The task was daunting when Longbeach Village residents Winnie Nelon and Carol Weiss set out to curate an exhibit that would represent Longboat Key Center for the Arts’ history.
After all, that history encompasses 60 years.
Nelon’s family history with the Arts Center is practically as old as the Arts Center itself. Her grandmother, Winnie Leathem, was its second president.
Weiss is a painter and self-described “new kid on the block” who quickly became interested in the Arts Center and its history after moving in 2007 to the Village.
Nelon and Weiss chose to focus on four artists who were both important to the Arts Center’s early years and whose work was still available. The exhibit, now on display at the Arts Center, features 17 of the four artists’ work.
Together, the pieces tell the story not only of the Arts Center’s younger years, but also of early life in the Village.
“Marilyn Bendell.” That was the name long-time residents repeated again and again, when Nelon and Weiss began seeking artwork from the Arts Center’s history. She began teaching at the Arts Center in 1953, making her one of the earliest instructors.
As Nelon looked at Bendell’s work, she suspected that she actually owned a Bendell painting. When she returned to her home in Massachusetts for the summer, she confirmed that a portrait of her grandmother, Winnie Leathem, was the work of Bendell.
“Marilyn Bendell really seemed to represent the face of the people of the Arts Center at the time,” Nelon said.
The exhibit features four oil-painting portraits by Bendell, who studied at the American Academy of Art in Chicago and went on to earn international acclaim as an American impressionist. She was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of Art, and her work was featured in “Who’s Who in American Art.”
Along with Leathem’s portrait, the exhibit features paintings of Arts Center co-founder Allis Ferguson and Gilbert “Gib” Herringshaw, Longboat Key’s first chief of police and a past Arts Center vice president.
The exhibit also features a portrait of longtime resident Bobbie Banan, who estimates that Bendell painted it in 1963 or 1964.
Banan said that Bendell was a talented pianist, as well as an artist who frequently played at the Colony. She and Banan’s late husband, Jack, frequently played duets together.
According to Banan, the portrait came about because Bendell only had dark-haired models for a show and was looking for someone with light skin and hair to feature. Banan suggested her 2-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, but agreed to pose for the portrait herself because Bendell didn’t want to paint a small child.
Bendell met her second husband, George Burrows, at the Arts Center when he was her student. They lived on Pine Street and also maintained a studio at the Old School House in Cortez before moving in 1983 to Santa Fe, N.M.
Bendell’s artwork changed dramatically in the years following the move, becoming more Southwestern, with large landscapes created on huge canvasses.
“It became much more abstract than it was when she was here,” Banan said.
Isobel White was a close friend of Bendell who was also a scholarship student of sculptress Sophie Johnstone in the 1950s.
She likely began teaching at the Arts Center in the 1960s.
“She still remains a bit of a mystery to us,” Nelon said. “I’m hoping through the show maybe someone will step forward with some more information.”
Originally from Decatur, Ind., she was a well-known Hoosier Salon artist who had eight of her works accepted into the prestigious Indiana exhibit and won the Hoosier Salon Prize in 1988.
“Many of the works were Longboat Key scenes,” Nelon said. “You could tell by the beaches. There aren’t too many beaches in Indiana.”
Three of White’s oil paintings are featured in the Arts Center exhibit.
One features the Longboat Pass Bridge, while another depicts the Village Store, which early residents Denver and Henrietta Tallman established in 1914 at their home at 702 Broadway. The store operated successfully into the 1970s, according to Ralph Hunter’s “From Calusas to Condominiums.”
Both paintings are on loan from the Longboat Key Historical Society.
A third White painting, “Shoreline,” belongs to Nelon and features a view of Longboat Key’s beach that will be familiar to old-timers and newcomers alike.
Frances ‘Fifi’ Rowan
In 1974, Frances “Fifi” Rowan asked an old friend who lived on Longboat Key to find her a place on the island.
What she found was the former Jordan Hotel, which was built in 1912 and is now the oldest-known residence on the island.
That home is the subject of “The Old Hotel,” an oil painting on stretched canvass that is one of the two Rowan works featured in the exhibit.
The second, entitled “The Blue Heron,” is a woodcut print on rice paper.
Rowan was a graduate of the Randolph-Macon Women’s College and Cooper Union Art School and was listed in “Who’s Who in American Art.”
Her work was shown in many museums and exhibits, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Brooklyn Museum Print Biennial, the Audubon Artists of New York and the American Federation of Arts’ two-year traveling print exhibition.
Rowan taught at the Arts Center for 24 seasons after moving to the Key, finally calling it quits just before her 94th birthday in 2002.
At the time, she told the Longboat Observer that she grew up surrounded by art because her father, Willis Physioc, was a book illustrator. Although there were always paints and crayons in the house, Rowan said that she learned from watching her father, who never gave her any instruction.
Rowan described her own instruction style, saying, “I’m a tough teacher. I make them do it over and over until they get it right.”
Rowan died in 2008 at age 99.
Both paintings in the exhibit were loaned by her son and daughter-in-law, Pete and Carla Rowan, who now live in the old Jordan Hotel.
Patience ‘Pay’ Morrisey
When Weiss bought her home in 2007, she inherited a woodcut print of a tree beside a house.
Later, she noticed a similar print that she was immediately drawn to while walking near the Historical Society. Sure enough, it, too, was a Patience “Pay” Morrisey creation.
Morrisey, 91, is the only featured artist who is still living; she was a close friend of Rowan. Morrisey made a piñata for Rowan every year at Christmas, according to Weiss.
Morrisey graduated from Ontario College of Art & Design, where she studied under Franklin Carmichael, one of the “Group of Seven” painters who brought impressionist painting to Canada. She discovered the Village on vacation with her family in 1967 and went on to buy a house at 661 Linley St., where she and her husband, Peter, spent winters after his retirement in the 1970s.
Morrisey used their small garage as her winter studio for the next 40 years, where she made woodcut prints, watercolors, drawings, collages and sculptures that reflected “usually with a dose of humor and social comment, the sheer wonder she found in this tropical paradise so different from her native Canada,” according to a pamphlet prepared by Nelon and Weiss.
Weiss traveled to Toronto to meet Morrisey over the summer in her current home, where she continues to make art and also enjoys writing.
The exhibit features five of her works: “Royal Poinciana with Night Blooming Circus,” which is the piece that came with Weiss’ home; two woodcut prints on rice papers called “Moving the House” and “St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” which are owned by Village residents Michael and Amy Drake; and “Fishing,” a woodcut print on rice paper with watercolor collage and “The Fishing Shack,” a woodcut print on pine board, both of which are the property of the Historical Society.
The Highwaymen Exhibit
When: Jan. 18 through March 1
From the Jim Crow days of the 1950s through the 1980s, a group of African-Americans created Florida landscapes using their imagination and sold them door-to-door and town-to-town, producing an artistic legacy that is now important to the history of popular and folk art in Florida and the South.
In 2004, the Florida Arts Council inducted 26 Highwaymen to the Artists’ Hall of Fame, which put their names alongside famous Floridians like Ray Charles, Jimmy Buffet, Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams.
The exhibit will feature 50 paintings from the Lawrence Helmuth collection.
At the same time, the Arts Center will feature a small collection of the works of Syd Solomon, who was the first guest artist to give a demonstration of the facility.
South of the Border:
Latin Samba Jazz Party
When: 7 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22
The Thomas Carabasi Samba Jazz Quintet and special guests will drive home a Latin beat at this Samba celebration. Cost is $75. Cocktails and a light buffet will be served. The event is an Arts Center fundraiser.
For reservations, call 383-2345.