We are grateful to the Sarasota Herald Tribune for celebrating the new Hermitage Artist Retreat concept, revealed at the Artful Lobster event by Michael A. Gilkey, Inc. in November.
ENGLEWOOD — The Hermitage Artist Retreat — an old Manasota Key nudist resort that became a haven for poets, painters and playwrights — will be getting a new look.
A landscaping plan for the six-acre property will add outdoor space for public events while increasing privacy for visiting artists and preserving the history and ecology of the site.
The Hermitage unveiled plans recently at the Artful Lobster, its annual fundraiser. Guests were impressed.
“The real reaction,” said Hermitage Executive Director Bruce Rodgers, “comes from people making contributions to make this happen.”
The Hermitage expects to spend several hundred thousand dollars on a master plan created by Michael Gilkey, a Sarasota landscape architect. He’s done mostly residential projects. Work on an artist retreat was something new.
“I was intrigued by what they do, and by the property,” Gilkey said. “Manasota is one of, if not the, most natural keys we have. They have four different ecosystems to work with and create these wonderful spaces.”
The first phase of the three-year project will include renovation and restoration of the Palm House, which Sarasota County purchased in 2015, along with planting a buffer of native plants along Manasota Key Road.
“Currently, the campus looks toward the road,” Rodgers said. “It doesn’t look toward the Gulf, which is the most exciting feature.”
The first Manasota Key residents settled on the Hermitage site in 1907. This was just south of what is called Blind Pass Beach. During the 1930s, the homestead became the Sea Island Sanctuary, which promoted nudism on its sunny beaches.
In the 1970s, Englewood residents began a campaign to preserve the “Old Florida” buildings on the property, which was donated to the Sarasota County Parks and Recreation. In the 1990s, the Sarasota County Arts Council led an effort to turn the site into a not-for-profit artist retreat.
Phil Kline, a composer who stayed at the Hermitage in 2012, used to set up his keyboard and computer in a room overlooking the shore.
In the evening, he took beach walks and shared dinner with fellow artists. He would count down the days he had left on Manasota Key.
“I generally don’t do art colonies,” Kline said. “I’m not antisocial, but the whole idea seems kind of strange to me. But this place is different. This place is really small, with just five or six people staying at one time. It’s very intimate, very low-key.”
The Hermitage chose Gilkey based on his reputation and a presentation for Manasota Key.
“He’s an artist in the way he approaches landscaping,” Rodgers said. “It just seemed to be a good match.”
Gilkey called a rendering of his master plan “An Expression of The Hermitage Mission.”
He stressed the use of native plants to create areas of privacy for visiting artists and gathering places for groups. The ecology of the site includes primary and secondary sand dunes, along with mangroves and coastal hammock.
Visitors generally rave about the Hermitage, but Rodgers believes a better plan for the site will improve their experiences.
The whole idea for the retreat is a free space for creative people.
“We’ve got 12 years of experience working with our artists,” Rodgers said. “We’ve gotten to know them very well.”