'Hard Times Come Again No More'

The Rehoboth Beach Writers' Guild took its Art in the AM music/writing/art series virtual and mixed things up recently, asking artists to create works inspired by song. Photographer Randy Roberts, left, created a series of photos, 'Hard Times Come Again No More,' inspired by the song of the same name, as performed by musician Stewart Vining, right. It's all now part of a new video series.

Back in January, when the Rehoboth Beach Writers Guild (RBWG) was approaching the third anniversary of its monthly program “Art in the Am,” executive director Maribeth Fischer began searching for a special way to mark the occasion. The one-hour event, which typically sold out to audiences of 80 people, was based on a collaboration between local writers, artists and musician Stuart Vining.

What Fischer, with Vining’s help, came up with to mark the third anniversary was a reversal in the cause-and-effect sequence of the usual program: Instead of using original works of art as the inspiration for poems, flash nonfiction and songs, they proposed that the visual artists create a painting or photograph in response to a song.

They said they worried it was too much to ask of the artists, but the first three artists Fischer and Vining approached all jumped at the challenge. They include photographer Randy Roberts, mixed-media artist Susan Frey and painter Dennis Young.

“Stuart gave the artists a list of 25 songs we thought might be interesting to use as inspiration for a work of art,” Fischer explained, “and at a January meeting, we met with the artists and Stuart played snippets of songs from the list.”

“It was pretty eclectic,” Vining said. “Everything from ‘Thinking about Elvis’ by Patty Loveless to ‘In my Life’ by the Beatles to ‘Wayward Son’ by Kansas.”

The goal was to have the artists display the work inspired by these songs at the third anniversary of “Art in the AM,” which was to have taken place on June 3.

“Of course, there was no way to hold the event in this new world of COVID-19,” Fischer said, but reading The New Yorker one morning, she happened upon a blurb about Art21.org. a long-standing PBS show that features artists in their studios for very brief film clips, some as short as 3 minutes. “We can use this format,” she thought.

And so they did. Fischer and Vining  created a 3-minute video that introduces “Art in the AM” and a seven-minute video that showcases photographer Randy Roberts and the photographs he shot in response to the song he choose back in January, “Hard Times Come Again No More,” written by Stephen Foster in 1854. Vining performs the song on the video as Roberts talks about his thought process in searching for the right photograph.

Roberts, who was traveling south last winter, had ideas about what he might photograph in connection to the song, but he couldn’t capture the image that felt right until he ended up in Montgomery, Ala., at the National Memorial for Peace & Justice. “That place just steals your soul,” he said in the video, speaking passionately about the experience.

The short videos — “Intro to Art in the AM” and Roberts’ and Vining’s “Hard Times Come Again No More,” the title Roberts adopted for his series of six photos — are now available at www.rehobothbeachwritersguild.com (On the home page, click on the link to Art in the AM).

Information about the Rehoboth Beach Writers Guild and about “Art in the AM” which has featured more than 75 artists and writers in the past three years, is also available on the site.