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.

Legendary Cowsills to Come Home to Be Recognized By Their Own

Published January 25, 2013, Pawtucket Times

Bob Cowsill, of Rhode Island’s legendary Cowsills, has come full circle in his forty year musical career. Now living on the West Coast, the nationally-acclaimed musician and his band member siblings are planning a trip back to their childhood home. On Sunday, April 28th at the Hope Artiste Village complex in Pawtucket, they will be inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF).

Beginning a Musical Journey

The Cowsills, who play pop and rock ‘n’ roll, are one of the most successful family musical acts of the 1960s. They grew up just an hour’s drive from Pawtucket, on Aquidneck Island where their names are still carved into a tree on the family homestead. The band was founded by four of the Cowsill brothers (Bob, Bill, Barry and John) in 1965. Within two years, it encompassed nearly the entire family with the additions of brother Paul, sister Susan, and their mother, Barbara (“Mini-Mom”). Their father, Bud, became their manager. (Bob’s twin brother Richard is the only sibling who never joined the band.) The Cowsills later became the creative inspiration for the 1970’s television show, The Partridge Family, still in syndication today.

The Cowsills were the first of the family rock groups, opening the door for others, says Bob, the eldest of the musical clan. Those following in their footsteps included The Jackson 5 and The Osmonds, who made the switch to rock following the Cowsills’ success.

“The family angle just evolved,” says Cowsill, stressing that it should not be considered “premeditated.” When it became difficult to interest musicians on Aquidneck Island to join the fledgling band, Cowsill notes that it became obvious that the younger siblings were the answer to filling the empty slots.

In the mid-sixties, the Cowsills were hired as a regular act on Bannister’s Wharf, playing weekly at Dorians, in Newport, “at that time a rough Navy town,” says Bob.

He notes that the group’s first big career break in 1964 came after playing in the basement disco of the MK Hotel, 38 Bellevue Ave., in Newport. From this performance came an invitation to play on the Today Show. Their 20 minute performance caught the attention of singer Johnny Nash and the group signed their first recording contract with his JODA Records label, releasing their first single, “All I Really Want To Be Is Me,” in 1965.

America’s Musical Family

Cowsill recalls how that first single was pitted against “The Sound of Silence” on a WPRO radio contest. When the votes were tabulated, the Newport band “won by a landside.” To this day, he still chuckles when remembering the Cowsills’ victory over America’s most recognizable musical duo, Simon and Garfunkel.

From the late ’60s into the early ’70s, the Cowsills appeared on many popular television shows, among them: The Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand, The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, the Mike Douglas Show, and the Johnny Cash Show. They even hosted their own NBC TV special called “A Family Thing.”

“Bewilderment,” says Cowsill, thinking about his two performances on The Ed Sullivan Show. The group had contracted to appear ten times which would have put them on Sunday’s most popular show more times than The Beatles. But a fiasco over a microphone that was accidentally turned off between Sullivan’s son-in-law and Bud Cowsill resulted in the cancellation of the remaining eight shows, he said.

Before the young Cowsills had their first hit record, they were hired as one of the headliners, along with Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, The Byrds and The Beach Boys (all Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees) for Soundblast ’66 at Yankee Stadium in New York. “We were in pop wonderland. It was just unbelievable. Somehow, my father worked magic and got us to Yankee Stadium for this show. We were not famous at the time but apparently good enough to play for the crowd.”

Bringing Home the Gold

In 1967, the Cowsills first MGM release, “The Rain, The Park & Other Things,” sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold record. This song would ultimately reach No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 in Cash Box and Record World.

One year later, the band scored another near million-selling hit with the song “Indian Lake,” reaching No. 10 on the charts and in 1968, the band hit No. 1 again with their version of “Hair,” a three-million seller which brought them a nomination for 16 Magazine’s Best Group of 1970. “Hair” was banned from Armed Forces radio in Viet Nam for being too controversial, noted Cowsill, stating that, “We were amused at the time because our brother, Richard, who was in Vietnam reported back that they were playing it everywhere!”

Baby boomers may remember the Cowsills taking on the role as spokespersons for the American Dairy Assn. with their “Milk Song” appearing in commercials and their images in print ads promoting milk. Cowsill also notes that his group has been referenced in trivia game questions and twice on David Letterman’s Top Ten List.

In 1969, The Cowsills became the first rock group to record a theme for a television show, “Love American Style.” Their melodic sound has also been featured in movies such as “The Impossible Years” and “Dumb and Dumber”, and other TV shows including “The Wonder Years” and “The Simpsons.”

A feature-length film, “Family Band – The Story of The Cowsills,” which documents the rise and fall of the group is coming to cable TV in March. “It will show what really happened in our family band,” says Cowsill.

The Cowsills disbanded in the early 1970s but most of them have never fully retired from the music business and various members have regrouped through the years.

Cowsill and his siblings John, Susan and Paul, plus two of the band member’s sons, continue to play concerts across the country at casinos, fairs and music festivals. Today, he’s come full circle in his career. For more than 27 years, the sixty-three year old musician has been playing at Pickwick’s Pub in Woodland Hills, California, every Friday night, once again performing the songs of the Beatles and The Byrds. During the day, Cowsill coordinates medical conferences across the country, provides medical coding services to emergency departments, and assists in developing and installing software for use in emergency rooms.

On April 28th, 2013, The Cowsills will be inducted into The Rhode Island Music Hall Of Fame along with Steve Smith & The Nakeds, Bobby Hackett, Paul Geremia, Jimmie Crane, Eddie Zack, Sissieretta Jones, George M. Cohan and Bill Flanagan.

Reflecting on this upcoming recognition, Bob says, “The fact that we are being inducted into RIMHOF and not the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is more special to us. There is a little bit more meaning to us because we are Rhode Islanders, to be recognized by our own. It is very cool to go to Pawtucket rather than Cleveland!”

For more information about the Cowsills, to leave a message on the group’s guestbook, or to sign a petition to get them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, visit: http://www.cowsill.com.

Tickets for the 2013 induction are $20 in advance or $25 at the door for the evening ceremonies and concert, and $10.00 in advance or at the door for the afternoon events. The Cowsills will perform in the evening. Tickets are available at http://www.rhodeislandmusichalloffame.com.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at: hweissri@aol.com. He also serves on RIMHOF’s Board of Directors.