Friday, March 23, 2012

Caryl discovers: Undiscovered Florida--Part 2

If you haven’t been to Florida recently, you may be under the mistaken notion that the Snow Birds are still sitting in their beach chairs, riding their golf carts or tirelessly playing bridge--or worse, bingo. (Does anyone play bingo anymore?)  Well, you’d be wildly wrong.  The notion of retirement has changed, starting with the word itself. Here at Second Lives Club, it never passes our lips.  No one we know ‘retires’, they are fully engaged in their new repurposed lives.  

Many, in fact,  are living out their dreams. For example, one of my much older sister’s friends plays three sets of tennis a day and in her down time raises race horses. Last season, one of her horses was on track to the Kentucky Derby, which Kathy, the owner, described as “very stressful”.  (The horse didn’t qualify, and Kathy's and husband Bob’s heart rates have returned to normal.) Another recent acquaintance of my sister's, a widow who turned 70 recently, bought a night club in Chicago to keep her life interesting. She renamed the club previously called 12 West after herself: Marianna’s.  Roll your r’s when you say it--and please remember to call the former Mary Ann by her new hot cha cha name when you meet her.

My favorite “I have a dream” story belongs to Mary Lee, a former nurse from Guilford, Connecticut who relocated to Sarasota, Florida to open a museum. Her Second Life tale brings us to Part 2 of my "Undiscovered Florida" posts. (For Part 1, scroll back to our March 13 post where my sister and I dip our toes in the fountain of youth. . . and I try to pick up a man from Slovakia.) After taking the water cure in Northport, Florida, Pat and I hit the highway in a race to make it to The Marietta Museum of Art and Whimsy before it closed.  The admission-free museum is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 1pm to 4pm.  We pulled up in front of the flamingo pink building with less than a quarter-hour to spare.  
Mary Lee bought the former 5,300 square Buddhist meditation Center in 2008 for $1.55 million and opened it two years later as the Marietta (Lee’s given name) Museum of Art and Whimsy to house her light-hearted but wholly-impressive collection of folk art, painting and sculpture. "I like goofy things,” Lee told the Herald-Tribune in 2010. “But I also like quality.” Given our 15 minutes to tour (and our need to use the bathroom: see female torso sculpture displayed there below), I was  unable to formally interview Lee. And, she unarguably declined having her picture taken.  The Herald-Tribune article by Billy Cox, however, provides an excellent introduction to (and photo of) this fascinating woman.
Nevertheless, let me share a few critical facts about Lee. Along with her nursing degree, she graduated in 1991 from the nearby Ringling College of Art and Design in painting.  Her nursing and emergency room dramas provided subject matter for her paintings. "From a quasi-abstract take on hysterectomy, to a portrait of chemotherapy-induced isolation, to the horror of a family incinerated in a plane crash, Lee's brushes with darkness literally fill a book," Cox writes .  Is it any wonder she turned to whimsy?
Lee has a curator’s eye and a philanthropist’s pocketbook. In the garden—the only place photography is allowed (unless you count the bathroom),  larger than life size sculptures share space with  candy-colored tables and chairs purchased from Good Will,
native palm trees and plenty of faux flamingos. Center stage is a gleeful metallic ballerina rotating atop a stunning pink marble pedestal.  Lee imported 23 tons of the Stony Creek stone from her native Connecticut, the same material used in Grand Central Station and the Lincoln Memorial, to build the base. The museum may house the whimsical but the collection  is substantial in scope.  The same can be said of Mary Lee.  The woman, who is in her mid-60s, was locking the door at 4pm sharp, shooing us out and heading to an art opening that evening in Sarasoto,  I think.  Nothing retiring about her.
Post-script: If you liked the triumphant tales of Kathy and Marianna (cha cha cha) and museum founder/whimsy collector Mary Lee, you'd like us.  We hope to hit 200 "likes" by April 1.  Please go to the upper right hand corner of this post and click "like"; if you have already done so--thanks so much, and --please forward to a friend and ask them to do the same. We are counting
on you.

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