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Forgotten Coast en Plein Air 2019: Part 2

Florida’s Finest Ambassador and Artist-in-Residence

“Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.” ~John Muir

I was honored to be invited to be the Artist-in-Residence for the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air this spring. My artist residency is split into two parts over three weeks. I spent 4 days on the Forgotten Coast of Florida last week and I will spend another 3 days there again next week, continuing to study and to paint the 2019 theme for Forgotten Coast en Plein Air, which is “Recovery in the Natural Environment” relative to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael in October of 2018. My personal approach to this project focuses on Hope.

I am hosted by a sweet couple, George and Maggie Jones on Cape San Blas, just a few miles south of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. They didn’t see much of me while I was there last week because I was out every day, observing, painting, photographing, and absorbing, from first light until sunset.

The Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast

Joe Taylor, CEO of Franklin’s Promise Coalition, invited me to see the mitigation efforts of the Conservation Corps and Disaster Corps that were happening last week. Marquette High School (Rockwood School District, St. Louis, Missouri) sent 120 students to spend their spring break here to assist in hurricane recovery and mitigation. They were planting sea oats, building living shorelines, picking up trash, and helping to restore longleaf pine forests. Accompanied by teacher and staff volunteers and two principals, Dr. Dan Ramsey and Amy Blumenfeld, Marquette High School chose the Forgotten Coast for their service project this year.

When people are motivated and leadership is effective, a lot of work gets done. The Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast posted on their Facebook page, “What an awesome Spring Break! Our CCFC GulfCorps and Disaster Corps Crews hosted 120 of the most energetic and hard working teens from Marquette High School in St. Louis, MO. They completed 6 service projects in three days. They helped restore the dunes by planting sea oats on the beach behind the SGI Lighthouse, they rebuilt the living shoreline on Sawyer Street, they removed hurricane debris from Unit 4 (East Hole) on SGI, at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve Visitor Center grounds, and throughout Tate’s Hell State Forest. And they cleaned, weeded, and layed fresh pine straw for the Reid Avenue businesses in Port St. Joe. They were such fun young people and they really worked hard to help our communities recover from Hurricane Michael.”

I was interested to learn that the leadership development for this effort is funded by the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill settlement. The program crosses five states — Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The Forgotten Coast chapter and a chapter in Mississippi are the pilots, models for the others. I met crew manager Holden Foley who is one of these trained leaders. He was supervising one of the groups of students.

Per the website:  “The GulfCorps initiative is a major part of The Corps Network’s activities on the Gulf Coast. Made possible by a $7 million RESTORE Act grant administered by the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA), GulfCorps officially launched in August 2017. Over three years, funds will be distributed evenly to the five Gulf Coast states to support existing local Corps in hiring young adults to conduct restoration and conservation activities. The Corps Network, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Student Conservation Association (SCA) will facilitate recruitment, training, and identification of projects. GulfCorps is expected to provide jobs to 300 young adults over the coming years.” ~CorpsNetwork.org  

Planting Sea Oats

The first couple of days were cloudy or hazy, not the best light for plein air painting. I sketched a lot and took photos. I was impressed by how fast the job went when I watched the kids planting sea oats in front of the lighthouse on St. George Island. 4000 sea oats had been purchased, their root masses still in the shape of nursery pots. Holden, the crew leader, gave shovels to some of the kids and to some he gave plants, and some took the super-absorbent polymer, a product holding moisture which is placed in the bottom of the hole under the seedling root mass. The kids were models for us to see what we all can do to get along, cooperate, and do good in our community in real, impactful ways. Below are a few pages from my sketchbook.

Joe pointed out to me the difference that last year’s planting of sea oats had made. Even though some had washed away in Hurricane Michael, they greatly stabilized the foredune, versus the area in front of neighboring private property bordering the planted area. There, the berm was heavily scarped by erosion, forming a 4-foot cliff.

