The nine-foot wide Umbrellas of Harbert, each used as a canvas for the work of regional artists, are definitely not for foul weather. Instead each is an artistic endeavors created to be displayed along a mile stretch of Red Arrow Highway as it winds its way through the quaint lakeside community of Harbert, Michigan.
“If it rains or the wind kicks up we have to hurry to take them down,” says Robert Vincent Gildo, who has previously chaired the Umbrellas of Harbert event and also painted several umbrellas over the years.
Based very loosely on the Catherine Deneuve 1964 movie The Umbrellas of Cherbourg in which the actress plays Geneviève, who makes her living selling umbrellas at her not very successful boutique in Cherbourg, a coastal city in Normandy, the Harbert event was designed both to showcase not only the talents of local and regional artists but also as a charitable event. The umbrellas, once painted, are displayed in front of businesses such as Red Arrow Gallery, Vineyard Lofts, Seasons Harvest, Carol Brychta Real Estate, Dora Jane and the venerable Swedish Bakery, starting on the July 4th weekend. This year, on August 16, the umbrellas will then be relocated to the Center of the Universe for a 5 pm party which includes live music, food, wine and an auction. The monies raised from the auction have, in the past, gone to such organizations as the Michiana Humane Society,
“Some of the themes I do in my paintings, I incorporate into my umbrellas,” says Gildo, who not only owns the Red Arrow Gallery in Harbert with his wife, Jan, but also recently opened Vincent, another gallery, in downtown Three Oaks.
Each of the umbrellas, like any work of art, has a title and a few years ago Gildo, who likes to do skyscapes of Chicago, repeated that theme on an umbrella titled “Chicago.” Another of his umbrellas incorporated a dream that he and his fellow Rotarians have of adding such improvements to Hoadley Park in Three Oaks as a nature trail. Other works include pretty orange angelfish swimming in a deep blue sea and what he describes as “crazy jazz musicians in each panel.”
“The great thing about the Chicago umbrella is that it sold at auction for a few hundred dollars and then a couple of years later, the people donated it to the auction where it sold again, so we made more money on it for charity,” he says.
For the Gildo, the umbrellas are a family affair. His wife, Jan, has painted several including “The Opening” which depicts four couples drinking cocktails in conversation as they stand in front of paintings.
“It’s about the snobs who come into the gallery,” she says.
Jan’s sister, Cindy Yager, also participates in umbrella painting. Her “Sweet Nectar” was a splash of brightly colored flowers and hummingbirds.
“The goal of the "Umbrellas of Harbert" is to help bring public awareness to the town of Harbert as a diverse community with many businesses and cultural offerings,” notes Rich Kochanny, President of the Harbert Business Association (HBA) which sponsors the event, adding that it also provides the opportunity to give back to the area by supporting different local charities.
According to an article Kochanny shared that ran in Narooma News, the Harbert event helped spur the Umbrellas of Bermagui in Australia.
Though Gildo is a recognized artist, you don’t have to be to enter.
“I’m not really an artist,” says his wife Jan. “It’s just fun to do.”
The HBA provides the blank umbrellas to interested artists who then get to work. But a word to the wise, it ain’t necessarily stress-free.
“You look at the umbrellas and it looks easy,” says Gildo. “But it’s quite a process taking an immense amount of work and time. First of all it’s hard to get a perspective like you would with a flat canvas. They’re round with eight flat panels. It takes hours just to put on a base coat and if you worked on it straight through it would take at least a week.”
Gildo pauses for just a quick moment and then continues.
“But it’s great to do and great to see them on the road,” he says. “Plus it’s for the good of the community. We have a lot of great artists who participate and they all do very creative umbrellas.”
What: The Umbrellas of Harbert
When: On display beginning July 4th weekend at business along Red Arrow Highway until Saturday, August 16 at 5pm when charity auction begins.
Where: Auction at the Center of the World Showroom, 13400 Red Arrow Highway
FYI: For more information, 269-876-7879; harbert-michigan.com