The Sarasota Season Shines Bright

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The Orchid Ball 2023 was held under a tent on the Great Lawn at Selby Gardens’ Downtown Sarasota campus.

The invitation to Sarasota’s Selby Gardens’ Orchid Ball 2023: The Gilded Age, read: “Bring Tiffany’s glass colors to life: Gilded Age gloves optional.”

The evening, which celebrated the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, came a year after Selby’s tribute to the artists Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith. But if that pair evoked a somber palate, Mr. Tiffany was all about the razzle dazzle of color. Guests were thrilled.

Whether women bought their gloves in thrift shops, stole them from their grandmothers’ drawers or ordered them on Amazon, a good number of the 500 guests paired gloves with long evening dresses adding to the glamour of the exhibit: “Tiffany: The Pursuit of Beauty in Nature.”

Selby Gardens’ iconic banyan trees were strung with lighted orchids and chandeliers for Sarasota’s Selby Gardens’ Orchid Ball 2023: The Gilded Age.
After champagne and cocktails under the banyans, guests walked a stained-glass-inspired gauntlet into the tent for dinner and dancing.

Held in a tent on the garden’s grounds overlooking Sarasota Bay, guests sparkling greenhouses and gardens inspired by Louis Comfort Tiffany’s art work.

This is not the art work of Charles Tiffany who founded the Tiffany store. His son Louis went in a different direction.  And even today, while Tiffany lamps still adorn soda shops (think Serendipity) and retro hotel lobbies, Mr. Tiffany’s creations continue to sell at a steady clip.

Shelby White.

In the Orchid House, the Selby team evoked stained glass using translucent plexiglass with outlines to mimic Tiffany’s lamps. They also created a “room” with four white columns inspired by Mr. Tiffany’s own garden.

“It was a particularly imaginative exhibit,’’ said New York philanthropist Shelby White who has come to a number of the shows. “I especially liked the trellis held up by four classical white columns that had orange cascading stained glass that echoed the cascading orchids.”

Pauline Wamsler, a Selby trustee whose mother, the late Berthe Honore Wamsler, was a beloved board member of the New York Botanic Garden, noted that gardens lend themselves to gorgeous parties. Still, getting dressed for this one was a particular challenge she said after shopping for her sheer black opera gloves on line. “I got them from a store in London,” she recalled. “I learned more than I ever wanted to know about gloves.”

David Sales and Selby Gardens Trustee Pauline Wamsler with Patrick and Bernice Hebda.

Outdoors the Selby team had created a sprawling series of Tiffany inspired images including a design meant to call up the image of a wildflower using creeks of flowing water to create the outline. Each section was filled with crushed glass in a different hue. Closer to nature, the team filled the spaces between the sprawling roots of its Moreton Bay fig tree with over 1000 guztnania flowers. Looking down at the sprawl of roots, one immediately recalled a Tiffany creation.

Living Lampshade, a display from Tiffany: The Pursuit of Beauty in Nature at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
Color wheels inside the Tropical Conservatory are part of a display from Tiffany: The Pursuit of Beauty in Nature.
Flowing Flower, a display from Tiffany: The Pursuit of Beauty in Nature.
Succulents in Silhouette, a display from Tiffany: The Pursuit of Beauty in Nature.

And while there were a large number of Tiffany lamps on display indoors (lent by an anonymous local donor), the garden offered its own lamp impression: every bit as creative as anything Mr. Tiffany did. (Actually Mr. Tiffany hardly gets all the credit. A group of “Tiffany girls” led by Clara Driscoll were crucial in the designs). The Selby team created a gazebo where the pattern on the roof is reminiscent of Tiffany designs and the interior is filled with a garden filled with the flowers that match the colors of the designs along the ceiling.

At the 40-person-long table where chief executive Jennifer Rominiecki was flanked by Congressman Vern Buchanan on one side and Hearst President and chief executive Steven Schwarz on the other, 12 lampshades in ombre shading from pinky tones to blues stretched down the length of the table. Around each lampshade were containers matching the lamp color with flowers that complimented that particular shade. Along the ceiling of the tent the team used light projections to continue the color theme.

Each of the round tables had its own lamp and opulently created flower design.

Elegant tables with Tiffany-inspired colors at Selby Gardens’ Orchid Ball 2023: The Gilded Age.

Guests got the message. Laura Thomas wore a black satin dress with an enormous flower pattern on the front. Audrey Robbins’ blue satin dress had a top in a pattern that looked a lot like a Tiffany design.

Selby Gardens Trustee Cornelia Matson.

Guests dined on poached lobster and chateau of beef followed by a dessert of chocolate cherry gateau with edible glass. Cornelia Matson, who spends part of the year at her apartment in Paris where she likes to cook haute cuisine dinners for friends, pronounced the dinner was excellent!