Construction of a Living Shoreline

The light was a little brighter the second day, so I was able to produce a plein air study of the students organizing into a “bucket brigade” to carry bagged oyster shells out to the living shoreline they were building on the Bay at Sawyer Street on St. George Island. A living shoreline is the placement of barriers in the Bay near the shore, which break the force of waves and trap sand brought in by wave action. The shoreline rebuilds as a result, eventually covered by cordgrass. Oyster shells are used because they are natural to the area. The students had loaded the shells into biodegradable mesh bags in an assembly line of shoveling, scraping, and tying. TURN DOWN YOUR VOLUME — it was windy that day.

Cait Snyder, the ANERR’s land management and stewardship specialist and advisor for the project, introduced herself to me and offered any research advice I might need. ANERR, the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, focuses on scientific research, natural resource management and environmental education and stewardship and partners with local, state, and federal agencies for a multitude of projects.

Construction of a living shoreline requires a permit from the State and the Army Corps of Engineers, specifying where and how it will be built, with periodic gaps in the barrier so that the Bay critters and fish can swim back out with the tide. Where I stood when I set up to paint was exciting evidence of the success of prior barriers. Sand had accreted to a depth of more than a foot, and the spartina (Spartina alterniflora aka smooth cordgrass) had held up through Hurricane Michael, probably helping to prevent the road from being washed out. I visited with a local who thought the accreted dirt had come from the road. But I could see that the sand inside the living shoreline was very different from the dirt making up the road, so there was no confusion in my mind as to the Bay source of the sand. Cait told me that there even was a red mangrove tree coming up at the edge of the spartina, but that it didn’t appear to have survived the storm. I had no idea mangrove trees grew this far north. Cait said that historically red mangroves have existed in the northern Gulf, but have often been limited by cold events. She said fewer cold events, less intense temperatures, and shorter durations of freezing temps may be allowing mangrove expansion at the northern edge of their ranges in recent years.

Trash and Debris Collection

I also saw a couple of groups of the Marquette students cleaning up storm debris from ANERR Unit 4 on St. George Island and from Millender Park in Eastpoint. This task was very familiar to me, being the bulk of my own experience from cleaning up after tropical storms – there is so much trash, windblown, of course, and also waterborne by storm surge flooding. Hurricanes are giant mess-makers. The students had made piles of contractor bags full of trash, and grouped it into mountains for collection.

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

Later that afternoon the sun came out, and I went to T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park to see the amazing breach again. I accidentally came upon a couple of deer, one full-grown, and the younger one nearly grown, certainly born last year, both of them survivors of the storm. They represent exactly the Hope I want to convey as my personal focus for the recovery theme of the residency, the reason I chose the John Muir quote to open this blog post.

Dawn brought bright sunshine on my third day there, and anticipating it, I was waiting at the entrance to the state park for the 8 AM opening of the gates. I was not disappointed. The area of the breach caused by Hurricane Michael’s storm surge has turned out to be a scenic wonder, different every time I see it. This morning, there were large tide pools on the Bay side, left by the tidal current running through the breach from the Bay to the Gulf. When time is fleeting, I use my phone-camera for my sketchbook. I took photos to document everything from the color of the water to the myriad of different kinds of ripples left in the tidal flats. I stood at the edge of the water for 20 minutes watching a new sand bar being formed, starting to enclose another small pool. Mother Nature was working to close the breach before my very eyes! I wonder how long it will take. When I first saw the breach 4 weeks ago, much of what had been a roiling hurricane current already was a sand flat, and this week I found the channel already only half as wide as it had been just four weeks ago. The sand on the Gulf side has piled up into a berm 4-feet thick. High winds of 18 to 20 mph overnight had glazed the plain of sand smooth as snow, with harrow marks where small shells dotted the surface.


I find the breach to be one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen, my imagination entranced by the majestic power of the Hurricane that carved through a peninsula hundreds of years old, perhaps thousands. The aerial imagery of the floor of the Bay in that area shows where a channel might have cut through before. Native American artifacts found there indicate activity over the length of the peninsula for a long time, but I guess they would have come on boats if the breach ever was open during their time on the peninsula. So I don’t know how old the peninsula is, or how long it’s been since it last was breached.

I stood my easel near the water’s edge to paint the far shore across the channel. I chose a small 6”x12” canvas because of the high winds. My study shows the old tree that was unburied by the sweeping storm surge, now standing alone by itself, a sentinel between the dunes and the channel. It seems to have a net or something hung up in its lowest branches, giving the trunk an odd silhouette. The early sun cast long shadows from the scarped dunes; they shortened while I was painting.

