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Palm Aire’s annual Art Show unveils hidden talent

Carolann Garafola's painting skills were on display for the first time.

Paintings by Carolann Garafola on display include "Lobster Pots on Cortez Island."
Paintings by Carolann Garafola on display include "Lobster Pots on Cortez Island."
Photo by Ian Swaby
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For Carolann Garafola, painting hasn’t been a way to make a living, so much as it is has been an escape from the issues and concerns of daily life.

“What it does for me is it removes me from the real world,” she said. “Everything else around me just sort of drops out. It’s almost akin to meditation. When I walk into my studio, it’s just like I’m in another world.”

During her 24 years on the town council in Warren, New Jersey, she didn't have time to paint.

On Feb. 13-19, her art work received exposure for the first time during the annual Art Show by the Palm Aire Art Association. Previously, she had displayed her art through the Artists' Guild of Anna Maria Island.

Ellise Elmore, co-president of the Palm Aire Art Association, said the event was in its 40th year, and has been an opportunity that benefits both artists and non-artists. 

“We have a lot of artists, and it gives them an opportunity to show their work,” she said. “We have a lot of people who are not artists, and they enjoy seeing what their friends can do.”

The Palm Aire Art Association annual Art Show highlights the talents of residents of Palm Aire.
Photo by Ian Swaby

For Garafola, painting is highly personal, as it’s a chance for her to carry on the legacy of her late husband Ralph Garafola, who died in 2019. For over 65 years, until his retirement in 1990, he had been a commercial illustrator and artist. 

Ralph Garafola began teaching Carolann Garafola how to paint in 2004. She said he showed her that she could apply her compositional skills to painting, as she had loved photography from the time she was a child.

“He left a legacy with me,” she said. “When I’m painting, he’s sitting on my shoulder, telling me to put more paint on the brush — don’t be stingy.”

He taught her that if an artist paints too lightly with acrylics, the canvas will show through. 

He also taught her how to shade subjects properly. She said a combination of light and dark is where the sense of three dimensions is created.

As she travels about the community, Carolann Garafola brings a camera with her. Sometimes, She tries to snap a photo whenever she sees something interesting.

She will then create a painting based on the photograph. 

Sometimes the photographs and paintings will be still life scenes featuring objects in store windows, and other times they will depict living objects, such as birds. As a birdwatcher who reports on the website eBird, she is often on the lookout for different species. 

She enjoys seeing blue herons, egrets, and tricolored herons. She said paintings of roseate spoonbills, which have a pink hue, sell exceptionally well. 

She noted that color is one quality she seeks as she travels about.

Her display at the Art Show included still life and nature scenes. She said the art show was important for showcasing the talents of many members of the community.

“I think there's a lot of hidden talent,” she said. “When you look at the cotton fabric woodwork sculpture, and jewelry, it demonstrates those hidden talents.”

For John Grey, the show provided an opportunity to showcase his woodcarving talent that he has developed over 24 years.

A former resident of Wisconsin, he first was exposed to woodcarving in 1999, when he stopped at the woodcrafting store during a trip. Intrigued by what he saw, he began buying books on the subject and was soon carving. 

He said it wasn’t overly difficult for him to learn the art.

John Grey holds a spalted maple bowl.
Photo by Ian Swaby

“Basically, you take away the wood that doesn’t belong there,” he said. “It’s a simplified way of seeing the carve.”

Grey said he does not carve constantly, but does so whenever “the idea pops in,” although he worked for four to five hours a day to ensure his current work was ready for the show. 

The display represented some of his favorite subjects to carve and included a viking, bowls, and a figure of Santa Claus. 

Some of his other favorites include woodsmen, Native Americans, vikings, and his grandchildren.

Faces are tough to carve, he said, as they pose a special challenge due to the muscle and bone content. He said he finds it helpful to follow the zygomatic arch, a bridge of bone which extends from the side of the head to the upper cheekbone and jawbone. 

An oil-painted basswood carving by John Grey, "Santa of the World," is featured at the Art Show.
Photo by Ian Swaby

Grey also carves bowls, and will try to obtain spalted wood when making his carvings. This type of wood is defined by dark lines running along its curves and created through discoloration caused by fungi. 

This condition frequently affects maple trees and some buckeye trees, he said. 

One important aspect of good carving, Grey said, is ensuring the wood is of sufficient quality. This can be accomplished by carving across the wood’s surface to ensure it does not produce small splinters. 

He also said a carver should ensure his or her tools are as sharp as can be, otherwise, they risk injuring themselves by creating jagged carvings. He said artists should avoid over-carving and burning themselves out, as this is when mistakes tend to be made. 

Although he has since sold his property in Wisconsin of about 80 acres, from which he used to obtain the wood he used, he still has found a way to meet his needs in Florida.

He said his son, also John Grey, drove his wood supply to Florida in December 2022. Grey stores the wood, which he calls a “lifetime” supply, in his two-and-a-half car garage in Palm Aire.

June Paton, an artist and organizer of the event, said the art association, which hosts events including classes and field trips, provides an alternative to activities more commonly associated with the Palm Aire community, such as golf and tennis.

“It adds a broader perspective and is a lot of fun,” she said. 

The Art Show also serves the purpose of funding a Ringling College scholarship, which in this case goes to Sarasota’s Kirsten Pruitt, who is primarily pursuing a career as a children’s book illustrator.



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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