Jul 26, 2013
09:38 AM
Arts & Entertainment

Mayflower Inn's Former Co-Owner Nourishes Manhattan Arts Enrichment

Mayflower Inn's Former Co-Owner Nourishes Manhattan Arts Enrichment

Laurie Gaboardi/The Litchfield County Times.

Adriana Mnuchin at her home in Washington, Conn.

One poem by Emily Dickinson opens with the line “forever is composed of nows.”

This handful of simple words twist together like a brilliant taproot reaching deep into the core consideration for sensitive, intelligent people who endeavor to sculpt rich, fulfilling lives and employ as raw material the transformative influence of arts and culture.

If the “nows” can be seen as our assimilation of experiential time—triumphs over the drudgery of linear time—then the accumulation of deeply salutary experiences creates within us the feeling of having achieved some state-of-grace portal of connection to the eternal.

The artist Mark Rothko understood this—or at least endeavored to. He sought in his work to reduce the elements to a universal language that could embody the idea that the true “nows” of the soul were nothing but parts of “forever,” of the eternal, and that the only worthy artistic quest was to reach out to grasp the eternal.

These are ideas that come to mind in speaking to Adriana Mnuchin, who rescued, luxuriously renovated and formerly owned the Mayflower Inn & Spa in Washington, Conn., with her husband Robert, who worked on Wall Street for more than three decades and went on to become an internationally prominent art dealer and principal of the Mnuchin Gallery in Manhattan.

Adriana Mnuchin not only has an appreciation for Rothko and calls Emily Dickinson her favorite poet but she is—and long has been—on a self-sculpted mission to enhance the cultural intake of others, and, in essence, reshape their “nows” so artfully that they come together as a new feeling of “forever” that is as profound as it may be difficult to articulate.

Her form of sophisticated activism is nothing new, as longtime guests and fans of the Mayflower will recall. It took the form not only of a meticulously executed Shakespeare Garden, but also the American Poets’ Maze on the inn’s gracious property, which contained “rooms” devoted to poets with plaques offering selections of their work for contemplation. Then, too, there were the world-class exhibits that arrived at the Mayflower, like the one that had a collection of works by Andy Warhol take up residence for a time in the genteel dining room that otherwise was home to sporting art and conservative country scenes.

These days, Mnuchin’s passion for arts and culture is devoted to an outgrowth of The Shakespeare Society, which she co-founded in 1997 “for people who share a passion for Shakespeare and an enduring desire to understand and appreciate the greatest playwright of the English language.”

Working again with Nancy Becker, in 2009 Mnuchin created the Roundtable Cultural Seminars in Manhattan, a nonprofit organization “whose mission is to engage your intellectual curiosity and enrich your life.” The seminars are held in the spring and fall in a townhouse on East 78th Street, and the hallmarks of each—consisting generally of six 90-minute session over a period of weeks—are their intimate and interactive nature, based on groups being limited to approximately 15, and the range of compelling subjects explored by professionals with impressive credentials.

This past spring, seminar topics covered architecture, art, global affairs, the Islamic world, literature, poetry, opera, theater and technology. While many of those are weighty topics, the point of this adult education enrichment is anything but pedantic, which translates in part into seminars entitled “Motown Rhythm & Blues” and “Sustainable Happiness.”

“People were really rockin’ in their seats,” Mnuchin said of the Motown seminar in an interview at her hilltop home in a rural section of Washington. “The bottom line of it all is that adults are really eager and willing to participate in a well-structured experience of learning.” As a result, the seminars are all filled, and that goes not only for Motown and other fun topics but also for such other seminars as “America and the Contemporary Global Order,” “Women in the Islamic World” and “Wagner’s Ring Cycle Demystified.”

Several factors combine to drive the success of the Roundtable Cultural Seminars, notably the interactive nature and the expertise of those at the helm, who are often professors that teach, or have taught, at the graduate or undergraduate level.

Drama critic Terry Teachout, for example, is one guest of the “Theater Talk” seminars, and another guest was the stage manager for “Once,” the musical that won eight 2012 Tony Awards and tells the tale of a Dublin street musician who is ready to give up when he meets a beautiful woman interested in his haunting love songs. Such seminars sell out because they transport people into “what’s going on behind the stage” and in the business.

One seminar whose popularity surprised Mnuchin takes on contemporary art and “speaks to the nature of the art being produced today” by pondering such questions as “What is it? What does it mean?” Additional seminars had to be added based on demand.

“The people choose to be there and bring with them a very unique enthusiasm,” Mnuchin said of the high level of interest, and while the seminars are held in Manhattan, participants come from the tri-state area, including southern Litchfield County.

Inspired by success, the roundtable series continues to grow, largely by adding new and different topics, and increasing the interactive features utilized in the two seminar rooms, one featuring an actual roundtable that holds 15 people, and another that is a screening room that accommodates 18 people. In the fall, a seminar on Shakespeare on film will offer comparative performances.

Asked after one of her references to Shakespeare if she misses the Mayflower, where readings were held in the Shakespeare Garden and books of the Bard’s sonnets were in every room, she fondly recalled the “17-year journey of rebuilding it and then running it,” and said, “It was at a different time in my life and I loved doing it.”

But, she added in reference to the seminars, “This has long been an element of my interest in education.” And it is one that doesn’t skimp on the human touch, as is evidenced by the mini-seminar held in June, entitled “Harmonius Living for Mind and Body.” It featured Yogi Charu teaching participants “mind/body practices involved in meditation, which will enable the minds to become focused and centered in order to deal with the stresses of daily life.”

Registration is open for the fall seminars, which include “The Novella: A Genre for Our Time,” “Shakespeare: Great Performances on Film,” “Understanding the Art of Today,” “Viva Verdi: Six Defining Operas,” “Masterworks of Asian Art,” “Hollywood Song & Dance,” “Sondheim & Co,” “The Odyssey: For All Time and Our Time” and “The United States in the Middle East.” The website for Roundtable Cultural Seminars is http://roundtableculturalseminars.org.

Editor's note: This story appeared in the summer issue of Passport magazine, published by The Litchfield County Times. It can also be viewed on the Passport website.

 

Mayflower Inn's Former Co-Owner Nourishes Manhattan Arts Enrichment

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