Artist Philippe Lejeune Brings Interactive Installations to Slater Park Fall Festival

Published in Pawtucket Times, September 13, 2013

In writings about his artwork, French artist Philippe Lejeune says, “I play and stage ‘ephemeral images’ that live and move with us in the present time – accurate reflections, illusions of form that relate to our existence. Volatile images that can feed or simply touch our mental images, something one can remember.”

For me, and probably many of my readers,’s comment might just seem a little bit esoteric. On Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 21-22, 2013 at Slater Memorial Park during the upcoming Slater Park Fall Festival, you can meet this new Pawtucket artist and experience his “Glass Project” (www.projeqt.com/tiil). Your trip may well unravel any confusion pertaining to his artistic medium, vision or creativity.

Coming to America

The sixty-two year old French artist, who grew up in a suburb just five minutes from Paris, discovered his artistic talent at age 13 when on a weekend he picked up a pen to sketch his family during a moment of boredom. Years later after graduating high school, his talent would be sharpened by formalized artistic training in printmaking at the “Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs, an acclaimed fine arts school in Paris.

The young man became an apprentice at the printmaking studio of Mario Boni, where he would later work with renowned illustrator Jean-Michel Folon. As Folon’s engraver, Lejeune translated the printmaker’s vision into the medium of print, gaining an international reputation for his mastery of Aquatint, a technique that causes the finished prints to often time resemble watercolors or wash drawings.

In 1984, Lejeune and his wife moved to Westport, Connecticut, where he became an etching artist in his own right, where his etchings were exclusively being distributed world-wide by Cavalicro Fine Arts. As his success grew by leaps and bounds, the artist became disenchanted with the “Art marketplace” because he felt he was becoming just a “producer of commodities.” Three years later, Lejeune would leave his beloved printmaking, branching into painting and sculpture with a more contemporary art approach.

Developing his Artistic Craft

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Lejeune was commissioned to create outdoor aluminum sculptures for private estates and public spaces in both the United States and France. The city of Stamford, Connecticut commissioned a public installation consisting of seven wood, glass, and mirror pieces for the Bank Street Program at the Toquam School. The commission required students to interact with his art work. His huge installations became a vehicle for their own artistic expressions.

In 1992 the French artist returned to his homeland where he later developed a new artistic approach. His site-specific installations were created to challenge the viewer’s perceptions by juxtaposing reality with virtual images, to blur the line between “what is” and “what is not.” Lejeune took his concept to the Centre d’Art Contemporain de la ferme du Buisson in Marne-la Vallee as well as in schools, museums and public spaces around Paris, using his artwork as a teaching tool for expanding the awareness of children as well as adults.

In 1996, the French artist returned to the states, bringing his wife and four children to Cotuic in Cape Cod, residing in a home-built in 1850. A decade later, he moved his family to Boston.

During this time, the French artist began painting trees on plywood, creating what he calls a “plywood forest,” later on experimenting with digital photography within the boundaries with traditional photography, transforming still images into virtual animation. He also became an adjunct art teacher at Cape Cod Community College, teaching drawing and painting, creating a hybrid on-line art classes along with a video blogging class.

Coming to Pawtucket

The high cost to rent artist live-work space in Boston brought Lejeune (now separated) to Pawtucket, to rent a 2,800 square foot studio, owned by internationally acclaimed Glass artist, Great Howard Ben Tre.

The transplanted Massachusetts artist began an exploration of Providence and Pawtucket, reaching out to local art groups and artists. An internet search led him to this writer (who serves as the City’s Economic & Cultural Affairs officer). Learning of Lejeune’s interest in bringing interactive installations to Pawtucket, he was referred to Patty Zacks, an organizer of the Slate Park Fall Festival. Lejeune was invited to bring his “magical confusion” installations to the large outdoor art festival in the City’s largest park. He also was invited to take part in planning the two day event.

For those coming to Slater Park Fall Fest, they will experience Lejeune’s interactive installations, created to confuse the viewer’s senses and perception. viewers don’t just passively look at the art work, they are drawn in to become more physically engaged.

