by Monty Montgomery


Spanning an incredible, almost unbelievable range of human experience and accomplishment, and above all, countless personal and professional contributions to artists and the Arts, as well as supporters and patrons of the arts throughout the years, these are enduring gifts from Gale Bennett and a living legacy for generations. How lucky we are in Fort Myers to have known Gale Bennett, “a one-of-a-kind artist and teacher” and Founder/Director of ArtStudy Giverny, as one our own. We are also lucky to celebrate Gale’s life and work at Alliance for the Arts, where February 2014 is Gale Bennett 75 month!

The exhibition, Gale Bennett 75, a retrospective of the artist’s work begins with an opening reception, February 7, 5-7:30pm. On view in the Frizzell Gallery are 39 works by Gale completed over more than 40 years. Accompanying them in the Member Gallery is an exhibition of portraits of Gale painted by many of his students through the years.

Significantly, ‘the book’ that Gale promised his students for more than 30 years will finally be released and available at the opening reception. Its title, Eye into Art, chosen by Gale, underscores his eye-opening methods of helping others view, understand and create art. For the first time in one written document, Eye into Art explains and illuminates the lessons Gale taught generations of professional artists and art students about art in general and painting in particular.

Starting with an outline described by Gale, his widow Cello and a hard working committee of 15 of Gale’s former students spent almost four years producing the beautiful book explaining the principles of ‘seeing and making art’ that Gale emphasized in his live classes. Eye into Art features 69 illustrations, including more than 50 of Gale’s paintings, original demo sketches from his workshops and various paintings by other artists Gale used to demonstrate principles of composition and execution.

The Alliance will also be hosting other special events in conjunction with the Gale Bennett 75 exhibition. Pat Dunn and Marcy Calkins, friends, colleagues and former students of Gale, will host a ‘Walk & Talk’ tour of the exhibition on February 15 at 10am, sharing personal memories of Gale, his life and work. Also scheduled for February 19 is ‘A Musical Evening with Cello & Friends.’ This special concert event will recall and recreate the beauty and charm of Gale and Cello’s ‘Musical Evenings in Giverny.’ a popular part of their ArtStudy Programs at Monet’s estate outside Paris.

Long before those heart-warming Giverny occasions, Gale was born in West Palm Beach in 1939. At age 2 he moved with his family to Fort Myers, where he was captivated by nature’s diversity and glory: “There was a solitude in Florida back in the old days that came from a vast expanse of nature,” he used to recall. “It used to be impossible to drive down McGregor Boulevard without seeing red-headed woodpeckers – not the pileated ones, but the little red-headed ones. I’d see swallow-tailed flycatchers up on the wires. A lot of the wildlife we used to see we don’t see anymore. That’s fading away.”

Gale’s early experiences of nature remained a lifelong foundation, shaping his artistic sensibilities, vision and work. In 2004, he commented, “My painting started early in life as a love of wildlife and birds even more than art. My mother encouraged me when I was a little kid. She would buy me coloring books. And I remember if I was really good, she would let me use her fountain pen and her good paper to practice drawing little palm trees in pen and ink.” He added, “To this day, I think you could say John James Audubon and Walt Disney were my two biggest influences in the art world. I’d never heard of Van Gogh!”

Years later, Gale left Fort Myers for New York City. “I went there [to the School of Visual Arts] on a scholarship.” He noted, “I’d done a series of murals down here on hotels and restaurants the last couple of years of high school. I took pictures of those with me and I got a working scholarship; I worked in the admissions office part time.

“When I first came back to southwest Florida in ‘68, I started out teaching in my home. Then I started a school in the old Patio de Leon downtown. It actually did pretty well. Once a month on a Sunday afternoon we’d have an opening and we’d get about 300 people in there. I think we were the first real gallery in Fort Myers.”

Responding to ‘popular demand’ for creative commercial services in the area, Gale Bennett Associates became an active ad agency, earning over 100 Addy Award nominations, and winning an Addy for Creative Commercial Announcement and an Emmy for a Shallows restaurant TV spot. “I always painted between 30 and 40 paintings a year and I kept doing that, going back and forth between the two realms,” he explained. “The weird thing about it? I was like living two lives and I didn’t have time to teach. When you run an advertising agency, you don’t have much free time.”

Still, during the 10-plus years Gale ran his agency he had two retrospective exhibitions of his paintings. One at the Alliance of the Arts, as it was called in those days, was the first show they ever had. It was in the old Schulz farm house. I remember walking in and seeing all the pillars breaking up the house and thinking to myself, ‘Where am I going to have room to hang all these paintings?’ But it worked out.”

Years later, after closing his business and devoting full time to teaching art, Gale was hired to teach a workshop in a lodge within Claude Monet’s magical ‘refuge town,’ Giverny, France. He recalled, “I was there just a few weeks and I came back and spent two years trying to figure out how to live there. Eventually, I went back in 1995 to negotiate with the owners of the lodge and with the Monet Foundation. I worked out a deal with both of them and in 1996 started my ArtStudy/Giverny summer school programs.”

Gale continued offering those world-renowned sessions for the rest of his life, teaching Impressionism to artists around the globe. Although he frequently declared, ‘I am not an Impressionist,’ Gale certainly understood Impressionism. He could explain and demonstrate it, paint it, and teach it like no other artist on earth.

His death on Easter Sunday, March 23, 2008 was fittingly followed by a celebrated final memorial exhibition at Giverny’s Musée Baudy in the Spring/Summer of 2008.

Now, you can take part in the Alliance for the Arts’ newest loving celebration of Gale Bennett’s life and career, and see for yourself many of the paintings that made him a living, working, teaching artistic luminary on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and an internationally revered Master Artist the world over, now and forever.

Gale Bennett 75 will be on view at the Alliance for the Arts February 7-28. The galleries are open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm & Sat 9am-1pm. Admission is free. The opening reception February 7, 5-7pm is free and open to the public, as is the gallery ‘Walk & Talk’ February 15. Alliance for the Arts is located at 10091 McGregor Blvd. in Fort Myers. For more information, call the Alliance at 939-2787 or Cello Bennett at 646-220-4897.

January-February 2014

“My painting started
early in life as
a love of wildlife
and birds even
more than art.”

La Femme



Starting with an outline
described by Gale,
his widow, Cello
and a hard working
committee of 15 of
Gale’s former students
spent almost four years
producing Eyes into Art,
explaining the principles
of ‘seeing and making art’
that Gale emphasized in
his live classes.