About a week ago, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, fifteen people participated in the first ever Plume Service writing workshop, the first in a series of monthly writing experiences whose goal is to bring The Pfister’s paintings to life.
We gathered on the mezzanine, with a view of the lobby below and an ear to the flurry of activity into which we would soon enter (or from which we would retreat, as it were). A beautiful spread of tea sandwiches, wine, and other beverages promised to keep us satisfied for the following two-and-a-half hours.
Participants wore nametags with their real names and their noms de plume, which included delightful disguises like “Lelia Allen,” “Lady T,” “Alexis St. Amand,” and “Salvadora Hemisphere.” I invited them to unveil and reveal the stories in the paintings they would view today, whether in the lobby, the 2nd floor, the 3rd, or the 7th. Their methods: use their senses and their perspective. Today, they would–not literally, of course, I warned them!–hold their ear up to a painting and listen to what the subjects were saying or enjoy the waves lapping onto the shore. Today, they would lick the paintings and taste the apple or the cold, thick air. They would sniff deeply to detect the flirtatious perfume or Venetian river banks, reach out and pet the hunting dog or the delicate dress, and, of course, observe closely or from far away. They could, too, if they were careful, step into a painting and become part of the landscape or join in on a conversation–or eavesdrop.
Their range of observations, I told them, did not have to be limited to the framed space that each artist had offered us. Instead, they could imagine what was to the left or the right, above or below, in the foreground or the background. They could, too, unstick the paintings from time and travel to the moment prior or just after, or three years before or two days after. They could focus on the entire painting or just one part, one just one painting or many. And they could choose to write in any form they wished: narrative, poetry, monologue or dialogue, pure description. The operative word was “could.” No limits, no rules. Just use their senses, play with perspective–and don’t touch the paintings!
I certainly got my exercise trying to find the fifteen writers all over the four floors. At first, some of them dispersed in pairs or small groups, but eventually I found almost all of them in various states of contemplation: sitting on the carpet in the long second floor hallway in front of an intriguing painting, lounging on the chaise on the grand landing, scribbling prodigiously while standing, or relaxing in the lobby or the mezzanine.
We talked about each painting briefly: about the sensuality of Love’s kiss or where the woman with the empty basket was going. About the longing gaze in one or the surprised expression of a monk as he witnessed the canoodling of two lovers. About the three women in the sea of curling (as in the winter sport) men or the composition of the hunting dog painting. Each participant had found his or her writing home for an hour or so, had taken that time to escape from the hecticness of their own lives to contemplate a work of art and be moved by it to tell stories.
When we reconvened in the mezzanine, they spent some time sharing their writing with their fellow participants. Few instructions were needed–they leapt directly into the experience with positive, affirming, interested attitudes. In one corner there was laughter about a witty poem, in another there were nods of approval and insight.
Finally, to cap off our first Plume Service, we retreated to the plush white carpet of the Pop-Up Gallery (many with wine in hand–white wine, not red!) and gathered in a circle for an informal reading of our work. Each new work was greeted with snaps or claps and often words of praise. You can tell by the photos that much fun was had as we honored each other, each others’ writings, and the paintings that inspired them.
Over the next week or so, I will be sharing excerpts from some of these writings for your reading pleasure. After the workshops are concluded in early spring, I will be working with The Pfister to create placards to accompany some of the paintings and an audio tour that will enliven guests’ stay at the Hotel.
The next workshop will be held Saturday, December 10, again from 12-2:30 pm. Same goal, different focus: VOICE. Please sign up on the Plume Service Facebook page or RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope to see some of the same faces–and new ones–next month!
For now, enjoy a little literary Plume Service!
Reverie | Zoë Lindstrom aka “Countess Zoëlla Germaine”
he said it once to me,
in a simple garden
crushed the colors
of my breath.
he placed a raw hand
on the ivory roses,
tinged salmon by the evening,
caught in their last pure meaning
before the frost.
No, I did not–
I did not linger then,
though later I pricked my fingers
with the thorns of privilege
in the grey garden of another.
seeking to look again, with clear girls’ eyes,
at that moment.
Was it you I loved–
or the image of petals
left in mercy on the flower?