Habits & Habitats & Paradise Found: The curator’s tour

Don’t miss the Leepa Rattner Museum's 15th anniversary summer show.

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Paradise Found: LRMA Celebrates 15 Years

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Habits & Habitats Series: Working in Paradise and Postcards from the Edge with Allen Leepa

Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art at St. Petersburg College, 600 E. Klosterman Rd., Tarpon Springs.

Through Sept. 24: Tues., Wed. & Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thurs., 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; and Sun., 1-5 p.m. 

$6-$7.

727-712-5762. leeparattner.org.

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click to enlarge Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art - Jennifer Ring
Jennifer Ring
Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art

Fifteen years ago, a generous donation by Dr. Allen Leepa to St. Petersburg College inspired a museum. Leepa donated over 2,000 works of art he inherited from his stepfather, Abraham Rattner, an American expressionist painter known for his use of vivid colors and his depictions of human suffering. The collection included paintings by Abraham Rattner and his contemporaries, including Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, and Marc Chagall. With the help of additional donors, the collection has expanded over the years to include an impressive array of both modern and contemporary art.

As the museum celebrates its 15 year anniversary, curator Christine Renc-Carter honors the past and celebrates the future with a series of special exhibits and events. I caught up with her Saturday night at the opening reception for Paradise Found and Habits & Habitats, where we talked about the inspiration behind this year’s summer show.

“Things have changed a lot in the past 20-30 years in this area,” says Renc-Carter, “Art has really blossomed, so this is kind of the inspiration for this whole exhibition...There are a lot of things that have never been seen before and a lot of artwork in the collection that’s just never been displayed — things that we’ve discovered recently, and then new things. We’ve got all of these Florida artists from the past 30-40 years that are really established. And now we’ve got this whole new wave of [deserving] artists, like Steven Kenny and Selina Román, that are really establishing themselves and making their mark.”

click to enlarge Entrance to the Paradise Found exhibit at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs. - Jennifer Ring
Jennifer Ring
Entrance to the Paradise Found exhibit at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs.

As a child of two Dunedin artists, Renc-Carter knows a lot about contemporary Florida art, and she has brought more of it to the Leepa-Rattner Museum. In January 2017, she acquired two Steven Kenny pieces, one of which, The Arrival, inspired the title of the exhibition, Paradise Found. As we talk, she walks me into the Paradise Found exhibit gallery to view The Arrival.

The painting was done in 2012, as Kenny relocated from New York down to St. Pete.

“Being a New Yorker and always living up north, this was his rendition of a northerner coming to a new, strange tropical land,” says Renc-Carter, “so it’s a self-portrait, in a way, with this child in his little Eskimo fur coat, on this strange beach.” And thus the beach becomes Paradise found.

The Paradise Found exhibit was, in part, inspired by “what it’s really like to be an artist working in ‘paradise,’” says Renc-Carter, “With the new acquisitions, it’s pretty exciting to see some Winslow Homer prints that are 150 years old next to something that’s very contemporary. And somehow it all works under that theme of summer in paradise. We have a representation of the essence of summer — the ethereal qualities of what summer is and what it’s like to be in a tropical area — and it’s represented in pure abstraction to surrealism to photography to complete realism. We’ve got a little bit of everything, so I think there’s something for everybody in here.”

click to enlarge Untitled (Lean), 2011, archival ink jet print, 36 x 24 in., Gift of Katherine Gibson and Jose R. Gelats in honor of R. Lynn Whitelaw. - Selina Román
Selina Román
Untitled (Lean), 2011, archival ink jet print, 36 x 24 in., Gift of Katherine Gibson and Jose R. Gelats in honor of R. Lynn Whitelaw.

Habits & Habitats

Across the hall, in the Center Gallery, Habits & Habitats is on display. In Habits & Habitats, Renc-Carter tries to illustrate the artistic process and what it’s like to be an artist working in “paradise.” She does this with a thoughtful display of Alan Leepa’s work and memorabilia.

click to enlarge Allen Leepa's Tarpon Springs studio recreated. - Jennifer Ring
Jennifer Ring
Allen Leepa's Tarpon Springs studio recreated.

Allen Leepa moved to Tarpon Springs after retiring from Michigan State University in 1983. Like his mother, Escher Gentle, and his stepfather, Abraham Rattner, Leepa was an artist. His work presented a challenge for Renc-Carter, who had to find summer in the abstract to thread a common theme between the two exhibits.

“Going back in our archives, we have hundreds and hundreds of things that we cull through every week that are part of this original collection,” says Renc-Carter, “With Allen Leepa, there’s a lot of sketches and things. Going through, we found some wonderful things... We were able to borrow his studio furniture, and kind of give people a sense of what Allen Leepa was like.”

click to enlarge Allen Leepa's sketchpad, re-assembled into a collage. - Jennifer Ring
Jennifer Ring
Allen Leepa's sketchpad, re-assembled into a collage.

On an adjacent exhibit wall, there is a collage of 24 equal-size sketches and paintings illustrating Leepa’s artistic process. They found these in the form of a sketchpad, which they re-assembled into a collage so the pubic could view its full contents.

click to enlarge Allen Leepa's paint brushes from his Tarpon Springs studio. - Jennifer Ring
Jennifer Ring
Allen Leepa's paint brushes from his Tarpon Springs studio.

“This sketchpad, we believe, was an instructional tool that he used for his students,” says Renc-Carter, “You have kind of an example of every style of painting and drawing [on the way to] abstraction...This sketchpad, completely intact, has never seen the light of day since it was put in a drawer probably 30 years ago.”

Standing in front of a map of the world, Renc-Carter tells me about their Postcards from the Edge exhibit. Leepa “traveled all over the world all the time, and he would write these extensive postcards and letters,” she says, “He talks about working on his process while he’s like on some small island off the coast of Spain. Most of his handwriting is pretty illegible...I think he caught on at some point and started typing everything. I just love that idea that people can read these intimate letters...and get a sense of what it was like to be one of the big artists in the 50’s or 60’s. They’re publishing a book, they’re doing research, they’re visiting museums, but they’re also working on their artwork. It’s just inspiring.”

click to enlarge Postcards from the Edge exhibit. - Jennifer Ring
Jennifer Ring
Postcards from the Edge exhibit.

2017 is destined to be an exciting year at the Leepa-Rattner Museum. This summer’s exhibits are one part of a two-part series celebrating the museum’s 15th anniversary. “It’s a good time to be here, that’s for sure,” says Renc-Carter, adding that this has been “a great opportunity to not only honor [Lynn Whitelaw, founding director and first curator at the Leepa-Rattner Museum], and what he’s done to build this legacy and this museum, but [also] to look forward and celebrate where we are now and where we’re headed.”

About The Author

Jennifer Ring

Jennifer studied biology for six years, planning for a career in science, but the Universe had other plans. In 2011, Jen was diagnosed with a rare lung disease that sidelined her from scientific research. Her immune system, plagued by Scleroderma, had attacked her lungs to the point of no return. She now required...
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