Strange how this term has been applied to men over the years whenever they display a multitude of talents that, so often, have been the hallmarks of women. After all, the very concept of multi-tasking was invented by women who excelled in the workplace, raised their children and honed their talents in art and music.
Featured below are six New Hampshire women who possess the diversity of skills and interests that define the Renaissance Woman of the 21st Century.
"I wanted to go to art school, but my parents couldn't fathom it," says Rosemary Conroy. "But I kept it in my heart and knew I wanted to get back to it, someday." She took her parents' advice and got some practical education, becoming a computer support specialist, at one point working on Wall Street for Dean Witter, providing tech support for about 8,000 stockbrokers. Her creative nature found this too dull, so when a headhunter offered her a tech-support job for MTV, she jumped. Soon she was back in N.Y.C. working for Viacom. Then, a walk in Prospect Park sealed her fate.
"I saw this group of people looking at the trees with binoculars and thought, 'What's up with those weirdos?'" The leader of the group offered a peek and she saw her first rose breasted grosbeak. Something inside her clicked. "I realized I had never really paid attention. It showed me this whole other world I'd just been passing by every day."
Soon she was volunteering for Audubon, went back to school, quit her job at Viacom and moved to New Hampshire.
Settling in here at 28, she found a job with the N.H. Forest Society and began producing their bi-monthly magazine. Dick Ober of the Society and Mark Handley of N.H. Public Radio were looking for someone to provide writing and voice for a nature-oriented radio show. Since money was tight, Rosemary volunteered. Her "Something Wild" program still airs every other week on NHPR.
Her second life was moving right along when, on Sept. 11, 2001, the Twin Towers came down, right near her old offices in N.Y.C. She had put off her first love of art until "someday" and now she realized "someday may never come," so she spent a year preparing, banked a reserve of her salary, gave the Forest Society six months' notice and made the leap.
"Now I'm making a modest living as a writer-slash-artist," she says. Last year, for the first time, sales of her brightly intuitive nature paintings constituted more than half of her income.
Her painting "Black Bear People Are Dreamers III" will appear in a nationally-juried show at the Bennington Center for the Arts in June. Visit studiobuteo.com for details.
Molly Grant makes shoes, the kind that people get passionate about and order from all over the world. Each cut and stitch is lovingly planned with one person, the wearer, in mind. Her craft store, the Cordwainer Gallery in Bedford, has her shoes on display along with hundreds of handcrafted items made with similar care. As the buyer for the gallery, she knows each item and chose it to accent and complement her store and to delight her customers.
An eye for quality and attention to detail are the essence of fine craftwork and they infuse her life with a sense of artistry that naturally spills over into everything she does. And they connect her phases of life like a strong stitch through time.
When she was 10 years old, Molly saw some handmade shoes at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen Fair and remembers, "I thought they were the most gorgeous shoes I had ever met." At 35 she had become a leather crafter on her own and was displaying her handbags and jackets at the fair when she first met the maker of those gorgeous shoes. "I was so excited to meet him, it kind of bowled him over," she says. "And before you know it, I was living in Deerfield and learning how to make them myself. After that, it kind of snowballed."
Her partnership with Paul Mathews led to shoemaking workshops, which led to a dream of a full-blown craft school. They opted instead to remodel a second property into The Wild Orchard Guest Farm (www.WildOrchardGuestFarm.com). It's in a rustic wildlife sanctuary in Deerfield, a half hour from the state's urban hub. Soon creative people were flocking to retreat there. They began hosting writer's workshops and hope to soon host artists in residence, weddings and other events.
What's next? "If the residency program does well, we'll build a craft building and offer the space as a social center for the community where we can host dancing and yoga." Oh, and she's currently working on a book on the art of shoemaking - yet another stitch in a handcrafted life.
"I have no skills," says Bridget LeRoy, innkeeper at the recently restored New London Inn. "I can't balance a checkbook, I can't cook a meal or build a building. When I was growing up everyone said 'Bridget never finishes anything,' so I decided I'm a great starter. I start things." She thinks a moment and adds, "And then get distracted by something shiny."
Her first job with a New York weekly newspaper hadn't provided her much experience when some colleagues decided to go off on their own and invited her along as editor. "I remember the first night we went to press, they asked me what point size and what font to use for a headline. I asked them, 'What's a font? What's a point?'" Within a year she was editing the most award-winning weekly paper on Long Island.
"With me it's always feet first, head afterwards," she explains. She says the story line is similar with other successes of hers, like starting the popular Children's Museum of the East End or completely renovating the once-grand 1792 New London Inn.
Maybe happy endings are in her DNA. Her family was Hollywood royalty. Her grandfather produced "The Wizard of Oz" and his father-in-law was Harry Warner of Warner Bros. "Jack Benny once put me on his lap and played his violin for me," she recalls. "It was a magical childhood, but I was insecure. I crashed and burned in my late 20s. I guess it takes a lot of crap for a flower to bloom. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up."
