Marietta Lee loves pink-plastic flamingos and pumpkins carved out of granite. She loves the color pink and odd, little unexpected touches: red nail polish on a ballerina statue, year-round Christmas decorations and light posts bedecked with seashells.
A Sarasota resident since 1984 and a 1991 graduate of Ringling College of Art and Design, Lee has been collecting art for 15 years and dreaming of opening an art museum for just as long. When Sarasota fashion designer Joan McGee moved her North Tamiami Trail Serendipity Gallery east of the interstate, Lee, a Sapphire Shores resident, immediately visualized her Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy on the one-acre parcel.
In August 2008, she purchased the 5,390-square-foot building, which, at one point, housed the Kancha Buddhist Center, for $1.55 million. The art museum — named after the “Mariettas” in her family: herself, her grandmother, mother and niece — is slated to open this January. It’ll even have a small gift shop inside that Lee says will sell prints, greeting cards and hats.
“It’s just a fun place aimed at adults,” says Lee, who’s already begun recruiting neighbors to help her encrust the museum’s driveway pillars with hundreds of seashells.
A native of Guilford, Conn., Lee went from being a housewife, to a registered nurse, to a paramedic, to an artist. Although she’s produced many oil paintings herself, she says she plans to exhibit mostly other artists’ work.
“I’m really going out on a limb here,” she says as she moseys about the museum’s backyard, pointing out an assemblage of pink flamingos. “You’ll find mostly American artists here — 98% of whom are still alive, which is what makes my museum very, very unusual. Other museums only showcase the work of the dead.”
She has already acquired 175 different artists’ work, purchased at art shows from Gainesville to New England. Three weeks ago, she hired movers to haul 55 stone sculptures from her hometown in Connecticut to the North Trail museum. Lee estimates that the load weighed 23 tons.
“It’s the same type of granite used in Grand Central Station and the Washington Monument,” she says, motioning toward a slightly lopsided stone pumpkin with pinhole eyes and a wide smile. “Stony Creek granite.”
She began renovating the museum two months ago and covered the entire exterior of the building in pink paint —“Tickled Pink,” by Benjamin Moore, to be exact. She chose pink because she says it has a “lively spirit,” which explains the pink flamingo lawn ornaments, most of which were purchased at the Red Barn Flea Market, in Bradenton.
“All museums,” Lee says, “are started by a single individual who collects too much stuff. And, usually, that person is crazy enough to think other people want to see their stuff.”
Behind her, a ballerina titled “Lace Slipper” spins slowly on top of a round rock. Crafted by Connecticut artist Joe DeMarco, the sculpture’s sinewy body was molded using scrap metal and found materials. Its curled fingernails were painted red, and its lips were stained to match.
No mater how eclectic or irreverent some patrons might consider Lee’s art museum, the vision is already under way. Acclaimed Sarasota architect Jonathan Parks and contractors from Maglich Homes have begun tearing down walls, installing circular windows, ceiling tiles and handicap-accessible restrooms.
Soon they’ll put in a new front door made of ceiling-to-floor glass — another one of Lee’s ideas — so that patrons and passing motorists will be able to see the spinning ballerina through the ticket lobby.
“The spinning was my idea,” Lee says, pointing to the mechanism on which DeMarco’s dancer rotates. “I thought, ‘How could I make this whimsical?’ Put it on a round ball and spin it, that’s what. A dancer has to spin.”
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at firstname.lastname@example.org
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