BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Jane Fortune never imagined her book would inspire a PBS television special, must less an award-winning one.
But on June 1 the documentary “Invisible Women” won a regional Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, guaranteeing that it will be shown by PSB stations all over the country.
Fortune, co-owner of the Lake Leelanau restaurant Bella Fortuna North, lives part-time in Florence, Italy, where she is cultural editor of The Florentine, Tuscany’s English language newspaper. She also is the founder and chair of Advancing Women Artists, a nonprofit organization dedicated to researching, restoring and exhibiting works by women artists from around the Renaissance period — works that languish in Florence’s “deposits,” or museum storages.
“My focus is really more 15th- through 18th-century art by women in Florence,” said Fortune, who grew up in Indianapolis but summered in Leelanau County. “They really had no rights. They couldn’t go to art school, they couldn’t join a guild. If they did paint, they were usually daughters of men who were very famous painters, and in those cases, most times the signature would be that of the man.”
Her research and restoration efforts, funded by her nonprofit, are the focus of her book “Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence.” In it, she highlights all the works of early women artists, that can be seen on the walls of the Florence Museum and a few others, as well as works that haven’t been seen in centuries. Among the most important is a masterpiece by Baroque master Artemisia Gentelschi, whose “David and Bathsheba” Fortune discovered after it was in storage for 363 years.
“It was in deplorable condition,” said Fortune, who worked with women restorers to consolidate the painting’s remaining color and improve the composition’s legibility, lowering the missing pieces of paint with neutral tones in order to obtain an image that is recomposed rather than repainted.
Fortune’s work is the subject of the 30-minute documentary, produced by Todd Gould and WFYI Productions in Indianapolis, the video production entity of WFYI Indianapolis Public Media. The station has received 171 Emmy nominations and 66 Emmys for its productions over the last 10 years.
“It’s wonderful for us to get another Emmy, but we’re just so thrilled for Jane,” said Bob Williams, special projects coordinator for WFYI Productions. “There’s something really special about her.”
“Invisible Women” was up against four other films in the Historical and Cultural Program category, including “CSI: Shakespeare,” also produced by WFYI. Entries came from portions of Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania, all part of the Lower Great Lakes region of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Fortune served as a consultant on the project but isn’t listed in the credits.
“I’m just trying to give these women an identity,” she said, adding that she first became interested in the topic after finding a book on the first known woman painter in Florence and realizing how few people had heard of her. “It’s a matter of bringing light to these paintings. It’s become a passion. My goal is to find as many as I can, give them their glory, and try and put them on the walls. Our ultimate goal is to try to find a space where we can take these works and could exhibit them so people could see them, and also travel them in other cities.”
The documentary aired in Indianapolis in November but will be distributed by American Public Television for broadcast by PBS stations all over the country beginning this summer.
Local audiences can get a sneak peek at a free preview event Monday, June 10, from 6-7 p.m. at Bella Fortuna North. Fortune will show the film and answer questions after. Complimentary appetizers and Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine, will be served. Another showing and a celebration dinner at the restaurant will take place on Monday, July 1, beginning at 5 p.m. Reservations are required for both events. Call 994-2400.