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Erie's Sailcloth Art Project display will blow you away

Part of the Sailcloth Art Project, created by Heather Hertel and Slippery Rock University students, on display at the Bayfront Maritime Center. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
By Karen Rene Merkle Contributing writer
September 8, 2016 02:00 AM

ERIE, Pa. -- Heather Hertel’s latest art project, conceived during a sailing adventure, will appropriately be one of the artistic highlights of this year's Tall Ships Erie festival.

The Slippery Rock University art professor enlisted the help of about 20 university art and science students, as well as some performing artists, to realize her vision of the Sailcloth Art Project. The display, which includes six painted sails, opened this past week at the Bayfront Maritime Center, and will be on full display this weekend during Tall Ships Erie.

The themes used in the project came from several different places.

“My inspiration was combining how wind, floating, painting and dancing all relate to one another,” she explained via email, “capturing the freeing feeling of movement and fluidity.”

The imagery she selected references “dancers floating away from gravity,” she added, as well as allusions to the “Floating World” — a concept that evoked an imagined universe of wit, hedonism and extravagance through the art and culture of Japan’s 17th- to 19th-century Edo period. For one sail in particular, students incorporated a 25-foot long scroll with parts of Samuel T. Coleridge's poem, "Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

To promote the Sailcloth Art Project, Hertel spray-painted a mural on French Street between East 14th and East 15th streets. And Slippery Rock performing artists involved in the exhibit opening, when music education student Chase Upchurch premiered a composition written to accompany Coleridge’s poem, will be a presence at this weekend’s festivities as well. About a dozen dancers from the university's dance department will perform in and around the exhibit on Saturday and Sunday, 1 p.m.

After the festival, another exhibit of works created on sails and/or pieces that are sail-related — done by Hertel, Michael Engro and two other artists — can be seen starting Saturday at the Urraro Gallery. A reception for the display is scheduled during Gallery Night on Sept. 23.

“This project unfolded quite naturally,” Hertel said. “I guess that is what happens when you get creative, motivated individuals together, which says a lot for the type of community we have at SRU!”

And not just on that campus, but among kindred spirits here along Erie's shore as well.

The Sailcloth Art Project, created by Heather Hertel and a team of creative students, will be on display Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m., at the Bayfront Maritime Center, 40 Holland St. on Erie’s bayfront, during Tall Ships Erie. For more details, call the center at 456-4077.

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The Sailcloth Art Project Opens at the Bayfront Maritime Center

Published in: Vol. 6, No. 18

Thursday, Sept. 1
“One day, while out sailing, I looked up and thought ‘that sail is so beautiful, I want to paint on it.’”
So began Heather Hertel’s idea for the Sailcloth Art Project, which knots together a local nonprofit sailing organization, student painters, and even a dance troupe – all at the suggestion of a former Erie indigene.
The Sailcloth Art Project knots together a local nonprofit sailing organization, student painters, and even a dance troupe.
“We were approached by Heather, an art professor at Slippery Rock University,” explained Richard Eisenberg, executive director of the Bayfront Maritime Center, which will host the project. “She thought it might be a good thing to do while Tall Ships was up here in Erie,” he added, referring to the event that features sailing ships of bygone eras.
“They’ll be hung inside and outside on display,” he explained. “It’s kinetic. There will be some motion and fluidity, and that’s the fine art part of it.”
Hertel said via email that three installations are proposed: an outdoor sculpture, a large hanging sail “banner,” and an indoor installation composed of five sails; each of the pieces have been in process throughout the summer.
“One figure is flying on a crane,” she described. “The students associated it with the albatross, so then “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a poem by Coleridge, was also folded into the project. We created a scroll out of sailcloth that the figure is holding while flying on the crane over the ocean.”
Hertel added that “The project has been very experimental as the sails are 40 feet in length.”
But a dance troupe?
“I associate the free feeling of dance movement and the motion of painting with sailing and the fluidity of the wind,” she explained. “And [the dancers] will improvise to the art installation.”
“The Sailcloth Art Project is a new one for us,” said Eisenberg. “It’s our first collaboration with the SRU art and dance department, and we’re really happy about that: to develop partnerships and cooperative events like this.” – Gregory Greenleaf-Knepp
6 to 9 p.m. // Bayfront Maritime Center, 40 Holland St. // Additional events scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 3 and Sunday, Sept. 4. // For more information,
Tags: sailcloth art project, , sailing, richard eisenberg, bayfront maritime center, tall ships, sailcloth, dance troupe,slippery rock university

