“WE ALWAYS SAY THE Hidden Community of NAPLES,” says Valerie Blauvelt, Painter and District Marketing President. “We’re just looking like a gem.” across the neighborhood, a shopping district north of Pine Ridge Road and west of Airport-Pulling in North Naples, the gem may at first glance seem a bit raw. The gritty business district is home to a cement plant, auto repair shops, and roofing companies. You are more likely to see pickup trucks than luxury cars in parking lots.
But look again, and you’ll start to notice the art galleries and studios tucked away in the plazas along Shirley Street and J&C Boulevard, as well as a sprinkling of art-related businesses. Most of the member artists of the Naples Art District (NAD), now more than 90, work in buildings along these two routes.
Paula Brody, painter and multimedia artist who is the current president of NAD, points out: “The talent that is back here is truly remarkable. I want to encourage residents and visitors to discover the arts district of Naples and have a wonderful day – or days – enjoying meeting our artists and seeing the creativity of painters, photographers, sculptors, jewelers, artists fiber and furniture manufacturers.
More than 15 years ago, artists began to settle in the district, in search of workspaces with affordable rents. The neighborhood’s grunge factor was an attraction, not a flaw, just like in other cities across the country where artists have transformed old factories and warehouses into chic industrial lofts and studios.
Some of the early pioneers, like sculptor Richard Rosen, bought their units. Others rented spaces and rented some of them out to other artists. In 2006 Rosen founded the group that is now known as the Naples Art District. He led it for eight years as a tireless advocate for the neighborhood’s growing core of artists.
At first the group had several different names, but in 2012 it consolidated its identity as the Naples Art District. The group incorporated as a nonprofit in 2016. Now, Rosen says, “we have a waiting list of more than 15 artists looking for space in the neighborhood.” And, as Ms. Brody proudly observes, the area is home to the largest concentration of active artists in Southwest Florida.
From November to May, “Art Alive!” the days of open workshops allow visitors to discover the workshops of artists. NAD artists’ workspaces and galleries are open to the public regularly three days a month: first Wednesday from 3-7 p.m., first Thursday from 1-5 p.m., and third Saturday from 1-5 p.m. dates, see the NAD website (naplesartdistrict.com).
“It’s a different experience to come into an artist’s studio and see where the magic happens, so to speak,” notes Rosen.
The power of the flowers
A very tangible sign of NAD’s growth and development is its increasing amount of public programming, as well as the development of partnerships with other cultural organizations to bring art and education to the community at large.
On February 23 and 24, visitors can discover the region by means of a first event called “Artful Arrangements”. Free and open to the public both days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the event associates 30 artists with floral designers who will interpret a specific work using botanical materials.
“We are very excited about this event. If it is a success, we will repeat it in the years to come,” says Ms. Blauvelt. The inspiration comes from an annual event at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts called “Art in Bloom” which features flower arrangements created by members of Boston-area garden clubs.
In Naples, some of the designers are employed by local florists while others are members of organizations such as the Naples Garden Club. Nine belong to the Naples chapter of Ikebana International, an organization dedicated to the traditional practice of flower arranging that has been cultivated in Japan for centuries.
Arturo and Barbara Samaniego are a creative couple who team up for “Artful Arrangements”. He is a painter and she is a florist. Married for 15 years, they are delighted to be able to collaborate in their respective fields. “We know each other a bit,” Arturo said with a smile.
The challenge is his, he noted. His paintings – moving abstractions awash in luminous colors and subtle textures – already exist, displayed in his gallery in a building complex on Shirley Street.
With 22 years of experience as a floral designer, Barbara describes her style as “natural with a modern twist”. I like flowers to be flowers. I don’t like to compete and add a lot of tchotchkes and artificial enhancements.
She plans to shape her plant material into a contemporary response to her husband’s paintings. “I want to do something that looks more like an installation than a flower arrangement on a pedestal. I want to encourage viewers to really look at the detail not just of the flowers, but also of the textures and colors of the painting,” Barbara says.
“I think for a lot of people, flowers are really easy to understand. They are already just perfect. But with abstract art, a lot of people are intimidated because they feel they have to see something in it rather than its own visual beauty,” she muses. “I think what makes Arturo’s abstracts particularly appealing to me is his use of color and [color] combinations. But I really like that his summaries have a place for your eye to rest. They’re not overly stimulating and they’re not boring.
“If what she does encourages people to take a closer look at abstract art, that would be amazing,” adds Arturo.
The flower path
The Japanese word “Ikebana” is often translated as “living flowers” or “bringing flowers to life”. It is a form of flower arrangement that follows guidelines developed by more than 300 different schools – or styles – that have evolved over centuries in Japan.
Ikebana compositions often have a spare sculptural quality. Manufacturers are sensitive to the natural form of the plant materials they use. Ikebana designers tend to look for shapes “found” in nature rather than trying to manipulate the shape of plants. Many of their floral designs incorporate a three-part structure corresponding to notions of heaven, earth and humanity.
“My school of Ikebana thinks design is like composing music,” says Ikebana President Margy Metzler
Naples International Chapter No. 160. “There has to be flow and movement. And every design should have negative space.
Ms. Metzler recently interpreted the art of Neapolitan painter Christy Noonan, making an example of a colorful arrangement to show off the type of floral creation she will construct for “Artful Arrangements”.
At an event last fall to match artists and florists, paintings of aquatic plants floating in the water gardens of Ms. Noonan’s botanical garden in Naples caught Metzler’s eye.
“She really liked the flowers, the colors and the simplification of my shapes,” says Ms. Noonan. “In nature I love the action that happens – the way the light moves and dances, the playfulness of it. I don’t really break it down like a botanist in my paintings. I don’t study the structure of plants To me, it feels a bit like a playground.”
“Each of our designers is an artist,” says Ms. Metzler. “When we make a design with a work of art, we don’t make the exact image. We make a representation of how we feel about the image.
Ms. Metzler discovered Ikebana while living in Japan for seven years. A military wife, she wanted to experience Japanese culture and make friends with Japanese people while her husband was stationed in Okinawa. She began working on her certification as a “sensei” or teacher while studying with a renowned Ikebana practitioner.
“What I love is that I can be creative. I can’t draw a person. I can pretty much draw a stick figure. But when I work with my flowers, I can produce a work of art. , and it makes me happy. It brings me joy. Flowers should always bring you joy,” says Ms. Metzler. “Arrangements don’t always reveal themselves, just like a work of art doesn’t always reveal itself. always, and you paint over it and start over, right? So sometimes I pick my flowers and start over.
“Artful Arrangements” offers a festive opportunity to explore Naples’ arts quarter if you’ve never delved into the area before – or even know it already. In addition to the artists taking part in the event, all the neighborhood’s active galleries and artists’ studios will be open to the public on February 23 and 24.
Visitors can take it all in and then vote for their choice of the most creative floral interpretation of an original work of art. The winner of this “People’s Choice” award will receive tickets to travel on JetBlue. And a team of professional judges, certified by the Garden Club of America, will judge the non-Ikebana floral arrangements and award ribbons for first, second, and third place as well as honorable mentions.
You are encouraged to take the time to smell the flowers! ¦
— Janice T. Paine is a Naples-based freelance writer specializing in artistic subjects.
In the TO KNOW
» Wednesday/Thursday 23 and 24 February
» Naples Arts District
” Admission fee
» Opening reception and preview
» Tuesday, February 22, 5-7 p.m.
» Become a supporter of the Naples Art District and receive an invitation to the preview evening for Artful Arrangements. Meet NAD artists, enjoy tantalizing tastings and music.
» $125 individual; $250 couple; $500 Ambassador.