The Guardian



Four years ago I attended a workshop where I learned how to print digital images onto fabric.  I played around with Photoshop, altering some of my original images.  The figure seen here was taken from an old book with black and white photos of Renaissance sculptures to which I added some color, text and diagrams from an old biology book.  The fabric sat in a pile of  “maybe someday I’ll get to it” stuff.  When  packing materials to use on my work at the Hermitage, I noticed the shell motif

Over 100 hatched egg shells are discovered in one nest. These five will be returned to the nest..

surrounding the sculpture and thought it might find its life here. 


 I also happen to have a silk-screen of sea shells I wanted to print on fabric.  I had no idea how it would all come together. 

In doing research on the sculpture I learned that it represented “Charity”, part of the three virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity, created by Mino da Fiesole, only this version of  Charity was holding a baby.  I thought with the shell for her crown, perhaps she was really caring for the sea and its creatures. In taking the translation of Charity even further, the original Greek was Charis or Kharis, whose name came from a character in mythology named Algaea, who symbolized beauty, splendor and glory.  I also found Amphitrite, the wife of Poseidon, who according to legend, fed all the creatures of the sea.


The mother loggerhead turtle tracks when she comes on the beach to nest.

I wanted to represent some of the many creatures I’ve encountered here, with the same simplicity as in the sculpture.  Using some of the decorative stitches on my sewing machine, I created turtle tracks, dolphins leaping, sea oats and turquoise waves.  I NEVER use the decorative stitches, but this time they seemed to say what I wanted without fuss.  The old “biology diagrams” became the waves at the bottom, filled with strange sea creatures.  A small nautical map accompanies the crescent moon, directing its light.

Here on Manasota Key, there are those we call the turtle ladies.  Every morning from early May until the end of October, they each walk a one mile stretch of beach at first light.  If large tracks indicating a new nest are discovered, they mark it with the date on a post and tape it off so people won’t walk over it.  If an older nest shows small tracks, or is more than 70 days old, these genteel  ladies will get down on the sand and dig up the nest, reaching a full arm’s length into the ground to make sure all the babies have made it out safe.  If there are live babies, they will carefully carry them to shore’s edge to find their way out to sea.  Any unhatched eggs are carefully returned to the nest and covered with sand.  occasionally there are  hatched turtles that never found their way out, and need to be removed from the nest.  These “turtle ladies”, or Guardians of the sea are volunteers, carrying out a labor of love, of Charity.  Walking with them and gleaning their knowledge, they not only look after  baby sea turtles, but they also pick up trash found along the way,  toss a live sand dollar  or hermit crab back into the sea, and will encourage children, tourists and anyone else to walk with them and learn about the life in the seas.  To these Guardians, who are so very charitable, I dedicate “Kharis Oceana”.

Partaking in Life

Sunset dinner on the Gulf of Mexico

Beginning my retreat three days after the rest of the artists,  I was anxious to fit everything into my first day. Swimming in the gulf, walking by the river trails, drawing, and figuring out the kitchen were only a few of the activities that quickly filled my day.   Since I would not be present for the Welcome Dinner, I was informed that a second dinner was scheduled when I arrived.  The dinner was to coincide with an impromptu turtle watch.  You see… this is the peak of nesting season for loggerhead sea turtles in Florida.  Many of the nests were due to hatch and it just so happened to be a full moon.  We were going to patrol the beach through the night and call each other if a turtle was spotted laying eggs or baby turtles were emerging from the nest on their journey to the sea.

The evening began with an inspiring performance by the resident music composer, followed by a sunset dinner on the beach.  We laughed, ate, got to know each other,  partaking of a common thread of nurturing the creative spark within each of us ….And we learned about the turtles.  At 11 PM, we began our shifts, and just before midnight we were called that a mother turtle was laying eggs.  Walking briskly through the sand, lit only by the full moon, there she was… as big as my dining room table, methodically flipping sand over the eggs, ignoring the presence of

Baby turtles returning to the sea.

mesmerized humans….And when she was done, we witnessed her journey back to the sea… swept into the surf…the waves engulfing her large body like a familiar blanket. 

Sea turtles do not meander.  They return to the spot where they were hatched many years prior.  They emerge from the depths of the sea, walk a straight path to the nest, propelled by their large flippers, dig a nest and lay their eggs.  When the task is complete, they make a tight U-turn, and walk  a straight path back to the surf.

I returned to my room and slept right through my 5 am shift.  Waking at 7:00, I came downstairs, assuming the turtle watch was over and everyone went to sleep.  Suddenly the door burst open and the “leader” of our adventure was ecstatic with anticipation…. Apparently the nest closest to our house was overdue, and the sound of live hatchlings was detected under the surface.  The volunteers who oversee the turtle nests needed to go in and excavate the nest, allowing those that have hatched to return to the sea, and removing those who did not survive.  We all ran out to witness the advent of the baby turtles, and help usher them to their home in the surf.  As we followed these small creatures, we watched them flow into the surf the same way the mother turtles return to the water.  What a privilege to partake in this amazing cycle of life,  for just a brief moment… to know that as one life may end its journey… many new ones will begin theirs, instinctively continuing the ritual that was determined since time began.