Arrival of the mermaids: Exhibit brings a touch of whimsy to Homeland

Bonnie Bissett

Bonnie and one of her mermaid pieces hanging in the gallery at Homeland Center

On a brisk fall day, mermaids came to Homeland Center

Not real mermaids, of course. These were artistic renditions from the creative mind of Bonnie Bissett, for Homeland’s latest quarterly art exhibit in the Florida Room gallery.

Homeland brings art to the walls through a partnership with the Art Association of Harrisburg, which invites artists to show their works in spaces throughout the region. Homeland remains the only continuing care community in the program, offering uplifting scenes for residents, staff, and families to enjoy.

Bonnie’s nautical pieces suited the space, hanging near Homeland’s newly refurbished aquarium. While exotic sea creatures swim in the tank, Bonnie’s sea horses and mermaids cavort amid foil finishes and shiny glass beads.

As Bonnie hung her works, her pieces attracted considerable attention.

“These are cool!” enthused Charity McCrae, a beautician from the adjacent Homeland beauty shop.

“The residents like coming down this walkway and seeing art on both sides. They might not be able to get out to see artwork, so it’s nice that it comes to them,” McCrea noted. “I put it on Snapchat, too, so other people can get to see it.”

Bonnie’s works will hang through December 2019. She comes from a family of artists, but she spent her early career running the engine rooms of oil tankers plying the U.S. West Coast.

Still, she knew she wanted to “design and decorate and paint.”

“My parents were interested in art, and I was always involved in art in high school, but I never considered it as a formal career because they were supposed to be skinny and hungry all the time – you know, the starving artist,” she said.

Bonnie has designed clothing, painted murals and faux finishes in homes, and sewn historical reenactor costumes.

In the mid-1990s, she relocated from San Francisco to her family homestead in Lewisberry, a rural spot between Harrisburg and York. Her work in interior design and organization introduced her to the Harrisburg Symphony Society Showhouses; fundraisers held every few years when artists remake the spaces of a classic home.

One of her memorable contributions was painting a “forced perspective” telephone room in a graystone home’s foyer. In that same home near Harrisburg’s Susquehanna River, viewers “either loved or hated” her fish-themed powder room, inspired by a high-water mark from the flooding of Hurricane Agnes.

“The showhouses were fun,” she said. “It was a lot of work. The benefit of doing that was meeting other professionals in the field and networking.”

She has taken “classes galore” on faux finishing and gilding techniques. Still, finding her own style as a fine artist has taken time and thought.

“I needed big pieces,” she said. “I told myself, ‘Focus, Bonn, focus.’ So, I came up with the eyeball and the mermaids.”

Bonnie BissettMermaids reflect her seafaring experience and her appreciation for the mythical creatures’ lore.

“They would capture the sailor’s heart,” she said. “Sometimes they’re evil. Sometimes they’re not. They’re mischievous.”

Two of the people who stopped to admire Bonnie’s art on this morning were also artists. Homeland Center Board of Managers member Catherine Rauth’s hands were slightly dirty from planting containers spilling over with flowers and greenery – one of the many special touches by board members to enhance Homeland’s home-
like feel.

Catherine has taken watercolor lessons and recognized the mixed-media nature of Bonnie’s works.

“This is fun,” she said. “This is cheerful. It’s so nice that Homeland brings this art here.”

Housekeeping staffer Cherie Moore has taken Art Association of Harrisburg classes and helped install a mosaic at an area school. Bonnie’s work made her stop and look because “it’s different.”

“It’s cold outside, and this makes me happy,” she said. “I like that they bring in the art, and the residents get to see it.”

Since 2015, Bonnie has enjoyed living in downtown Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in her first-ever brick home, “like one of the three little pigs.”

“I can walk to places, and there’s an interesting little art community,” she said. “They’re very supportive.”

Bonnie also works with elderly clients, helping them create their own works of art. She agreed with the exhibit viewers who appreciated the power of art to brighten Homeland’s halls — and the lives of residents.

“It’s important to be able to see art when you can’t get out and about,” Bonnie said. “It’s good therapy.”