Next dream is taking the 1941 Central School building in New London and turning it into a community arts center. "I'm hoping to raise $300 K with my Gnus of Gnu London Project." (What's that? There's a big kick off party on May 27, visit gnusofgnulondon.org).
"I'm just an accidental innkeeper," she says. "I love the inn and plan on keeping it for a long time, but I know that at some point, something shiny will distract me."
"As a kid, I wanted to be a marine biologist," says Seacoast Science Center President Wendy Lull. "Then, in high school, I took chemistry for a week and I knew I couldn't do it." She opted instead for a liberal arts track but wound up at UNH grad school studying zoology. Scientific research wasn't her calling, but she could imagine operating some kind of science center. She was 29 at the time. Adding up the additional years of education and training that would require, she realized she didn't want to wait until she was 40 to get started. Off she went into the business world, starting her own design firm and working for others. When one company lost its principal client (GM), she began to look for something different.
There on the help wanted page was an ad seeking a director of a brand-new science center on the New Hampshire seacoast.
She was 40.
She's been at the helm of the Seacoast Science Center (www.seacoastsciencecenter.org) in Rye since its inception in 1992 and overseen its growth from a start-up budget of $250,000 to more than $1 million today. And, just as the sea is the cradle of life, the job has provided her with a remarkable array of related activities and knit together the many strands of her life.
She's a dedicated SCUBA diver and sea kayaker. Along with more than a dozen board positions, she is past president of the Portsmouth Athenaeum and helped oversee the updating of their long-range plan. She's a reviewer for Informal Science Education grants at the National Science Foundation, has written numerous scientific papers, edited the book "Footprints in Time" and appears often on radio and television. She leads expeditions to locales of environmental and historic interest, from the Isles of Shoals to the Galapagos Islands. In 2007, N.H. Business Review named her an Outstanding Woman in Business.
"I feel really fortunate that though I've been here at the Science Center for 16 years, I've had about five different jobs," says Wendy, even though they all do seem to share a common theme. "I would be hard pressed to picture myself doing something that isn't salty one way or another," she says, "But I'm not done yet."
Ask Jan Marvel what she does, and she is never at a loss for words.
Professionally, she operates Marvel Signs & Designs in Campton. Many of her award-winning signs feature her own graphic designs and hand carvings. She's an interior designer who does a little chainsaw sculpting and rustic furniture building on the side. She's an avid outdoors woman, enjoying everything from rock climbing to horseback riding to kayaking. She's an award-winning singer-songwriter and guitarist. She has her own recording studio, Atta Girl Records, where she has produced two acclaimed CDs: her own first album,"Too Close to Reality," and a compilation benefit album called "The Tsunami Relief Project," which features a dozen songs by prominent figures on the New England folk music scene.
And all she has accomplished she pretty much just figured out as she went.
She says the catalyst for her initiative and her wide range of interests was her childhood, which she describes as "humble and difficult."
"I was raised poor, with few possessions," says Jan, "but I developed a great compassion for people. I am sure I was a Renaissance child. I was always drawing, singing and very active outdoors, right from the beginning - constantly trying to invent ways to accomplish things."
She's currently at work on a second benefit CD (www.attagirlrecords.com), as usual figuring things out as she goes. She hasn't settled on the beneficiary yet, but she knows she wants the focus to be on the environment and green causes.
She's not sure how all of her interests connect, but she sees everything she does as part of a bigger picture, so she tries to use all her assets, personal and professional, to help others out along the way. "Each day is a blessing," says Jan. "It really is about being grateful and appreciative, and being the best person you can be on the inside - the rest is just the cherry on top."
Amethyst Wyldfyre was a different person in 2001; a successful real estate development manager and consultant for everything from single family homes to office buildings.
Shaken by the events of 9/11 and a complicated divorce, she found herself seeking another path. It came to her in the form of a spiritual vision. She took on a new name (now legally hers) and began to study healing with crystals. "When I told my business partner, he looked at me like I had two heads. But I knew that if I did not step out on that journey, that I would suffocate and die."
Her work with crystals led her to design jewelry. Soon this new artistic urge found expression in painting, which inspired her to open a gallery bearing her name.
She closed the gallery last year and has been exploring the use of crystal healing bowls, which emit an angelic tone, complemented by her own voice. This vocalizing opened a world of possibilities, she says, including writing and speaking, and creating teleworkshops on spiritual healing.
She also found her voice in the community, following a vision to start Firefest (www.firefest.us), a Nashua arts festival that attracted 2,500 people to the Gate City's downtown. "The event came together like butter and hot toast," she says, with lots of cooperation from the city and a huge volunteer effort. Last year's event was twice as big and this October they anticipate another quantum leap with one stage to be solar powered, a world music and dance stage and a chili cookoff featuring the culinary programs of local schools.
What's next? How about "multidimensional coaching"? "People out there are looking to be affirmed that it's OK if your life path takes you not to just one goal, but to a multitude of them," says Amethyst. NH
This article appears in the May 2008 issue of New Hampshire Magazine