We try to schedule a variety of acts for Friday at the Ford, the coffeehouse-styled concerts at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library, but we have never had anything like Tragedy to Triumph: The Story of Artemisia by Linda M. Smith, which included her original songs along with a multimedia presentation of the paintings of Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652). With Robert Arendt (bass, guitars, and vocals) and Eugenia Elliott (flute, guitar, and vocals), Smith presented an hour-long cycle of songs that related to the paintings and life of the woman who distinguished herself in the male-dominated world of Renaissance art. It was a mesmerizing performance with its Ken Burns-like use of moving illustrations.
In performance, the song cycle itself was twelve contemporary songs (fourteen on the CD) between which Linda and Eugenia narrated the life of Artemisia, which included rape, a public trial, and an arranged marriage, as well as later recognition of her great talent. The songs varied widely in tempo and mood in accord with the images projected - Old Testament figures and gods and goddesses of classical mythology - the subjects available for Artemisia to paint. "Susanna - The Story of Susanna and the Elders" and "Stolen Gem - The Story of David and Bathsheba" focus on specific paintings. Even without any historical knowledge, audiences can understand the moods of the songs and sympathize with the painter. All the songs express deep emotions.
Smith has performed Artemesia at several of libraries, as well as other venues in the Chicago area, and is completing a new work based on selkies, creatures of Celtic mythology. The singer/songwriter said she particularly enjoys playing to library audiences who are attentive and thoughtful, and she answered questions from enthusiastic listeners after the performance. Several told me afterwards how much they enjoyed the concert and appreciated the handout that identified the art work shown. I'd gladly recommend Smith and her band to other libraries wanting an artful and educational musical presentation.