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‘Come Sail Away’: SRU’s Heather Hertel displays sailcloth project in Erie

Heather Hertel's "Sailcloth Art Project" opened Sept. 1 at the Bayfront Maritime Center in Erie.
Sept. 2, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - In the shadow of nearly a dozen tall ships, including the Porcupine, a representation' of a War of 1812 gunboat, sails of a different sort than those set out to sea will be on display courtesy of a Slippery Rock University art professor.
Heather Hertel's "Sailcloth Art Project" opened yesterday and will be aloft through Sept. 30 at the Bayfront Maritime Center, in conjunction with the 2016 Tall Ships Erie festival, Sept. 8-11. The festival will showcase the tall ships, provide on-board tours and sail a ways, and offer live music and entertainment, children's activities, a festival marketplace, food vendors and much more, including Hertel's exhibit.
Hertel, an associate professor of art, said her eight recycled racing sails each span 30 to 44 feet in length. Using acrylic paint, she painted human figures in colorful attire gesturing toward the sky to symbolize the open water.
"The goal of the project is to evoke the motion and fluidity of sailing and the energy of the wind," said Hertel.
The Bayfront Maritime Center is displaying the large-scale sails indoors and outdoors. In fact, visitors to the display will be welcomed by one of the large sails that hangs on a metal arch in front of the building. The buildings arches are being used to represent the ribs of the bottom of a boat.
"The outside hanging sail has figures painted and sewn into it," Hertel said "It also features a figure from the Japanese Edo period riding on a crane over the ocean. She is holding a long scroll made out of sailcloth."
Also on display outside the center is a metal sailcloth sculpture designed by SRU art majors and recent graduates: Kathryn Fitzgerald from Pittsburgh; Erin Pandolfino from York; Mikaela Skiljo from Sharon; Bernard Store from Grove City; Tyra Welsh from New Castle; Maggie Acker, '16, from Coudersport; and Jared Robinson, '16, from Lyndora.
The work features six small sails that were cut and sewn from a larger, white spinnaker sail. Inside the center are three hanging sails with images of Japanese courtesans and one showing a spirit painted and cut out of a black racing sail.
Hertel said the project combines her passion for art and sailing.
The interdisciplinary project incorporates art, music and environmental geosciences. Dance majors Kylie Hushon from Elred; Darrin Mosley from York; Kacei Womack from Philadelphia; Patricia Kohler from Leechburg; Brianna Casale from Pittsburgh; Maria Crist from Lancaster, New York; and Alyssa Bradley from Pittsburgh will perform from 1-3 p.m., Sept. 10-11, weaving in and out of the sailcloth paintings. Ursula Payne, professor of dance, and Lindsay Fisher, adjunct professor of dance, choreographed the piece.
Chase Upchurch, a music education major from Titusville, performed a 10-minute piano solo - which included a voiceover of an abbreviated version of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" - during the Sept. 1 opening reception.
"I offered my specialties to enhance the overall project," Upchurch said. "This opportunity has allowed me to compose music to a poem - which I have never done before - and it also has allowed me to create amazing relationships with professors and new friends."
Clare Clark, an environmental geosciences major from Brookville, and Sarahmay Schlea, an environmental geosciences and physics major from Stow, Ohio, were involved with the construction of the exhibit.
"With so many people from different walks of life helping with the Sailcloth Art Project, it really is a community effort," said Clark. "People may not think there are scientific aspects to something of this nature, but there certainly are."
Clark said she provided inspiration for the sail paintings through her understanding of nature, including the ocean and the eyes on butterfly wings. "My role was to provide scientific thinking," she said.
Schlea provided physics input on structural design of the sail art, material experimentation and composition.
David Krayesky, SRU associate professor of biology, provided photographic images of red/brown algae cells that are incorporated into the artwork/ paintings. Ben Shaevitz, SRU professor of physics and pre-engineering and an avid sailor, donated six sails for the project.
The Bayfront Maritime Center is a non-profit organization provides sailing, paddling and boat-building opportunities for the public, especially young people.
Tall Ships Erie 2016 will showcase authentic and replica ships, including a replica of the Niagara, a victorious flagship from the War of 1812's Battle of Lake Erie.
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