That afternoon I revisited St. George Island to see how the living shoreline looked with the sun shining, but when I got there, smoke from a distant fire was filtering the sunlight. I returned to Cape San Blas for cocktails and dinner with my hosts and their friends.

St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge

On my last morning there, I took a walking tour on St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge. I had registered for it on the Friends of SVNWR website a month prior.  30 people came across Indian Pass on the shuttle in 5 trips. We divided into several groups for the tour. The path we took skirted the protected bird-nesting area, winding up on the Gulf side of the island tip. The beach was flat where until Hurricane Michael, the guide told us, tall, 800-year-old dunes had protected the island. We walked inland over the 26’-elevation highest point and down to the old dirt logging roads. 70% of the island was inundated during the storm by a surge and waves of 13′. Most of the wildlife survived the storm, including the native deer, the exotic Sambar deer, and the recently introduced red wolf mates and their two pups. We saw lots of tracks showing the recent activity of deer, wild boars, and even the wolves. Happy birds filled the forest with the sounds of spring. It was a beautiful hike through natural Florida, slash pines mixed with swamps and palms, and wildflowers everywhere. I highly recommend it. Remember to bring mosquito repellent.

During Hurricane Michael, the sand around these dead pines flowed from the 800-year-old dunes that used to be on the beach at the horizon where the people are standing. This is on St. Vincent Island.

The Next Part of the Artist Residency

This week I have been reviewing my photos and thinking about what I would like to paint en plein air when I return for the second half of my residency next week. Wednesday, April 3, will be “Field Day”, when people can come watch or even paint along with me, and we will meet at the end of the day for show-and-tell and wine at Scallop Republic. I chose the breach in St. Joseph Peninsula State Park for the area I would like to paint on that day. I’d like to try two or three paintings. Registration for attendees is at https://forgottencoastculturalcoalition.wildapricot.org/event-3330246.

On Thursday of this week I will paint half a day, and the other half day I will take a class on Oyster Ecology at ANERR, where I hope to learn how Hurricane Michael affected the oyster industry in the imperiled Apalachicola Bay, and how it is recovering. On Friday I will paint and later that afternoon I will prepare to give a presentation to the Board of the Forgotten Coast Cultural Coalition which is funding this residency. The public is invited. My presentation will be at 6:30 Eastern Time at The Joe Center for the Arts, 201 Reid Avenue, Port St. Joe, FL 32456. After that I will have a month to refine my plein air paintings and to also produce studio works for the theme.

The Exhibit of My Residency Paintings

My residency work will be displayed at the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air May 3-May 12, 2019. For the first part of the event, the exhibit will be at Cal Allen’s Gallery at 109 Avenue B South, Carrabelle, FL 32322. I will give a presentation at the FCenPA reception there on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, at 6:30 pm. On Friday, May 10, 2019, my paintings will be moved to hang at the Fort Coombs Armory at the corner of 4th Street and Avenue D in Apalachicola, FL, for the Maecenas Dinner that evening and for the final day of the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air and the Collector’s Gala. Click HERE for the event schedule.

Stay tuned for my next blog post, “Forgotten Coast en Plein Air 2019:  Florida’s Finest Ambassador and Artist-in-Residence, Part 3!”

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Forgotten Coast en Plein Air 2019: Part 1

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.

Artist-in-Residence

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 forgottencoastenpleinair@gmail.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.

Reconnaissance

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.

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The Forgotten Coast en Plein Air and Plein Air South 2018

I attended the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air and Plein Air South again this May, taking time out for painting between demo’s and discussions. I practice painting en plein air to study the transient effects of light, to become more adept at composing, to learn more effective technique, and to develop a stronger instinct for decision-making. Many times a plein air painting will be worthy of framing. All are learning experiences. My intention is to study something different every time I paint, even when I paint a scene I have painted before. Every painting is making it easier to paint the next painting, but I challenge myself even more the next time, so I can’t say that painting is easy. I can say that I am seeing better. Continue reading The Forgotten Coast en Plein Air and Plein Air South 2018

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