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Art Guild show in Key Largo of Florida Keys talent continues through March 9

The art guild painted Feb. 19 en plein air at Buttonwood Bay in Key Largo.
The art guild painted Feb. 19 en plein air at Buttonwood Bay in Key Largo.
Jill Zima Borski

The Art Guild of Purple Isles is two years shy of the 50th anniversary of its founding. The name of the group has changed slightly though the years, and few of the original members remain in the Florida Keys. But traditions established in the first decade carry on including the annual art show, which is set to open to the public Thursday, Feb. 27, at the Key Largo Library Community Room. A record number of members’ entries – 130 – are set to be displayed from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

The guild’s first art show was Feb. 4-25, 1966 at the Gate House also known as the Atwood property, south of the Hurricane Monument in Islamorada, according to a purple booklet published in 1991 on the occasion of the guild’s silver anniversary. Because the Purple Isles Fine Arts Guild, as it was called, applied for a charter in the Florida Federation of Art based on the suggestion of Bernice Shambaugh of Miami, the guild was required to hold a yearly show judged by a “qualified judge” approved by the Federation. Serving as guild leaders in 1966 was Colonel Floyd Egger as president, Lynn Fite as vice president and Helen Weiss as secretary/treasurer.

Jeannine Mead Bean, a longtime artist and Islamorada resident, was one of the charter members in 1966 and is now an honorary member of the guild. She turned 83 on Feb. 22 and said she has not painted her colorful geometric fish and bird art for a while, but is enjoying making tear and paste collages in her spare time.
Current Upper Keys residents Gail Jackson Collins and Judy Chesher were members in 1990-1991. Jackson painted watercolors and later operated Gecko Graphics in Key Largo, and Chesher continues to work as an artist and sell her paintings and pen and ink artworks at the Rain Barrel Artisan Shops in Islamorada.

Collins said she gave up her membership when the guild’s monthly meeting time changed from evening to daytime. That made it difficult for anyone working a standard eight-hour day to attend. Currently, the guild meets the first Wednesday of each month during the winter season at 10 a.m. in Key Largo, and usually in the library’s community room. The daytime meeting hour draws a crowd, and many of the members are retired and seasonal residents.
Another member in 1990-1991 was Helen Burton who had moved to the Keys in 1978 and took watercolor workshops from some of the visiting artists who also served as judge of the annual art guild’s show. Artists Jeanne Dobie, Millard Wells and Tony Coach were some of the watercolorists under whom Burton studied. She took her first watercolor workshop in 1984 -- and is a successful artist to this day based in Chattanooga, Tenn. “That was the genesis of a watercolor career,” she said.

Prints of Keys scenes created by Burton, such as Anne Eaton’s historic home, a Pigeon Key railroad worker’s home and a Tavernier banana plant can be seen at the Island Decor Gallery in Tavernier. Burton said Hurricane Andrew chased her from the Keys, as well as wanting to live closer to her son.

Many of the traditions of the early art guild are carried on today, while some have waned and began again, when infused with new energy and leadership. Demonstrations and workshops always have been a part of the guild’s mission. During the 1990-1991season, there was a multi-day watercolor workshop given by Peggy Zalucha and one-day demonstrations in etching and printmaking, the “Alexander Method” of oil painting by Lucille Dickinson and woodcarving by Eugenia Pratt.

This year’s workshops hosted by the Art Guild of the Purple Isles, as it is now called, included Sue Archer demonstrating watercolor; Jane Slivka – acrylics painting, and Mike Rooney teaching the Cape Cod School of Art with oils set for March 10-12.

At the 48th annual Art Show’s opening reception, Jon and Julie Landau of Islamorada and “Avatar”and "Titanic" fame will present the awards. As in 2013, more than 1,000 visitors are expected to enjoy the art show before it closes Sunday, March 9. Guild members will serve as docents for the show, and some will paint on premises. Visitors will be able to vote for their favorite artwork, whose creator will receive the coveted People’s Choice Award.

The guild also is offering $1 chances for an original framed watercolor by Tom Jones with proceeds going to its Community Student/School Art assistance program. Guild members give their time to various area schools, helping children participate in art projects.

When the guild was founded in 1966, charter member Barbara Petsinger taught art at Coral Shores High School and initiated a “junior guild” associated with the adult guild. Talented “students of the month” were honored at guild meetings and given art materials. In the mid-eighties the program discontinued, but support between the guild, local schools and art students have begun again. In 2012, the Centennial Year for the completion of the Flagler Railroad Extension to the Florida Keys, the Art Guild invited students from Island Christian School to participate in the creation of the Flagler Memorial Mural at mile marker 95.3 in Key Largo. Last year, guild members worked to ensure a successful Coral Shores High School Art Show in the media center. High school students regularly enter the annual Art Guild show, and have their own judged categories which may be awarded ribbons for the best entries.

Painting en plein air (on site, outdoors), field trips and social events are additional art guild activities. For more information, visit

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