Island Art
Sanibel's Galleries

by A. Marie Duvalle

IF YOU ARE YEARNING to see original oil paintings, colorful ceramics, or raku-fired pottery, try spending an afternoon visiting the art galleries on Sanibel Island. Located just a hop, skip and jump from one another are Tower Gallery, Hirdie-Girdie Gallery and Watson MacRae Gallery — all with their own unique history, settings and works of art. BIG ARTS is located nearby.

Tower Gallery
751 Tarpon Bay Road
open daily 10am-9pm

Tower Gallery is an artists’s co-op. It first opened in October 1982 at Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers. In 1993, the gallery moved to Sanibel Island into a legendary 2-story beach house that was built in 1926. The 85-year-old beach house was actually moved from the beach to its present address on Tarpon Bay Road in 1970s. This charming beach house is painted in bright island colors — turquoise and yellow with lavender touches — and has been lovingly kept in excellent condition.

Inside, you’ll find the artwork of 22 acclaimed and award-winning artists. Amongst the finds there’s Gyotaku pieces (the Japanese art of fish printing) by Charlie Brown; hand-sculpted fantasy art dolls by Katie Gardenia; fused glass pieces and jewelry by Connie Sebring; and infrared photography by Kim Hambor. New art is added monthly, so there is always something new to see.

Although the gallery has offerings desirable to any collector, the artist/members feel that art should be something for everyone to enjoy. “Art should be accessible and everyone should be able to surround themselves with art that they love,” says Steve Bufter, President of Tower Gallery, who also creates post-stress eclectic style paintings on wood and carvings on wood.

Events are also an important part of the galleries of Sanibel, offering the community a chance to mingle, meet artists and see new work. Tower Gallery hosts various events in conjunction with Sanibel events, such as Shellabation! 2012. “Addition-ally, we also invite guest artists, and host receptions for the artists,” says Bufter who has been with the Gallery for three years.

Hirdie Girdie Gallery
2490 Library Way
open Mon-Sat 11am-5pm

HIrdie-Girdie Gallery is also an artist’s co-op, located at the corner of Tarpon Bay Road and Library Way. The history of the gallery dates back a few decades when the daughter of the original building’s owner opened the original HIrdie-Girdie Gallery to sell colorful Haitian art. The art was sold to benefit the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles, Haiti. When she retired from the art business, a group of island artists stepped in to keep the creative tradition going.

The Hirdie-Girdie Gallery is now housed in what used to be a candy store. Outside, it’s a quaint building trimmed with tropical colors, while Inside lies a haven of watercolors, acrylics, oils, photography, clay, precious metal, clay jewelry, woven baskets, wood carving, art glass, wood turning and beaded sculpture. Nearly every work of art shown at the gallery is a one-of-a kind original. There are colorful wildlife-themed clay pieces, such as vases and sculptures by Kathy Boynton; graphic, island-inspired oil and acrylic paintings by Stan Timson; and fused glass plates and other pieces by Jeanne Risher, many of which have a marine theme. Furthermore, there are still a few Haitian pieces on display, such as ‘Nudes on the Beach,’ by Harry Jacques Arijae.

Whether you are simply browsing, shopping for gifts, or purchasing artwork to decorate a home, one of the 16 artists/members of this co-op is always at the gallery to help make the visit a memorable experience. “Our artists each know what goes into producing a specific piece,“ says Neil Glaser, a watercolorist, who also runs the gallery’s monthly group meetings. “At times, we will pick up the phone and call the artist to find out more about a piece,” adding that the gallery’s artists all love to talk about their art.

Watson MacRae Gallery
2340 Periwinkle Way
Mon-Sat 10:30am-5pm

Watson MacRae Gallery opened in 2008 and offers fine art and contemporary crafts. The name ‘Watson MacRae,’ is a family name. The name was derived from the gallery’s owner, Maureen Watson, and MacRae, her grandmother’s name. Although the gallery began with displaying the work of painters and sculptors, it has since expanded into ceramists, glass blowers and jewelers.

“Each year, the gallery has six new exhibits with two to four artists in each exhibit,” says Watson, who has her own hands-on experience with art, having studied painting and drawing in New York City and more recently studying painting with Hollis Jeffcoat on Sanibel Island.

Watson’s selects interesting and diverse artwork, such as the colorful and primitive-style paintings by Krista Johnson; symbolic horse sculptures by Sheena Cameron; and contemporary metal works by Jim Krieger. “Outside of technical excellence, works of art shown at the gallery must have spirit, energy and feeling,” explains Watson.

As with all of the galleries of Sanibel, personalized attention is something you will also enjoy at Watson MacRae. Watson is at the gallery six days a week during season, so she knows what artwork the local patrons, as well as the returning visitors, enjoy most.

300 Dunlop Road
open Mon-Sat 9am-4pm

BIG ARTS’ Founders Gallery opened in 1987. In 1990 the Phillips gallery was added and a sculpture garden was added in 1997. A second location, a Gallery 7 Gift Shop, located at 2244 Periwinkle Road recently oped as well. All galleries feature the work of local artists showing traditional and contemporary paintings, photography, sculpture, and pottery.

What is a Co-Op Gallery?

A co-op art gallery requires that all artists whose work is shown in the gallery must also be members of the co-op (this may exclude visiting artists). As a co-op, the artist/members join together to work as a team doing everything it takes to run a gallery, such as ordering and stocking supplies, coordinating receptions and even maintaining the grounds. Each of the artist/members also works in the galleries assisting patrons, and their voices count when it comes to making decisions about how to run the gallery. What’s great for the artists is that they are able to refresh or change art pieces when they want to, there isn’t a middleman, and the gallery can reflect the uniqueness of the artists themselves. What’s great for the art patron is that the prices are often more affordable, and the experience of making a purchase is often personalized since one or more of the artists is generally at the gallery.

January-February 2012

Kim Hambour
Sarah Edwardson
Charles Lister
Sam Timson

Watson MacRae Gallery
Hollis Jeffcoat