Florida’s Finest Ambassador and Artist-in-Residence
Every year the Forgotten Coast Cultural Coalition hosts a plein air painting event, inviting twenty professional artists to paint the area of Northwest Florida known as the Forgotten Coast. It includes the communities of Mexico Beach, Port St. Joe, Cape San Blas, Indian Pass, Apalachicola, Eastpoint, St. George Island, and Carrabelle. On October 10, 2018, the Forgotten Coast was hit hard by Hurricane Michael. The City of Mexico Beach was decimated, and the surrounding communities also were heavily impacted. The theme for this year’s annual Forgotten Coast en Plein Air event will focus on the natural environment as it recovers from the impact of the Hurricane.
Florida’s Finest Ambassador
I am happy that for the second time I have been selected to be a Florida’s Finest en Plein Air Ambassador for the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air event. Every year, four to six Florida artists are selected for this honor. I also served as an Ambassador in 2016, so I know it to be a big job, some of the hardest work but also some of the most rewarding work I have ever done. It involves mentoring artists new to plein air, one-to-one, in two hour sessions, 3 sessions a day with a different artist each session, working with 15 artists over 5 days. The program is underwritten by Duke Energy, with all tools and materials supplied.
In the past, participating painters have been charged only $25 for what I would estimate is a $200 private lesson when you count supplies and equipment plus the compensation and housing provided to the Ambassadors. Watch the event website for the opening of registration for the “Painting Stations”: https://forgottencoastculturalcoalition.wildapricot.org.
I also am honored and deeply humbled to be invited to do the artist residency for the event. Residencies traditionally have been offered only to an invited professional artist, and not to Ambassadors. Being an artist-in-residence for the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air means that I will be housed there for a week this spring, to observe, learn, and paint scenes relating to the event theme focusing on the natural environment as it recovers from the impact of Hurricane Michael. In particular, I will be looking at mitigation efforts including the installation of living shorelines, planting sea oats, erecting sand fences, mitigating the combustible fuel overload in the forests, and restoring the longleaf pines.
I will be observing the work of the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast which is managed by Franklin’s Promise Coalition. For background knowledge, I also have scheduled a walking tour on St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, and I will take two workshops from the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, one on Oyster Ecology, and the other one a Bay Estuary class.
My residency is split into two parts. The first four days are this-coming week, and the last 3 days are in the first week of April. I will be observing, sketching, and painting en plein air, and in the month following, I will be refining some of my plein air works and also producing some studio works from my observations. If you are interested in painting with me, or observing, the Artist’s Field Day will be all day Wednesday April 3, 2019. At the end of the bring-your-own-lunch day will be an informal critique and wine. (!!!) Contact Cheryl at email@example.com for details. In early May I will present my residency work at the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air event, at a reception at Cal Allen Gallery in Carrabelle, FL, Tuesday May 7 at 6:30 pm Eastern Time.
On Monday of last week I drove over to Cape San Blas and St. George Island to take a look at some of the areas I have painted. Driving through Mexico Beach is still such a shock, even though a great deal of the storm mess and destruction has been swept clean. Seeing blocks and blocks of land where homes used to be, is something I can’t get used to. I drove on to Port St. Joe, to Salinas Park which is on the way to Cape San Blas. The marsh on the Bay side looks healthy, but the Gulf side of the park surprised me, a big cut coming all the way from the Gulf to the parking area at the southernmost boardwalk.
The inlet to the cut had filled in, leaving a large tide pool, and the county had bulldozed sand to form two dune-like mounds to restore the geography. The concrete floor of the pavilion next to that boardwalk was sloped and askew where the current of the storm surge had eroded the dirt from beneath it. A truckload of inmates were clearing debris from the park. I was disturbed to see green branches on the ground where still living pine trees had been removed along with the dead, but I confess I have no knowledge of how soon the living trees will die anyway because of saltwater inundation.
The rock-hardened curve of the road on the Cape was one lane, repairs and reinforcement being done. That road certainly would have been completely washed away if it hadn’t had a barrier of big rocks 5′ high. I saw some of those boulders washed all the way across the road, resting in the marsh.
Inside T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, everything looked pretty typical for a barrier island hit by a storm, the foliage wind-burned and some pine trees snapped in half, until I got to the first beachfront boardwalk and restroom just past Eagle Harbor. There ahead was the 1000-yard breach in the peninsula, where the Gulf of Mexico washed through to St. Joseph Bay. I parked and walked out on the large sandy area bordering the south side of the channel. It is an awe-inspiring sight, imagining the power of the storm to move that much sand. I have been told that Mother Nature is filling in the channel already, that it was 35 feet deep when the breach first happened, and that now you can wade across at low-tide, though that is not advised because of the dangerous currents.
The island part of the park is still closed, dangerous with storm debris, broken buildings, exposed utilities and what-not. On the opposite shore from me was an oddity: a tree that had been buried in the dune was completely exposed, the branches balanced on top of a massive tap-root still holding it erect. Who knows how old that tree was. I expect it will provide stability for the new dune when one forms there. I returned following the eroded face of the dunes, past a second place where you could see how the dune eroded into the start of another cut, which would have further widened the breach but instead left a large tide pool. The sand is already collecting in front of the dunes and on the sea oats that are already growing up from their rhizomes deep under the wind-swept beach.
Below are images of a couple of scenes I painted last spring in 2018, and at right, the site where I was standing when I painted them, now a wide breach in St. Joseph Peninsula.
You can learn more about the damages in the state park in this article.
I drove over to the recently reopened St. George Island State Park, and found the scene of another one of my paintings, the massive dune I had painted no longer there, the beach scoured flat. A park ranger, Assistant Manager Lance Kelly, was very gracious in taking time to talk to me about their efforts to re-open the park. He said Hurricane Michael was so strong that a good deal of the dunes blew over to the other side of St. George Island, actually widening the island a bit. He told me how resilient the sea oats are, sending up new leaves even after being uprooted by the storm, run over by bulldozers, and plowed into the long hills of sand the rangers put between the road and the beach to encourage the start of new dunes.
Below is a scene I painted there on SGI last spring in 2018, and at right, the vast emptiness now where that massive dune used to stand.
On my way back off St. George Island, I stopped at East Hole (ANERR Unit 4), and walked out to the Apalachicola Bay shoreline, where I found bordering the marsh a wide stretch of new sand about a foot deep, tossed up onto the shore by the wave action in the Bay. No doubt this was some of the gulf front dune sand the ranger had been talking about. A pair of blue herons were fishing a short distance from me, signaling spring nesting coming soon, continuing the cycle of life on the barrier island.
This is the first of a five-part series on my experiences as a Florida’s Finest Ambassador and an Artist-in-Residence for the 2019 Forgotten Coast en Plein Air.