Donna Tavano: Spirited Away

To say I was swept or blown away by the recent events at the old “vintage” Harwich Middle School does not do justice to the transformations occurring there. Those words almost connote a violent action or a negative removal. It was, more accurately, a case of being “spirited away” to another dimension, a world of imagination, creativity and flight of fancy.

Not only was the event the second appearance of Burlap and Buoys, a pop-up marketplace of art, vintage and repurposed items for sale, but we were treated to a “walk through” of the artists-in-residence at the developing Middle School Cultural Center. All of the building’s classrooms have been rented to individuals or combinations of artists.

The offerings were varied and vast. As we know, however, art is a universal language to be enjoyed by any observer, which it most certainly was. From Africa to France, to locals and retired washashores reinventing themselves, the gamut of artists is impressive. Mediums ranged from fabric, to metal and plastic and myriad painting techniques. One painterly voice sang its Congo origins on canvas, its creator fluent in French and some of the other 242 languages spoken there, but still struggling with the English words to describe himself.

No longer are Bunsen burners and test tubes bubbling with toxic concoctions in physics and biology labs. Today’s experiments revolve around happy artistic accidents which create new expressions and depths on paper and canvas. It was truly a delight to spot old friends and make acquaintance with newcomers who’ve carved out homes for themselves in the school. Most artists had made do for most of their lives in far too small apartments and houses, their art spaces threatening to engulf them, holding dining room and kitchen tables hostage, for the sake of their need to create.

Some artists have enjoyed popular success in galleries and shows, others have recently embarked on this journey, but all are thrilled to be involved in such a welcoming creative community. Established artists are mentors, nurturing the fledglings, who are often poised in uncertainty on palette’s edge, nervously contemplating the leap.

Burlap and Buoys is a consortium of vendors whose organizers rent a classroom, as well as the cafeteria dining space, three times a year. These clever vendors are visionaries themselves, repurposing antique drill presses and clam buckets into smart upscale lamps. Old pillowcases spring to renewed life as stitched shopping totes. One artist vendor assembled shards of clam shells onto painted mini canvases to create diminutive and delightful sailing scenes. Old maps, rendered obsolete by GPS, transformed themselves into clutch bags andpurses. One boothfeatured lovely and intricate (not your grandmother’s) macramé jewelry, while another displayed exquisitely crafted sea star and sand dollar sterling jewelry. Part of an old rusted iron rake became a charming wine glass holder. If the measure of creativity comes from forming simple vintage folding rulers into stars, then the creators of the wall art excel. These vendors’ explosive imaginations and fastidious attention to detail allow them to transform humble mason jars and wooden pallets into shining table centerpieces laden with garden flowers.

The positive energy flowing throughout the building was palpable and the building just ate it up. The cherry on top will be the addition of the long awaited Cape Verdean Museum, whose development is now in progress and which will be situated in the former administrative office area. We are all familiar with the good luck bridal adage “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue…” The expression could well apply to the incarnation of the middle school; this is a joyful marriage of the creative community with the old school, which has been patiently awaiting its new purpose and page in Harwich history.

Every creative community exists, ultimately, to communicate its humanity to others. So shall it be here, that the vintage middle school has repurposed itself to house the inspirations, ideas and dreams of artists who seek to share their humanness respectfully and lovingly with others. Congrats to all! And as an added note, Burlap and Buoys will return Nov. 3 and 4 of this year. Enjoy!