For about seven years, Mia Leonin had the idea to write a collection of poems about a little girl named Micaela growing up in a Spanish-speaking seaside town who uses her imagination to cope with a trauma.
But all this time her idea added up to miscellaneous thoughts on paper.
“It was just this raw kind of mess of language and images. I didn’t have a story,” said Leonin, a creative writing professor at the University of Miami and who writes freelance theater reviews for the Miami Herald. “I never even thought it would add up to anything.”
About a year ago Leonin earned a residency at the Deering Estate at Cutler in Palmetto Bay, part of the environmental, archeological and historical preserve’s Artist in Residence program.
What once was a “mess of language and images” became a manuscript of about 61 poems titled, The Fable of the Paddle Sack Child.
“Literally, sitting at this desk, little by little it turned into something,” said Leonin, 46, on a recent visit to her Deering Estate studio. She lives in Kendall.
The Artist in Residence at the Deering Estate is a program that gives literary artists, as well as visual and performing artists, an opportunity to use the 444-acre site to nurture their creativity. Deering created the program in 2006 as an extension of the art patronage of Charles Deering, who built the estate on Biscayne Bay at the beginning of the last century. By 1922 the Maine native had amassed an art collection appraised at $60 million and included works by El Greco and Rembrandt.
The unpaid residencies give artists a year to draw inspiration from the pastoral setting.
Artist Natalya Laskis plans to work on several 24-by 24-inch paintings for a body of work titled, Better Homes. Through the acrylic and oil paintings, Laskis will explore her idea of gender role reversal.
“Instead of men, women are (financially) carrying the household and men are staying at home, taking care of the kids,” said Kendall resident Laskis, 34. “My work revolves around social and economic issues – on what’s happening right now. “
A short walk away from her studio, housed at the estate’s Carriage House, Robert Sparrow Jones is working on paintings inspired by growing up in rural Pennsylvania.
“When I started to walk around the Estate, I started feeling nostalgia and I thought I couldn’t be myself unless I went back to my childhood and put myself into that landscape,” said the 43-year-old Wilton Manors resident.
A self-portrait in his studio depicts Jones holding deer antlers.
“I don’t see any deer out here, but where I am from, they are pervasive,” he said.
Nearby, propped on an easel, is another canvas. It depicts two blond girls. One, clad in a bathing suit, is sitting on a wood folding chair and is holding a flowerpot. The other, with a skirt and a short top, is standing next to her. The colors in the piece are slightly more vibrant than in the self-portrait.
“In Florida, it is just always blooming and vibrant colors,’’ Jones said. “In the Northeast, we sit and wait for the landscape to change and then it’s a wow factor.”
A few doors down from Jones’ studio, Lucinda Linderman’s fingers are coated with rust and oil. She is working on a mountain landscape created from old bike chains she collected from South Miami’s Mack Cycle and from dress hangers thrown away after weddings at the Estate.