Kenya is calling Gina Pierleoni.
The invitation is out for everyone to meet and greet the Bel Air artist Saturday night, July 23, and, by the way, to enjoy an evening of live entertainment, silent auctions and raffles. The goal is to raise money to help send Gina to Kenya in October for two weeks, where she'll do a workshop and service work with members of the Masai tribe. It is the second year for the venture, which is named Kenya Calling.
The benefit is from 7 p.m. until 11 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church at 2515 Churchville Road in Bel Air. Admission is free. It is sponsored by One Hundred Meetings, a two-year-old Harford County-based group which describes itself as "…a grassroots organization dedicated to providing service to the community through educational activities, workshops, outreach, and mentoring programs that involve the creative and healing arts." More benefit details can be found on the group's website, http://www.one-hundredmeetings.org.
Entertainment ranges from live "yokelbilly music" by the Rowdy Boys to belly dancers Naimah and Thalia. DJ Ruth Rarick will provide music for dancing, and professional clown Suellen Perlmutter will be on hand to keep the smiles coming. Bake tables will offer sustenance for the inner man (or woman).
The items donated to be auctioned or raffled off are astonishing in their variety.
"It's not just people being generous," said Gina, who teaches drawing and painting at Harford Community College. "It's people being excruciatingly thoughtful. People are going beyond what I could imagine."
Two Brahmin handbags, a salwar/kameez/dupatta (pants, tunic-length shirt and loose scarf) ensemble, vintage costume jewelry, theme-based baskets, tickets for a cruise aboard The Lantern Queen in Havre de Grace, an Egyptian dress, a Lexmark 4x6 photo printer, an Easy Stepper, wrought iron plant holders, a gold and amethyst ring, and a cinnabar, jade and silver beaded bracelet are only some of the items. Golden, the New York paint company whose products Gina has used for years, has donated a set of paints for the auction as well as paints for her to take to Kenya. Area artists are also donating some of their work.
Because she will be flying in small planes to get to tribal areas, Gina's luggage is limited to small duffle bags. Even so, she plans to take paper, sketch pads and a camera.
Free the Children (a charity and educational partner that empowers youth around the world) and Me to We (an offshoot that arranges volunteer trips, sells clothing and handcrafted accessories, and gives half of its proceeds to Free the Children) are making flight arrangements and orchestrating the service work, which may focus on a school building. Gina's longtime friends, David Baum and Kathy Karn, will lead the 10-day workshop.
"David e-mailed and asked me if I would like to come to Kenya. He said that I would love it and be forever changed," recalled Gina, 52. "He sent a photo taken at the first Kenya Calling last year showing the Masai and the participants. I thought, 'I think I am supposed to stand in that circle.'"
Although Gina will travel a whopping 8,000 miles from the home she shares with sculptor Brent Crothers and their son, Trane, 16, it's not the first time she has ventured far. In 2003, Gina drove to Bear Island, Ontario, north of Toronto, for a "tipi workshop" with the Anishnabai tribe called Rekindling the Spirit. They had answered an invitation from David Baum and Kathy Karn to participate.
"I took paints, and a medicine woman asked me to paint a raven on one teepee," Gina recalled. "A friend who went recently to Bear Island says it's still there.
Since she graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Gina has shared her art in numerous solo and group exhibitions and received various grants and awards. In addition to teaching at HCC, she has served as Artist in Residence with several elementary schools. She volunteered with the late Beth Vaughan's Upper Nodd Players and talks about her plans to compile a how-to manual on stimulating creativity on http://www.uppernoddproject.com. She has done doll making and drawing workshops for home schoolers and hosts mask-making workshops in her home. She is illustrating a book in the American Sign Language Tales series, which always include a DVD showing a signer delivering the text.
"I am a curious person. The main thing is that I want to expand myself as a human being, and I am compelled to share with other people," said Gina, who is a member of 100 Meetings.
"One Hundred Meetings was started two years ago by long-time friends, acupuncturist Stacey McFarlane and Jeff Breland," she explained. "They wanted to create a space where people could come to refresh and replenish. We started doing activities together like massage and art classes. The name came from the point on the top of the head where [many] meridians converge, a very powerful spot."
Traveling to Kenya requires lots of medical precautions. For example, Gina will get vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, tetanus, polio, typhoid and yellow fever. She will take pills to prevent malaria and carry a supply of Deet.
Several months after she returns, she plans to give talks at HCC and a yet to be determined site in Baltimore about her experiences on the journey.
"I am going to be like a honeybee. I am going to share what I have got with the hive," she said.