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Former organist's paintings featured at Longboat Key's All Angels Church

O'Lyn Callahan spent most of her life devoted to music until she brought a friend to an art class.

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O’Lyn Callahan didn’t start out with a paint brush in hand. 

Her artistic journey began on a bench in front of an organ. 

But now, Callahan has her own solo art show at All Angels by the Sea Episcopal Church. Her oil paintings will hang in the church gallery through the end of November. 

It was Callahan’s mother who first placed her in front of an organ.

“If you are left alone, I want you to have a skill that you will be able to support yourself,” her mother told her as a young girl. 

“If you become good at either of these instruments, you’re pretty well guaranteed success,” Callahan further explained. 

The other instrument is a harp. Both tend to be overlooked or outright avoided because they're so difficult to master, but people love hearing them at weddings. 

Playing the organ requires both hands and feet. There are also multiple keyboards and sound settings to learn. 

“She has 450 perfectly synthesized orchestral instruments at her fingertips.” Callahan’s husband Byron Coleman said. “I put the CD on, and the Boston Pops or London Symphony is playing. Then, she knows when to come in, and I turn it off. People cannot tell the difference.”

Callahan started playing the organ at 14 years old and went on to receive a Master of Arts in classical pipe organ performance from Fresno State University. She worked her way through college playing in a trio five nights a week. 

As a professional, Callahan toured with Yamaha and Panasonic, demonstrating the quality of their organs through live demonstrations. She also owned the Yamaha Piano and Organ dealership on Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota for 15 years. 

These days, Callahan’s dedication to craft is directed at the canvas. Her paintings are mainly inspired by traveling, a passion shared with her husband. The couple has spent 750 days over the past eight years traveling around the world. 

O'Lyn Callahan stands in front of two of her oil paintings for sale this month in the church's art gallery. (Photo by Lesley Dwyer)
O'Lyn Callahan stands in front of two of her oil paintings for sale this month in the church's art gallery. (Photo by Lesley Dwyer)

Coincidentally, eight of her paintings are hung in the gallery. She has more, but the rest are decorating her home. Prices range from $300 to $1,200, and while valued according to the size and time spent, Callahan seems to struggle letting certain pieces go. 

The first seascape for sale took her about 60 hours to complete. With a little practice, the second took about 50 hours. 

“Well, this is the one I probably want to sell the least,” Callahan said, pointing to a painting inspired by a trip to Morocco. “I would like to sell the purses only because the colors don’t go in our house.”  

The Warhol-esque painting of pop art purses is a departure from the other travel portraits. Callahan said it was a study in having something look like it’s coming out from the page. Each purse is true to size and shows dimension through shadows as if it could be peeled off the canvas. 

Callahan didn’t go to art school, but she’s not self-taught either. She studied with Carlo DiNapoli, a world renowned painter who trained under masters in Italy and Japan.

But she had a more humble start when caring for an elderly woman. A German couple bought an organ from her and became like a second set of parents. When the husband passed away, Callahan began looking after his widow as dementia set in.

“The doctor said she needed to get back to painting, so I took her to a class,” Callahan said, “And she wouldn’t paint unless I sat next to her and painted too.”

Callahan had never so much as colored before, but says something clicked the second the brush hit the canvas. It’s been 12 years since a the experience with the woman and the art class set her off on another creative journey. 

Coleman, a former rocket scientist, traded his safety goggles for a camera lens in retirement. They took 30,000 pictures on their last trip. He pointed to the wall.

“I see my zebra,” he said proudly.

The trips are the inspiration; the photographs become the visual guide. The paintings aren’t always copies of the original, but serve as reference. 




Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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