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The art must go on

Fort Myers Beach Art Association and Working Gallery to open to public in October

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Sep 11, 2020

A painting of a servant girl by Penny Fox.

Like many aspects of life, the Fort Myers Beach Art Association’s plans were sidelined this past spring when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The association had to shutter its doors to the public and cancel its annual scholarship contest. Following some deep cleaning, interior work and painting, the working gallery on Shell Mount Boulevard reopened to members.

On Oct. 19, the gallery will reopen to the public to visit.

“The gallery is surviving,” said Fort Myers Beach Art Association President Tom Flaherty. The lively group continues to produce artwork, some of which is hanged on the walls of the gallery for members to see.

For the general public, the summer show paintings are viewable online at www.fortmyersbeachart.com.

Penny Fox holds up a painting of a bird who landed on the hood of her car.

The summer show features a wide variety of painting subjects from sunsets, to gardens, a barn and scenes from nature. Pam Flaherty, grant administrator and director of publicity for the association, said the summer show is not as large as normal years but there was a painting sold out of the show last week.

“This summer is a lot quieter,” Mr. Flaherty said.

John Rizza, a Fort Myers resident and New York native, has two paintings up in the gallery for the summer show and is working on a third. He said he joined the organization this year in part for the outdoor painting. He makes his own frames out of recycled wooden pallets. “I joined because they have, on Wednesday during the season, a plein air group.

The organization’s outside painting activities, known as plein air painting, have also continued after a brief disruption. The group goes to different locations around the area to find painting spots outside.

“We do a painting, we take our lunch, we critique. You create a piece of work, you have some camaraderie,” Rizza said.

One of numerous artworks on cards that have been to members of the Fort Myers Beach Art Association during the pandemic.

The plan is for the gallery to open to the public on Oct. 19 with a fall member show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays. Masks will be required.

Other normal activiti

es such as art classes have been put off as those who normally teach the classes are putting off their lessons for the rest of the calendar year. On the other hand, some members who go home for the summer are still down here, Ms. Flaherty said.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be the busiest social times for painting at the gallery. Tuesday is considered the experimental art day with the artists diving into everything from collage, stamping, stencils, making paper and abstract art. “You name it,” Ms. Flaherty said.

John Rizza stands in front of two of his paintings at the Fort Myers Beach Art Association gallery.

The social aspect of painting is important to the group. “It’s not just a physical location that you come to paint, it’s a community,” Ms. Flaherty said.

Penny Fox said some members have engaged in a type of online challenge to paint different places each week. One time they painted historic places while other times it was whatever they saw – for example Ms. Fox painted the image of a bird that was on her hood one time.

One challenge was to create art that expresses life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fox saved 140 masks and grouped them together.

The group has also stayed creative through a card exchange whereby every two weeks a members receives cards from the group with original artwork on them and has to respond to each sender with a new card of their own.

“It’s fun,” Ms. Flaherty said. She pointed to an example of a card with an image of a butterfly made out of peeled paint and another bright card with watercolors. One member of the group sent a card with paper from Nepal.

“We’re keeping alive that exchange of ideas,” Ms. Flaherty said.