The Arc of Success

I believe in formulas.

I once asked the owner of apartment buildings how many units he needed to bring in enough money to pay his overhead and return a profit. “Two-hundred-twenty-five,” the man replied.

Right like that. Had the answer right like that.

And I believe in entrepreneurs. Indeed, in a quest to query entrepreneurs about what they credit their success, I’m building a new business out of the project.

In this video, I talk about the “arc” I want to capture from videoed interviews of successful entrepreneurs, retelling a story Warren Buffet offers regarding his own young vision of success.

Manhattan High Line Installs Hewitt Sculpture

There are a lot of ways to stave and reverse blight, including re-imagining public spaces and updating their uses.

In New York City, the High Line is among a bevy of industrial re-imagined, reclamation successes celebrated in Annik La Farge’s latest post on her blog “Livin’ the High Line.” There, she chronicles the ongoing transformation of the High Line.

The High Line is a public park built on a 1.45-mile-long elevated rail structure running from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street on Manhattan’s West Side. The nonprofit responsible for 70 percent of its upkeep explains that it operated as a freight rail line from 1934 to 1980, taking “meat to the meatpacking district, agricultural goods to the factories and warehouses of the industrial West Side, and mail to the Post Office.”

Ms. La Farge has been chronicling the High Line transformation from the beginning including May’s addition of more public art with the selection of St. Mary’s County native Charlie Hewitt’s “Urban Rattle” sculpture for inclusion.

“The influence of the High Line’s art program will soon be visible in a new venue,” Ms. La Farge announced. “… the luxury rental complex known as Ten23, between 22nd & 23rd Street on Tenth Avenue, will install a piece of sculpture by the artist Charlie Hewitt. Called “Urban Rattle,” the work will stand some 20 feet high in the center of the building’s patio, just below and on the eastern edge of the park. Hewitt is an American artist (born 1946) whose work includes paintings, sculpture, engraving, woodcuts, print-making and other media. His work has been acquired for collections in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, the Whitney, Brooklyn Museum, New York Public Library and the Library of Congress.”

High Line Art was founded in 2009 to produce and commission public art projects on the High Line. “High Line Art has been showcasing a wide array of artworks including site-specific commissions, exhibitions, performances, video programs and a series of billboard interventions. High Line Art invites artists to think of creative ways to engage with the uniqueness of the architecture and design of the High Line and to foster a productive dialogue with the surrounding neighborhood and urban landscape.”

Site Specific Art: Lexington Park

Art ignites imagination, builds community and can attract the investment and consumer interest Lexington Park needs.

Posed the problem of using art to do exactly that,  New York artist Charlie Hewitt, a Lexington Park native son, advocates a Site Specific Art event capitalizing on the location of his hometown.

Site specific art began developing in the 1950s from a desire to leave the interior venues like museums and to create from public art a greater interactive relationship with the immediate environment. Site specific art corrals the power of creativity into a particular place while that place informs the art itself.

The movement has come to encompass environmental art, as a result of the importance of the work’s relationship to the space around it, as well a tradition to dismantle site specific installations after the run of the show. Tradition dictates also that it leaves no trace. Part of the appeal of Lexington Park as a locale is the power of the art to recast the community’s image of itself and to the larger community.

Lexington Park, as Mr. Hewitt describes in this interview, is situated to draw artistic attention from Philadelphia to Richmond. There already exists a commuter relationship with the Washington D.C. area and its economic and museum powerhouses. The vast majority of artists will never have an exhibition, he explains, and site specific installation artists have even fewer venues than artists working in more traditional mediums.

Create a Beloved Community

In the 1970s the St. Mary’s Creative Arts Forum was born from the creative mind of Charlie Hewitt  and friends, who included Susan and John Fletcher and Kay Daugherty. The transformations roiling beneath these efforts were the boom-urbanization of Lexington Park and budding liberal arts college down the road.

“It’s not just connected with making a piece of art,” Mr. Hewitt explains in an oral history compiled in 2009 by the St. Mary’s College publication, SlackWater Volume VI. “It was about making a community.”

“I hung out with kids from Lexington Park. I hung out on the streets at night, on Friday, Saturday nights when the town was full of bars and slot machines and drunken sailors. It was a different place. It wasn’t a bad place, but it wasn’t a place about ducks and boats and crabs and oysters.”

That wasn’t the overarching opinion at the time, but, despite the remoteness of the peninsula when Mr. Hewitt first arrived, he describes the region as innately accepting of eccentricities.

