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The Sweet Spot

by Julie Clay

THE AREA WHERE SWEET ART GALLERY RESIDES looks more like an industrial park than an up and coming arts scene, but don’t be fooled. Nestled among building companies and lighting fixture showrooms on and around Trade Center Way in North Naples is a collection of art galleries and artists’ studios. In this area known as the Design District, Sweet Art Gallery stands as one of the most expansive. In fact, it’s one of the largest in town. Says gallery owner Dede Sweet, “Being in the Design District, people don’t realize how big this building is. There are so many builders, designers and architects located in this area. We’re one of six galleries and 18 artists’ working studios within a half mile of us.” She lists among them Longstreth-Goldberg, Rosen Gallery, Galerie un deux trios and Naples Fine Art Studio & Gallery.

Boasting over 6,000 sq.ft. of wall space, Sweet Art shows an assortment of abstract, contemporary, and original pieces of art showcasing everyone from local talent just starting out to those known internationally. “We carry art from South America, France and Europe,” says Dede, “Our venue changes twice a month at least, with 35 artists showing at a time. We have four sculptors that are here now featuring fantastic aluminum sculptures for both inside and outside. And we meet several times a year with the von Liebig Art Center, the United Arts Council, and all the other art galleries in town, as we all have the same goals. We’re very big in developing the arts in Naples, since it’s one of the Top 10 US cities for great art.”

However much Sweet Art branches out nationally and internationally, they remain dedicated to the local scene, featuring at least 50% Florida artists at any given time, showcasing oils, acrylics, pastel, mixed media, photography and sculptures. Since opening in their current space three years ago, they’ve expanded three times to fit the needs of the many artists that need temporary space to show or have their own shows. Sweet Art Gallery has earned a comfortable spot of notoriety in the Naples art scene. And to think a force of nature had everything to do with it.

Back in 1991, Dede opened Sweet Art & Design, a decorative art company specializing in faux finishes. When Hurricane Wilma blew through in 2005, they sustained massive structural damage and flooding. With the rebuilding came the decision that changed everything. “Nothing on the floor,” was the mantra, so the decision to create a full-fledged art gallery just made sense. They raised the ceilings and installed art lighting, and Sweet Art Gallery was born. It was heading in that direction anyway, as more and more people insisted they help them decide the exact art to hang on their beautifully faux finished walls.

“When it became time for people to put art on their new walls, many asked me to come to their homes to do art selection for them,” Dede says, “We had been in wall treatments for the last 15 years, so it was a natural progression for us. Now I bring them to our gallery to showcase our artists (in order) to select paintings for their homes. Then we’ll come in and professionally install the art. We’ll position it just so on a client’s wall and let them live with it for a few days to make sure it is the correct painting for their residence.”

From her background it seems a logical conclusion that Dede Sweet was going to be a purveyor of fine art. Majoring in merchandising and interior design at Bauder College in Atlanta, she paid her way through school doing illustrations for fashion design students. She ended up becoming an illustrator, and then went into fashion design. At which point life took another turn. “I modeled for 12 years and did local theater here in southwest Florida,” Dede shares, “One day I was unloading my own personal art during a move and an interior designer liked what she saw. She asked me to do a painting for one of her projects. Then I started doing art out of the garage where I was living in Naples. I got so many designers interested in what we were introducing as faux finishing that I hired Stacy Bolesky and she’s been with me for 16 years. Then we started getting so much work that we needed a workshop.

We opened our first faux finishing studio on J&C Blvd. Then we just grew and grew into 11 full time artists and faux finishers. Stacy runs that end of the business and I’m with the gallery. But we all work together.” Seven years ago, they moved to Trade Center Way to be in the Design District. They personally work with clients all over southwest Florida, from Sarasota to Marco Island, and ship paintings all over the world.

From residential to commercial clients, Sweet Art Gallery is keeping busy supplying fine art on multiple levels, while cultivating the artists themselves. Dede notes that they feature artists who have their Masters in Fine Art, while simultaneously cultivating and showing artists just starting out. “We’re going across the board to make all original art affordable so everyone can enjoy art as an investment and help all collectors whether they are beginners or the most experienced,” says Dede, “So when people visit our gallery they know we have done our homework. We want to make art affordable for everyone.” She notes that their prices range from under $500 to over $5,000. “Art is not really a trend; it’s about what makes you happy. Art creates reaction and that’s what our gallery tries to do. We try to create attractions and reaction to our art patrons.”

Shows like this one they did this past June called S’ex and the City’ certainly got a reaction. Celebrating the female form and figure, the show featured Peruvian artist Herman Sosa plus Peruvian food and cocktails. Over 250 people attended on a steamy mid-June evening, almost unheard of here in Naples, remembers Dede. You can count on at least two receptions a month right through summer at Sweet Art Gallery, with additional ones happening during season.

The lineup for January and February looks like this:

January 2:
‘Putting on the Glitz’
featuring Larry Kessler (Palm Beach) and sculptor David Gonya (Sarasota).
There will be a champagne reception from 6-9pm.

January 7
The first ‘Underground Arts Wednesday of 2009

January 16
Sweet 16 featuring abstract artists Patricia Zalisco

January 30
‘Pret-a-porte’ European exhibit
featuring Patricia Mulko (France), Gloria Audo (England) and Lou Moore (England)

February 13
‘Art Ball’.
Not a fancy black & white affair, just a casual showing featuring Sharon Erbe (local artist)

February. 27
‘Purr-fecta Fur Ball’ benefit for Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary

Dede recommends checking out ‘Underground Art Wednesdays’, the first Wednesday of each month. All the area studios open for this event and feature live music, live drawing and painting groups. “People can get out and feel the art and have the time to view original artwork,” Dede says. Sweet Art has been doing these Wednesdays for two years now.

To see what else is in store for Sweet Art Gallery, you can refer to their new season event calendar, created by Dede and available at the Gallery. This actual calendar features different works of art from the gallery’s artists each month, plus ‘Underground Wednesday’ listings and any shows already booked.

“With this many artists, we have everything at all times,” Dede says of her gallery. “I just love abstracts and I love color. It lights up a room. It evokes emotion and tranquility and serenity. I tend to collect more of the abstract art, but there’s something here for everyone.”

Sweet Art Gallery is located at 2054 Trade Center Way in Naples. The gallery is open Monday-Friday 10am-5pm and Sat. 10am-1pm. Call 597-2110 for information. •

from the January-February 2009 issue

Sweet Art is one of six galleries and 18 artists' working studios within a half mile in North Naples known as the Design District.

Sweet Art remains dedicated to the local scene, featuring at least 50% Florida artists at any given time.