Manasota Key is a serene little island that has some of the best scenic views on the Gulf Coast. Bungalows and Florida cottages make up this quieter stretch of beach. Here you won’t find all the hype of other area beaches, but you will find a secluded, natural and serene setting with waves and sand for as far as they eye can see. And, Manasota Key, itself, is also the home of the famous Hermitage Artist Retreat, where internationally-lauded artists of all mediums commune to enjoy the beautiful beach surrounding. They practice their arts and share ideas with other artists in a unique, one-of-a-kind venue.
A stay at the Hermitage is by invitation only, where well-respected artists are given a bank of six weeks to be used over a two-year period to stay and practice their crafts at the waterfront residences. In exchange for the extraordinary opportunity to convene with other artists at the 109-year-old Hermitage, the artists offer to share their talents with the public through presentations and workshops. Soaking up the Florida sun, along with the immensely inspirational atmosphere found on the small compound that consists of five “Old Florida” cottages, artists find that a stay at the Hermitage is not only prestigious, but also relaxing. With careful restoration and impeccable upkeep, the structures become home to new sets of grand artists, each getting to experience the joy and uniqueness that a stay there affords, while leaving behind the fruitful works of their extraordinary talents.
Like most interesting places, the history of the Hermitage is unique. Originally owned by a Swedish immigrant, the structures have also been the site of a nudist resort, taking advantage of the privacy found on its shores in the 1930s. Over time, the property was owned by raucous bachelors and hard-working families, and eventually was combined with neighboring properties to create one large parcel situated right on the Gulf of Mexico. Efforts to save the buildings from beach erosion in the mid-1970s by writer Ruth Swayze and her daughter Carroll led to the eventual purchase of the property by Sarasota County Parks and Recreation. Although the county had intended to use the property as a beachfront parking lot, the historical significance of the buildings prevented that from happening. Englewood residents saw a need to restore the buildings to their former glory, representing all the possibilities of life on the Gulf of Mexico that must have meant so much to early pioneers. A collaboration of local artists and philanthropists brought forth the idea of an artist’s retreat that was put into place with aggressive fund-raising and community awareness for the project.
Today the Hermitage is a proud example of a beach community that came together for a shared notion to save it’s most beautiful and perhaps vulnerable buildings from destruction and eventual replacement with a parking lot or concrete structure. Furthermore, the Hermitage is now a living tribute to artists everywhere. The groups who have spent time there honing their crafts, sharing their talents, and adding their name to the list of guests, is impressive. A collage of musicians, artists, composers, singers, sculptors, playwrights, all who have attained a superior level of achievement in their respective fields, have spent time on the grounds and in the confines of their cottages creating great art. A National Artist Advisory Committee comprised of some of America’s finest directors, curators, and artists decides who is invited to spend time at the Hermitage.
The community is invited to attend several outreach events that the Hermitage offers. The artists who stay there are required to offer two programs each, in exchange for the opportunity to visit the Hermitage, and all the programs are free and most are open to the public. Intimate beach readings coinciding with explosive sunsets are often listed on their events calendar so be sure to check their website, pack your favorite beverage and beach chair, and head to the Hermitage for a uniquely artistic and “Old Florida” evening. For more information on the artists who have spent time at the Hermitage or to plan a trip, please visit http://hermitageartistretreat.org/.
Photos courtesy of Hermitage Artist Retreat on Facebook and website.