“When I was a young man, the County was full of great personalities,” he writes in 2012, “some bordering on a Faulknerian eccentricity and a great sense of being unique even though they might be perceived as provincial. I never felt that I couldn’t express my creative opinions in any way I wanted. To be unique was permitted and there were many others who felt the same way. … In as small of a community as it was then, we had little trouble finding each other.”

“The difference now is that the region has become institutionalized, like the Base and the College, which have been a boon to the community, but they have become the final arbitrators in all thing financial, political, intellectual and creative. They need to be challenged and their relevance questioned to make room for new and creative acts to occur in the arts and business as well as in peoples lifestyles.”

Asked about the prospects of  using art to bolster Lexington Park today, Hewitt becomes animated in his writing.

“I have so many random thoughts about this creative community verses Institution . . . that needs to be part of the discussion down there.” He sees the need to prod and tap into the inspiration required to launch another creative arts initiative. “The county has done little to celebrate its identity, but has embraced mediocrity and rewards normalcy.

“The Creative Arts Forum was a place where we outsiders met and instigated acts of creative contradiction to the Institutions there, and we had a lot of fun watching them resist or eventually participate. What made this antagonism more enjoyable was the fact that these Institutions were so surprised that a bunch of local yokels could strategically press their buttons and force them into collaborating.”

“And this is an important point,” he says in his SlackWater interview as well. “We got tremendous resistance … A bunch of townies got together and prodded. . . . We felt very strongly about our community. And the act that we got resistance from these institutions made our effort more enjoyable and worthwhile.”

“We had a sign on the side of the door,” he says in his oral history, “‘If you can’t find the beloved community, do whatever you can to create it.’”

In keeping with his belief that all institutions must be challenged, one of Mr. Hewitt’s current projects is The Madness of Art, a video series poking fun at the New York art scene.

Only Lenny’s

Only the great Lenny’s pine tree remains locally of the classic American roadway signs shaped like cactus or ice cream cones. These pieces of art ranked among such great Route 66 icons as diners shaped like hotdogs or a ten-story Paul Bunyan straddling entryways.

Traveling the smaller highways there are still occasional throwbacks, some small burg that zoning sign ordinances have passed by. Even major highways still hold direct descendants of the “Burma Shave” sign series that defined rural roadside advertising for nearly 40 years.

Using cornball humor by 1928, the sign-after-sign series provoked amusement nearly from the start, even after evolving into highway safety messages through to their last series in 1963.

  • Takes the “H” out of shave / Makes it save / Saves complexion / Saves time and money / No brush – no lather / Burma-Shave (1928)
  • Hardly a driver / Is now alive / Who passed / On hills / At 75 / Burma-Shave (1936)
  • Our fortune / Is your / Shaven face / It’s our best / Advertising space / Burma-Shave (1953/1963)

Spontaneity, whimsy, creativity is needed to make a community vibrant and thriving, the very thing tamped down by rules seeking sameness and uniformity.

Will it always be everyone’s idea of “pretty” when creativity runs amok? Probably not. But who determines that the uniform way established by the rules of the day is pretty to everyone either? And is pretty what we need when we’re trying to save a town?

Rekindle the Spirit

In those early days of Lexington Park, you often had to do several things to make a living. I worked as a bartender, insurance agent, real estate developer and eventually worked as a banker. This diverse working experience has given me insights into the trials and tribulations of owning and sustaining a business in Southern Maryland.

That litany of careers is reflective of what Lexington Park was, an energetic blend of entrepreneurship and community building. Since its creation there was a vitality about it, that spirit of Lexington Park is what we miss when we reminisce. It is that spirit we must recapture if we are to revitalize.

Good Ideas, Bad Plan

My career was spent in St. Mary’s County, mostly in Lexington Park.

In those early days of Lexington Park, you often had to do several things to make a living. I worked as a bartender, insurance agent, real estate developer and eventually worked as a banker. This diverse working experience has given me insights into the trials and tribulations of owning and sustaining a business in Southern Maryland.

In addition to business, I worked in many community-oriented efforts including the 350th anniversary celebration, the St. Mary’s County Arts Forum, the Community Development Commission and was appointed to serve on the St. Mary’s County Planning Commission.

I continue to enjoy memories of the area prior to the Thomas Johnson Bridge, development of Rt. 235, and the first fast food franchises. The county seemed then divided between those who wanted to keep the County as it had always been, and  newcomers who demanded more conveniences and services.

Now retired, I have been asked and am anxious to share my reflections on and aspirations for the future of Lexington Park and St. Mary’s County.