This was the 7th Orchid Ball under Ms. Rominiecki and James Snyder, director emeritus of the Israel Museum, recalled in a talk at the Chairman’s Circle dinner prior to the Orchid Ball, that he was introduced to her by Ms. White.  The two met in Sarasota where Mr. Snyder’s mother-in-law lives.

“Jennifer wanted to marry art and the garden and she asked with trepidation if I would lend an important Chagall from the Israel Museum. I said ‘yes’ and we were off and running: Chagall, Warhol, Gauguin etc. And here we are; last year with Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith and this year Tiffany — an ever expanding portfolio.”

Since then Ms. Rominiecki has raised $56 million in a $92 million capital campaign that will greatly expand the garden.

Orchid Ball Co-Chairs Liebe Gamble, Reta Wagner, and Ashley Kozel with President & CEO Jennifer O. Rominiecki.

To immerse themselves in Tiffany style, the design team visited the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum in Orlando, which houses the world largest collection of Tiffany objects. Why Orlando?  The museum was originally created by Jeannette Genius McKean and named for her grandfather.

Detail, View of Oyster Bay, c. 1908
Home of William C. Skinner, New York
Tiffany Studios (69-001)

When Laurelton Hall, the 84-room Tiffany estate on Long Island burned down in 1957, Mrs. McKean and her husband bought most of the objects for the museum, though they did donate the Poppy Loggia to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where it was installed in the Charles Engelhard Court.

Nadia Watts, a great-great-granddaughter of Mr. Tiffany and herself a designer, said she was knocked out by the show. The Tiffany clan remains close according to Ms. Watts. Over coffee, she reminded me that family talents have gone in many different directions.

Mr. Tiffany’s granddaughter Dorothy Trimble Tiffany Burlingham became a prominent psychoanalyst.  Divorced, she had grown concerned about an illness of her son and moved her family to Vienna where she consulted Sigmund Freud.  After meeting Freud’s youngest daughter, Anna, the women became partners and worked together on issues of children’s illnesses for the rest of their lives.

L. to r.: Rob and Jennifer Rominiecki; Nadia Watts, Louis Comfort Tiffany’s great-great-granddaughter, in Tiffany & Co. jewelry with a one-of-a-kind bag made from her own Tiffany-glass-inspired fabric line.

William McComb and Selby Gardens Board Chair Marianne McComb.
L. to r.: Orchid Ball Co-Chair Liebe Gamble and Billy Gamble; Orchid Ball Co-Chair Ashley Kozel and Marko Radisic.
L. to r.: Selby Gardens Trustee Marcy Klein and Michael Klein; Greg and Belle Stikeleather.
Vickie Oldham.
L. to r.: Bruce and Tiffany Sorensen; Asa and Dominic Harris.
Josh and Manne White, Jami and Tyler Goodlad, Perry and Rachel Hollingsworth, Ariane Dart and Peter Scanlan, and Katie and Rod Hollingsworth.
L. to r.: Nikki Sedacca; Umbreen Khalidi-Majeed.
L. to r.: Hosana Fieber; Carlos and Janelle Beruff.
Pat Robinson and Emily Walsh.
Jeremy and Alysha Shelby, with Will and Anna Chase.
Sarah Karp, Okay Renkliyuz, and Laura McClain.

For those who love music, the Sarasota Orchestra boasted an evening with Yo-Yo Ma, where the cellist dazzled the audiences with Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor. At the end of his performance, Mr. Ma presented each orchestra member with a rose.

300 guests then segued in to the Van Wezel Hall to a seated dinner. Among the guests were Veronica Brady and Keith Monda, the former president and chief operating officer of Coach, Nicole Eibe and Richard and Beathe Elden as well as Charlie and Theresa Roediger.

Sunset Terrace, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

Mrs. Elden, who has long supported the orchestra, said that the tickets for the concert sold out almost immediately after they went on sale. “It was a fabulous evening,’’ she said. “And next year we will celebrate 75 years of the orchestra.”

L. to r.: Nicole Eibe and Beathe Elden; Cornelia and J. Richard Matson.
Flora Major and Debbie Danheisser.
L. to r.: Laurie and Bob Wolfe; Charlie and Theresa Roediger.
Veronica Brady and Keith Monda.

Two nights later, the Asolo Repertory Theatre hosted its dinner to honor outgoing director Michael Edwards. Board members had interviewed nearly three dozen potential directors and are delighted with the pending arrival of Peter Rothstein, his replacement, who flew in from Minneapolis to attend the event.

“I must have sat through 30 interviews,“ recalled Margaret Wise, a board member. Outfits ranged from glamour to theatrical fantasy though Ms. Wise, along with Nikki Sedacca, opted for a long red evening gown.

The Gala Committee on stage, left to right: Margaret Wise, Rita Greenbaum, Kathleen France, Nikki Sedacca, and Chris Voelker.
Michael Donald Edwards and Linda DiGabriele having a laugh as they celebrate their last gala as Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director and Managing Director.

Mr. Rothstein is the founder of Minneapolis’s Theater Latte Da. Though he will not join the Asolo for several months, he is already planning next year’s program.

