Monday, December 31, 2012

A City Beautiful Christmas

I got an invitation from choreographer Holly Harris to see a City Beautiful Christmas at the History Center downtown. A City Beautiful is a recently formed church that doesn't have a permanent brick and mortar home yet. I witnessed a fabulous celebration at the Lake Eola band shell. Cole Nesmith welcomed me when I arrived at the History Center. Much of the service would be happening inside the Orlando Regional History Center. Then the congregation would walk out into the park for an arts performance. The performance is what I planned to sketch, so I leaned against one of the tall pine trees and started blocking in the stage. There was an hour to show time.

White gossamer fabric hung from pine boughs.  The fabric glowed yellow in the street lamp light. Two sculptures of alligators are permanent residents of the park and they overlooked the proceedings. A grey bearded man with a sleeping bag slung over his shoulder was talking to Holly for the longest time. He was invited inside but he preferred the outdoor air like me. He was to thin to be Santa Claus. He stood a short distance from me and watched me intently. He struck up a conversation, letting me know he was from Ohio. Distracted and lost in the sketch, I answered his questions but kept my hand and eyes busy. I'm a bit rude when working, and he soon wandered off.

A box sat at the center of the staging area. A tech tested it out. With the lid off, it erupted, sending up a large plum of fake snow lit from below. Dancers all dressed in black began to form themselves on the grid of the stage. They all held candles. White paper bags with candles inside illuminated the path from the History Center leading people to the staging area. I had assumed everyone would sit on the grass to watch the show. I had guessed wrong. Everyone stood, and I lost my view. I had only sketched half the dancers. I could see one or two dancers between peoples heads. A fellow in front of me apologized, I told him not to worry. I've learned to accept any staging difficulty. I decided to relax and start painting. Catching the magical candle light at night would be a challenge.

Music was playing that sounded like Danny Elfman's sound track to Edward Scissorhands. Since I couldn't see the dancers, I imagined ice sculptures forming with the chips floating in the air like snow. The luminescent pillar of snow blew skyward up above the wall of backs. For a magical moment, it was snowing in Central Florida. Air and Cole spoke messages of love, acceptance and Christmas joy, as I presume the dancers performed. Everyone in the audience was issued a candle. One single flickering flame became two, then four then a sea of light. Everyone's voice was raised in song. There would be a second performance, so  the lights were extinguished as the crowd dispersed, I continued to sketch. The sketch felt complete even without the full cast. The gator looked hungry enough. With another hour till the second performance, I decided to pack up and head home.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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