won a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts to commission six such spectacular works for the second year of this growing event. Joining Hart’s mayfly will be a golden frog prince, a giant head for the caterpillar tunnel, a mother lizard brooding over her eggs, a Delft-patterned bunny, and a growing swarm of bottle-body fireflies.
Hart is well suited for this project – she has an impressive sculptural resume – but she’s never quite tackled something with these sorts of problems to solve. The piece needs to be both portable and durable (withstanding the fickleness of May weather and maybe even foraging deer). And it has to be lit. Ultimately, the “Call for Artists” asked not for pieces that would merely be illuminated, but that are about light itself, shining from within. For the mayfly, light fixture globes thread along a body rail, eyes glow through patterned colanders, the tail and antennae are wrapped in string LEDs, and wings seem like stained glass.
“This is definitely out of my comfort zone, because you think differently,” Hart said. “It’s light, you have to put it together; it’s got to come apart, and work outside, and work with lights.”
She’s named her creation Emphemeras because a mayfly lives only one day. Hers will luckily enjoy a longer life span, getting trotted out annually as long as it lasts.
Hart began her career as graphic designer, creating packaging for the likes of Wonderbread and Hershey chocolates. With her own company, Lannie Hart Design, she designed perfume bottles, lipstick tubes, and holiday boxes. She always had this tendency, though, of going bigger. “Whatever project started off small just grew,” she laughed.
After 9/11 in Manhattan, business slowed, the building she was in shuttered, and she moved her work home, increasingly more part-time, but growing in magnitude. Hart had started making jewelry on the side until someone suggested that she should do armature work on a larger scale. Eventually her sculptural work overtook all, and she’s doing it now full-time. Making a living at this is another matter, though, so when such a grant comes along, it’s quite a prize.
“Every now and then something like this comes along and you go, yeah, I can buy more metal,” Hart said.
“Historic Hudson Valley prides itself on being a community resource, providing education and cultural opportunities, as well as a host of local economic development benefits. Our events and sites employ a range of professionals, and it’s a real thrill to be able to engage talented artists like Lannie Hart to help us make LIGHTSCAPES the area’s must-see spring event,” said Rob Schweitzer, HHV Director of Public Relations.
Right now, Hart has the luxury of saying she’s really busy. Her debut at LIGHTSCAPES happens to coincide with another show she’s featured in in Manhattan. SOHO20 is an artists-run gallery established for women by women in 1973, aiming to, according to their website, “…provide diverse exhibition opportunities for women artists; to present public programs including workshops, panels, lectures and screenings that generate and provide access to a productive art community; and to promote knowledge of women’s artistic contributions to the general public.”
Hart has been a member of SOHO20 here since 2009. And now she finds herself among the six artists of LIGHTSCAPES, who all happen to be women. Hart’s mayfly, she noted, is female, but she emphasizes the fun of this work, not the feminine.
“My gender has influenced the size of my sculpture only because metal is heavy,” Hart said. “I also think my work is feminine. But art is not a gender. Stretching my boundaries and working outside of my smaller scale sculpture ‘box’ is exciting. Stretch the sculpture — stretch the creativity. Big is fun. Creating a mayfly which measures about three quarters of an inch into a 15-foot whimsical flying insect that glows in the dark is like putting a magnifying glass to a child’s imagination, and that is fun.”
For more info about LIGHTSCAPES and to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.hudsonvalley.org/events/lightscapes