SRU art and dance exhibit to set sail in Baltimore


Heather Hertel’s “Dance and Fly” sailcloth

Slippery Rock University art professor Heather Hertel’s “Dance and Fly” sailcloth art project will be exhibited on the deck of the Pride of Baltimore II, Aug. 4-6 in Baltimore. Performances by SRU dance majors will be incorporated into the exhibit.

July 20, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Widely known as the Charm City, Baltimore is about to see its waterfront skyline become even more, well, charming, this summer thanks in part to a convergence of art and dance imported from Slippery Rock University.

"Dance and Fly," a first-of-its-kind art and dance exhibit with contributions from SRU students and professors, will set sail Aug. 4-6 aboard the Pride of Baltimore II from the Broadway Pier in the historic Fell's Point district.

Heather Hertel


"It's a floating art exhibition," said Heather Hertel, associate professor of art and creator of a large-scale project using recycled sailcloths as her canvas. "My goal is to bring art out of the gallery. This is my dream to have this artwork up in the air, way high."

Hertel's sailcloth artwork will be hoisted on the mast of the Pride of Baltimore II, a reproduction of an 1812-era ship that will be docked at the Broadway Pier. Painted on 10- to 14-foot sailcloths will be flying dance figures intended to mimic the movements of the sails, resulting in what Hertel calls a "feeling of freedom and weightlessness" when they blow in the wind.

"It's almost like a soul being uplifted out of their bodies," said Hertel, whose project combines her interests in painting, dancing and sailing.

In addition, students and professors from SRU's Dance Department, some of whom Hertel used as models for her artwork, will perform structured improvisational scores at the exhibit. The opening reception is 6-8 p.m., Aug. 4 as part of the Pride's free deck tours. The art exhibit and dance performances will also be incorporated in the POB's day sails Aug. 5-6 when the ship takes visitors who purchase tickets for a tour on the water.

a floating art exhibition with sailcloths

SRU student dancers served as models for Hertel’s
paintings, like this one of Maria Crist, a 2017 graduate
with a degree in psychology.

"It is unlike anything I've ever done," said Ursula Payne, professor of dance, whose likeness is depicted on one of Hertel's sails. "I really admire Heather as an artist. I like how her mind works."

According to Payne, the collaboration is a great opportunity that goes beyond experience for her students: It's site-specific, it expands their current practice outside the theater stage and it provides a symbiotic relationship of art-inspired dance and dance-inspired art.

"It involves two departments working on a project that affords us an opportunity to demonstrate what we're doing as artists in a professional environment outside of an academic setting," Payne said. "That means building new audiences for our work. Where the field is going, a lot of it is happening outside of the studio and in outside venues."

 The Pride of Baltimore

    The Pride of Baltimore

In addition to Payne, Lindsay Viatori, dance instructor, and as many as six SRU dance majors will contribute to the exhibition.

SRU students and professors from other departments contributed as well. Ben Shaevitz, an avid sailor and professor of physics and pre-engineering, donated several white spinnaker sails. SRU students also assisted Hertel in creating the sailcloths, a project nearly three years in the making after she experimented with different paints and inks that would adhere to the sail fabrics, which include spinnaker, Mylar and Dacron.

The Baltimore exhibit will be the second time Hertel has displayed her sailcloths, but the first aboard a ship and as her own exhibit. Last September, her sailcloths were part of the Tall Ships Erie festival at the Bayfront Maritime Center in Erie.

"Since then, I've been trying to be a part of another tall ships festival but it has been harder than I realized to have non-artists understand what I'm trying to do," said Hertel, who is creating five new sailcloths for the Baltimore event to go with four that were displayed in Erie. "This is a very different type of art exhibition because normally you can install for a week, you make everything perfect and then, once the artwork is up, it's up for a month."

Because the ship's crew needs to maneuver its operating sails, some of Hertel's art will have to be taken down when the tours begin. However, Hertel notes, having the sailcloths displayed and the dancers perform before the tours are excellent opportunities to entertain visitors as they wait in line.

Another reason exhibiting on the Pride II is so rare is the availability of the ships for such an endeavor. Hertel traveled to Boston for the Tall Ships America Conference in February to learn more about festivals; meet captains, crew and directors of tall ships; and possibility identify her next venue. Her idea attracted a lot of interest but many tall ships are booked throughout the summer, providing tours, competing in races and traveling to other tall ships festivals.

"It's been difficult to carve out three days, so I'm quite honored that they are making this a separate event," Hertel said. "This is beyond what I imagined."

For more information about the Pride of Baltimore II, visit:

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 |