Celebrate the Beauty of Slater Park

Art lovers of every age can greet more than 125 artists and artisans at the Slater Park Fall Festival, which also presents a highlight of the festival performance by the Rhode Island Philharmonic Pops Orchestra sponsored by The Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance. An exciting addition to this weekend is a performance by the Cowsills, national music heroes with hometown Rhode Island roots (the rain date for the Rhode Island Philharmonic Pops in the Park concert is September 23 at 5:30 p.m. at Slater Memorial Park). Bring your lawn chairs and blankets. A dazzling fireworks show sponsored by Bristol County Savings Bank will take place at the conclusion of the concert.

The Slater Park Fall Festival is a ‘community festival’ where the public has the opportunity to meet some of its local artists, learn about their craft and discover what makes Pawtucket special! This event also features an “open air market” of food trucks, farmers market, and craft exhibitions, a gallery at the Watercolor Society, and tours are available at historic Daggett House.

Other performers and presenters at the two-day event includes: Marvelous Marvin the Magician, Greek dancers, Big Nazo puppets, the Sons & Daughters of Erin Irish Festival, Living Statues by Students of Beacon Charter High School for the Arts in Woonsocket. Enjoy a classic car cruise, Chicken Little dance performance by the Part of the Oath, Poetry Slam, Peace Flag project, and demonstrations by URI master gardeners at Daggett Farm, and Rock-A-Baby RI. This “pet friendly” festival has something for everyone – including the Slater Park (Pawtucket) Dog Park!

Children will enjoy face painting, paddle boat rides, the Pawtucket Bookmobile (Sunday), and the Looff Carousel.

A final note…

So, if classical or oldies music is just not your cup of tea, why not attend the Sept. 22 fundraiser of the Pawtucket Fireworks Committee, scheduled from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at The Met, 1005 Main St., Pawtucket. This fundraiser features Rhode Island’s own Steve Smith & The Nakeds, currently celebrating their 40th anniversary, have proven their staying power as they continue to enjoy a full touring schedule and an ever-growing fan base. Fondly called simply “The Nakeds” by their legion of fans, this band of musicians was inducted in April, 2013, into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame. Admission: $20.

For more details about the Slater Park Fall Festival or for programming information about tomorrow’s Pawtucket Arts Festival events (Rocktucket, Behind the Scenes Tour of TEN31 and Central Falls Bright Future Festival) or the events scheduled for the final weekend, visit: http://www.pawtucketartsfestival.org or call 401-724-2200.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering, aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Hindu Spiritual Leader Heals with Hugs

         Published July 20, 2012, Pawtucket Times 

         Just shy of an hour’s drive from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, thousands of spiritual seekers and devotee’s of Sri Mata Amritanandamayi, simply known to her followers as Amma (or mother in Sanskrit), gathered at the huge conference and trade center at the Best Western Royal Plaza in Marlborough, Massachusetts, just to sit before the Indian Saint to experience her healing embrace, hugs, and to meditate.   

          Throughout the free public morning and evening programs held on July 14th, followed by a three-day retreat (costing $360 for adults that included room and board; less for children), organizers estimated that there would be over 10,000 hugs given to those attending this year’s New England gathering for her blessing.  The New England program was the last stop of her North American Tour, an annual tour that began in 1987.

 Sitting Before Amma

          Issac Amponsah, proprietor of Ama’s Variety on Main Street, attends Catholic services, mediates twice a day chanting his Transcendental Meditation (TM) mantra and along with following the teachings of Amma.

         Last year Amponsah’s car broke down on his way the see Amma.  Now, waits for hours in the 47,500 square foot conference and trade center with his brother, Paul, to see Amma and get her blessings.  The Pawtucket businessman, casually dressed wearing sandals, knelt before Amna, surrounding by swamis in orange robes, devotee volunteers and spiritual seekers, getting his brief embrace, lasting for less than a minute.  Amma slowly rocked the Woodlawn resident as she chanted a mantra in his ear. When finished he left carrying a spiritually-charged Hersey Kiss and a few flower petals.

        Over thirty four years ago, Amponsah says curiosity and a thirst for knowledge led him to Transcendental Meditation (TM), when he learned the art of meditation. In 1992, a fellow TM practitioner brought him to meet Amma in New York and where he got his first hug and listened to her Vedic philosophies.  Over the years he still travels to see her when she comes through New England.