“They really went out of their way to make the evening spectacular,” said Nancy Markle, a longtime board member.  “There were objects from the sets of several productions. They even brought a car from a production of Knoxville. It was a terrific tribute to Michael,” Ms. Markle added.

Sara Brunow, Peter Rothstein, Angela Lakin, and DeWanda Smith-Soeder.
Nancy Markle, John Welch, Myrna Welch, Susan Buck, and Jim Buck.

After a dinner for 400 guests at the Ritz Carlton, the entertainment, a tribute to outgoing director Michael Edwards, highlighted Broadway razzle dazzle with songs sung by two veteran Asolo performers both of whom have often appeared on Broadway: Ana Isabelle and Justin Lopez.

Justin Gregory Lopez and Ana Isabelle performing a Broadway medley celebrating songs from eighteen iconic Broadway shows.

Around town, this was the year to honor women who had not gotten the credit they deserved. While Selby recognized Clara Driscoll, the Asolo’s production of Silent Sky  told the intriguing story of Henrietta Levitt, one of the pioneering women astronomers working at Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s.

L. to r.: Kelly Borgia and Travis Howard dressed in the Broadway theme as elders from Book of Mormon; Kory and Jules Lee.
Omar Guevara, Orlando Sanchez, and Eduardo Anaya.

Sarasota does not lack for knockout locations to hold events, but perhaps one of the prettiest is Ca d’zan, the former home of the late John and Mabel Ringling. Set on Sarasota Bay, the two story Italianante villa was a labor of love for the couple and, as part of the Ringling Museum, is open to the public.

The Hermitage hosted its annual Greenfield Prize Dinner at Ringling this year with cocktails on Ca d’Zan’s terrace followed by a dinner in the garden for 200. Tom and Sherry Koski were the evenings co chairmen while heads of four Sarasota art institutions including the Ringling’s Steven High, Sarasota Art Museum’s Virginia Shearer, West Coast Black theater’s Nat Jacobs, and the Sarasota Ballet’s Iain Webb were honorary co-chairmen.

The setting for the 2023 Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner at The Ringling Museum.

There were also former grant recipients including Ann Patterson, whose paintings have been shown at the Ringling. Among the guests were Jean Weidner Goldstein, founder of the Sarasota Ballet, and Flora Major, an art collector and longtime supporter of the Hermitage who has endowed an annual $35,000 major theater award given to a theater artist for his or her project.

The Hermitage’s mission is to provide the money and time for talented artists and performance to develop a project that they then initially present in Sarasota. Previous winners have included playwrights John Guare and Sanford Biggers.

Traditionally the Hermitage has given a single award, but this year, in honor of its 20th anniversary, it gave two: one to visual artist Sandy Rodriquez and a second to dancer Lorenzo “Rennie” Harris. “It was extremely inspiring,’’ said longtime supporter Kay Delaney.

Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg presents the 2023 Hermitage Greenfield Prize in Visual Art to Sandy Rodriguez.
Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg presents the 2023 Hermitage Greenfield Prize in Dance & Choreography to Rennie Harris.
Hermitage Greenfield Prize Winners Sandy Rodriguez, Angélica Negrón (2022, Music), and Rennie Harris.

Anne Patterson (Hermitage Artist, 2023 HGP Juror), Sandy Rodriguez, and Christine Kuan (2023 HGP Juror).
Andy Sandberg with 2023 Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner Co-Chairs and Hermitage supporters Sherry and Tom Koski.
Charmaine Warren (2023 HGP Juror), Rennie Harris, and Michael Novak (Artistic Director of Paul Taylor Dance, 2023 HGP Juror).
Andy Sandberg, Esther Smith, and Sarasota County Commissioner Mark Smith.
Broadway star Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer performs.
2022 Hermitage Greenfield Prize Winner Angélica Negrón introduces her composition.
Philadelphia-based dancer Phil S. Cuttino Jr., a member of Rennie Harris Puremovement, performs.
2010 Hermitage Greenfield Prize Winner and celebrated artist Sanford Biggers makes a surprise appearance.
2023 Hermitage Greenfield Prize Winners Rennie Harris and Sandy Rodriguez.

Among the most prestigious names in the Sarasota arts world today is Joseph Volpe, the former general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. After moving south, Mr. Volpe became the executive director of the popular Sarasota Ballet in 2016, joining a team that includes director Iain Webb and his wife Margaret Barbieri, assistant director and former principle dancer of the Sadler Wells Ballet. Mr. Webb is particularly known for showcasing the work of British choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton.

This year the Ballet chose to honor Mr. Volpe at its annual gala which included a performance at the Sarasota Opera house followed by dinner at the Circus Arts Conservatory.

Photographs by Cliff Roles (Asolo); Daniel Perales Studio, Sarasota, FL (Sarasota Opera); Bywater Collective/Hermitage Artist Retreat)

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