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Panther Ridge artists host art studio tour in eastern Manatee County

Artists try to build support to start a Panther Ridge Arts and Crafts Association in eastern Manatee County.

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Ever since the first houses were sold in Lakewood Ranch around the turn of the century, many amenities were built in the area to enrich the lives of the residents.

Parks, restaurants, gyms, shopping and more all followed the legion of new residents.

The one area that has lagged has been the arts. When it comes to the arts, Lakewood Ranch's claim to fame is that it is close to Sarasota.

Jay Heater: Side of Ranch
Jay Heater: Side of Ranch

The Players Centre of Performing Arts announced it was building a $26.5 million theater complex in Waterside Place and such a project would immediately fill that huge gap in arts venues if it comes to fruition. The Players CEO William Skaggs said ground will be broken in spring of 2023, but until that shovel goes in the ground, local residents are bound to remain skeptical.

Another project that would help fill an arts void would be an amphitheater at the new Premier Park. Manatee County has plenty of land and with a relatively minimal investment of funds, such a facility could be up-and-running in the near future. Unfortunately, the county appears to be uncommitted to such a project, failing to add it to its budget. With the current reluctance to address the issue, the East County area has limited venues to host musical or theatrical attractions.

Sarasota Polo Club owner James Miller began plans to host various types of entertainment on his polo fields in 2019, but COVID-19 hit and that effort has been delayed.

The blooming Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble opens a new season 2 p.m., Nov. 28 at Peace Presbyterian Church, 12705 E. S.R. 64. The ensemble is likely to outgrow that venue, but it does give the musicians a chance to introduce themselves to the community.

Besides musical and theatrical acts having trouble finding venues, the same can be said of painters, sculptors, and crafters. The lack of proper venues, however, does not mean local artists are completely stifled ... just challenged. 

Panther Ridge's Ann Schuknecht became a quilter because she loves the warm feel of fabric.
Panther Ridge's Ann Schuknecht became a quilter because she loves the warm feel of fabric.

Main Street at Lakewood Ranch did have an art gallery, but the concession business closed in 2019 after a short run.

Local artists and art lovers have turned to occasional shows, such as the 19th Fall Art Show and Sale that was hosted Nov. 20 at the Lakewood Ranch Town Hall. But those are few and far between.

Panther Ridge's Rick Schuknecht has seen the scarcity of opportunities for local artists to display their work, so he is attempting to build support for an arts association in his own community.

"In past places we've lived (Santa Fe, New Mexico and Grand Rapids, Michigan) my wife (Ann) and I participated in annual local arts and craft association studio tours," Schuknecht said. "We thought we could try to start one of those in Panther Ridge in 2020, but we put it off due to the pandemic."

That effort will begin again 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 4 at Schuknecht's home at 22704 Night Heron Way in Panther Ridge.

Although Schuknecht said he is starting small with just three artists (including his wife and stained glass artist Jody Nolan), he is hoping his neighbors come by and join what he hopes will become the Panther Ridge Arts and Crafts Association. He then sees a studio tour where art lovers would get a map of the different homes involved to visit with a listing of the type of crafts showcased at each stop. Those interested in joining the new arts association can call Rick Schuknecht at 505-670-2604.

Whether or not you want to join a new arts organization, you will love seeing the artwork.

Panther Ridge's Ann Schuknecht says quilts
Panther Ridge's Ann Schuknecht says quilts "just say love."

Nolan moved here from Jamestown, R.I. in 2014 and she began looking for a hobby that would take her out of her comfort zone. She took a stained glass course at Suncoast Technical College in 2018 from instructor Robert Obering. She loved it so much she took six courses and workshops over the next 18 months. Her guest room in her Panther Ranch home turned into a studio.

"I liked seeing the end result," she said. "I don't think I have a good imagination, but I like following patterns."

While her stained glass birthstone angels are a go-to item for craft sales, her bigger projects, such as a gray heron that took her 16 hours to finish, are most impressive.

Ann Schuknecht does silver jewelry and stained glass, but her specialty is her quilting. She started making quilts in 1975 because she "just loved the warm feel of fabrics, which just says love."

She also crafts quilts for American Quilts, which donates quilts to soldiers who have been injured.

She said she always has made clothes for herself and her children, and her children's dolls.

While she can't make the money back for the time invested, she once sold a quilt for $1,200.

Rick Schuknecht is a woodworker, who began the hobby in 1986 after "putzing around in the workshop" of his grandfather, Art Brackett.

The Navy veteran now has a workshop behind his home where he works on crafts and furniture.

"I like the idea that you can take a piece of wood and you can work it into something," he said. "It's just the satisfaction of making something that looks nice."

Whether it's the grassroots effort of neighborhood crafters, the search for a permanent venue by volunteer musicians or the dream of a multi-million theater complex by a long-established group, the effort is building to give Lakewood Ranch a bigger presence in the art world.

The more local residents support those efforts, the faster the Lakewood Ranch area will add another superlative to its already impressive reputation.

Panther Ridge's Rick Schuknecht is a woodworker who would like to start a new arts association.
Panther Ridge's Rick Schuknecht is a woodworker who would like to start a new arts association.




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