Painting In The Park

by Julie Clay

YOU KNOW THE DRILL Get to the beach, plop down your stuff, kick off the flip-flops and go watch the guy paint….wait a minute. Well if your destination is Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, chances are you’ll see William North, Artist-in-Residence, capturing yet another idyllic pictorial on canvas.

This year, Mr. North became the first artist to hold the title created by park officials, based on the quality and appropriateness of his work as well as his decade-plus tenure of painting on location at the Park. “I’ve been here since 1994”, he recalls, “I came to Florida in 1990 mostly for the weather, because I am an outdoor painter, and was always looking for locations.” His stops include the J.N. ‘Ding Darling’ National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel, Naples spots like the Palm cottage and the beach by the pier, as well as Lowdermilk Park. “In my search I stumbled upon Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park and it struck me right away as a wonderful place,” North remarks.

As Artist-in-Residence, Mr. North has committed to making the park his major painting subject for the 2007-2008 season (March-March). Then at the end of the year, Delnor-Wiggins will hold a one-man art show featuring his efforts. Inspired originally by North’s work, art shows have been a regular component at the park over the last 10 years. The annual exhibit is a fund-raiser for the Park’s citizen volunteer support group. He remembers the initial one, “It was at a roofed pavilion with me and two or three photographers.” Its success led to bigger shows over the years that have also featured his work.

Park Manager Robert Steiger says that North has been the primary artist in their shows by his mastery of using impressionism to show the natural state of the park. It seemed only fitting to name him Artist-in-Residence. “When we first thought about it we just wanted to show people another way of seeing the real Florida,” says Steiger, “Not only has (Mr. North) been encouraged to do more artwork featuring this park, but it’s also brought more publicity about art and our state park here. It has brought a lot of people to the park that may have never seen what the park is about.”

North says, “When I came upon Wiggins, I found that this was a place with endless opportunities and paintable subjects. The thing that made it so paintable was the way the sun rose and the shadows that were cast upon the sand mostly by the Australian pines. The shadows extended a little over the water as the sun rose. Then the shadows would recede and at any point the pattern would work. I would go back there on a number of days on a given painting.” He adds, “The paintings are fairly literal representations of what I see. But I try to make them artistic.”

Rated as one of the best beaches in the nation, Delnor-Wiggins inspires North with its sugar-white sand and endless shadows, ever-present during even a busy hurricane season. “Hurricanes changed the landscape greatly. Right after Charley I didn’t paint there for quite a while. Some of the trees are gone forever and it’s changed a great deal. There are less shadow areas. Now they have planted dune grass between the foliage area of the park and the beach. That’s changed a lot. Dune grass is a very dead color, brownish gray. I’ve done a number of paintings with this grass in it. It’s a struggle, but the growth is coming back a lot. There is a big difference now, but it’s a very wide beach from the water line to the growth line.” He adds, “They’re forever dredging Wiggins Pass. I think some of that sand has been deposited on the beach in different places. In my recent visits the beach was just as it always was.”

At any given time over the last decade, you might have spotted the man quietly painting in the shade. Don’t worry about whether or not to approach him, as North is quite used to it. “The people come and watch and they talk and tell me about their relatives that are artists. I’m never distracted,” he affirms. He’s also quite frequently offered money on the spot for his paintings, at which point he gives out a little card detailing the exact location of Gannon’s Antiques and Art, the south Fort Myers gallery that houses his paintings. Most of which are outdoor Florida scenes. Yet, he’s also got this thing for oranges.

When North is not capturing the scenery outside, his art reflects Florida’s finest with his ‘Real Florida Oranges’ series of still-life arrangements, those being the not-so-perfect ones you’ll find still on the tree or tossed aside in favor of friendlier-looking fruits. “Florida oranges have character,” North notes, “Not perfectly round, not perfectly orange, they are often yellowish in color and marked by surface patterns, speckles and wind scars.” As economic development goes, the grove where he used to get his oranges is now a subdivision. The Sun Harvest grove is now one of North’s favorite places to find oranges, and from time to time he peruses his local Publix in search of the imperfect leftovers no one else wants.

Be it oranges, Delnor-Wiggins or Sanibel Island, North has been in southwest Florida capturing the essence thereof via his oils close to two decades, but his brush has been busy most of his life, over 60 years now. He is a graduate of Pratt Institute and attended the Art Students League in New York and the Lyme Academy of Fine Art in Connecticut. His work has been featured in many galleries including Naples, Sanibel and Bonita Springs. His work is in the permanent collection of the Naples Art Association and he was the first Lee County artist invited to exhibit in the Governor’s Gallery in the State Capital. His oil paintings are currently featured in the Florida Fine Art Gallery in Gannon’s Antiques & Art Center in south Ft. Myers.

If you want to see the artist in action, better get to Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park early, as North prefers the early morning hours in order to capture the shadows that have now been immortalized in his work. He often returns to a particular site several times before finishing the painting in the studio. You can’t miss him; North’s Resident Artist title has also scored him a director’s chair complete with his name on the back. •

Visit www.northgallery.com or www.artshow.com to view William North’s work online. His paintings are on display at his Florida Fine Art Gallery in Gannon’s Antiques & Art Center, 16521 S. Tamiami Trail (US 41 & Island Park Rd). The gallery telephone number is 489-2211. For more information on Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, visit www.floridastateparks.org.

from the July-August 2007 issue

"When I came to Wiggins, I found that this was a place with endless paintable subjects."

'Wiggins Beach'


'Calusa Walking Tree'