        “Knowledge, inspiration and love are the things I take away from seeing Amma,” states Amponsah.  He believes that she is the true expression of Devine love, just like Jesus Christ, too.      

        “It was like soul connecting to soul,” noted Amponsah, trying to explain his brief spiritual encounter with Amma.  “She just radiates love.”

        Like Amponsah, other aging Rhode Island baby boomers came across the Massachusetts’s border to get Amma’s blessing, too.

        For the last couple of years, Elizabeth Johanson, 50, a Pawtucket resident and a practicing Catholic has also come for Amma’s hugs and blessings.  She considers this Hindu Saint to be the incarnation of the divine Mother.

       According to Johanson, “Amma’s the real deal,” who financially supports programs to promote nonviolence and social justice, and feeding and housing the poor.

       Johanson, wearing a white t-shirt sporting the word, “love” wears an Our Lady of Guadalupe medallion, strongly believes that her yearly encounters with Amma and studying her teachings only strengthens her traditional beliefs in Catholicism.

       “I try to take Amma’s love and unconditional compassion out into Pawtucket and Central Falls each day, notes the mental health worker. “As I become more spiritually nourished I am able to become more patient and tolerate in my every day world, she says.

        Fifty-seven year old Tommy Emmet, who grew up practicing the doctrine of the Church of England, now is spiritually eclectic.  Practicing Hindu and Buddhism, and an avid reader of tomes on the world’s religions he sees the thread of truth in all religious practices.

        Wearing blue jeans and a colorful Hawaiian shirt, the aging baby boomer proudly wears an Obama ’08 button, sporting a necklace showing his religious beliefs.  Dangling charms were of images of Hindu deities, others of Native American symbols, and one of  Amma.

         In 2007, his wife, Karen Lee, the owner of the Pawtucket-based Breathing Time Yoga Studio, introduced him to Amma. Emmet, an usher at National Amusement Theater at Providence mall, has continued to come each year for her healing hugs and blessings.

         Emmet claims that sitting before this Hindu Spiritual teacher enables him to more easily connect to his divine, higher power and allows him to be more loving with himself and others.  “Thinking about Amma just helps me get through the day,” he says.

.The Making of Spiritual Teacher

         Amma grew up in poverty in 1953 in a remote coastal village in Kerala, South India, her family trade — fishing.  As a young girl she spent many hours in deep mediation on the seashore where she began to compose devotional songs, many of these compositions revealed depth and wisdom.

         With an ailing mother, Amma left school to help with household tasks, taking care of her seven siblings. As she went door-to-door gathering food scraps from neighbors for her family’s cows, she saw intense poverty and suffering in her community.  She brought people food and clothing from her own home, to the dismay of her family.      

        With this begun the spontaneously hugging of people to comfort them, who responded by calling her Amma (Mother).  She found her path of serving others…

 Amma Recognized Around the Globe for her Charity Work

        In 1997, Amma toured the world, including the United States.  With her home ashram in Kerala, South India, her ashrams, teaching her philosophy that all religions are one, are now scattered around the world.  Her devotees say that Amma has never asked anyone to change their religion, only that they go deeper into their values or faith, and live by those essential principles. 

        One year later, one of her initiatives, “Embracing the World Program” (ETW), has funded humanitarian efforts throughout in India.  This program has provided more than $50 million in totally free medical care, built an 800-bed hospital, a medical school and health clinics.  Meanwhile, it has provided more than 40,000 homes for the homeless throughout India and given financial aid for 100,000 people unable to care for themselves.  ETW projects also fund vocational-training, literacy-training, open and operate orphanages, hospices, nursing homes, scholarship programs, and even the planting trees.

        Amma has received international praise.  She has delivered addresses at the United Nations several times and has spoken twice at the Parliament of the World’s Religions.  She has also received the Gandhi-King Award for Non-violence in Geneva and the James Park Morton Interfaith Award in New York. Two years ago, the Hindu spiritual leader was presented an honorary doctorate in humane letters at the University at Buffalo North Campus.

       Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health and medical issues.  This article was published in the July 20, 2012 issue of the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.