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Palm Avenue gallery acquires Sarasota-centric artwork from airport

A painting by Frank Hopper.
A painting by Frank Hopper.
Courtesy image
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Some very heavy luggage was headed out of the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport on June 21.

Moving the series of large pastel and oil paintings was a full workout, said Colin Thomsen, director of Palm Avenue Fine Art, but he found the effort well worth it.

The works were the majority of the artwork owned by the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, which the gallery plans to showcase in a show during its next season. 

"I'm surprised that they're letting go a piece of history,” said Thomsen. “Every single one of these pictures is a reference to something to do with Sarasota, the origins of Sarasota, the growth. You couldn't really put words to it, but you could tell that these are special pieces of work, and we are excited to show them."

The pieces depict historical figures like the Ringling family and Bertha Palmer, as well as other familiar aspects of Sarasota including its landmarks and wildlife. 

They consist of 10 pastel works by Regan Dunnick, a current Ringling College instructor, one of which has already been sold and one of which will be returned to Dunnick, as well as two oil pieces by local artist Frank Hopper.

Colin Thomson and Tom Murray move a piece by Regan Dunnick.
Courtesy image

The airport acquired most of the artwork when its current terminal opened in 1989, as well as in the early 1990s.

However, most of it was confined to storage over time, with walls being increasingly used for advertising space, although some of the work remained on display in the ticketing wing. 

Mark Stuckey, executive vice president and chief of staff at the airport, said the airport sought guidance from the board, who advised staff to sell or confine the existing artwork while seeking a home for the pieces. 

The airport reached out to several art galleries.

Tom Murray, manager at Palm Avenue Fine Art, said after finding out about the airport’s plans for the artwork through word of mouth, he pursued the opportunity for almost two years.

A piece depicting Bertha Palmer by Regan Dunnick.
Courtesy image

“We should give kudos to the Sarasota airport for having the vision to see that this needs to go someplace that the work can be taken care of properly,” Murray said. “It was a process, but hats off to the Sarasota airport, because it’s going to be special. If they didn’t have the little bit of a thought, hey, let’s see if we can find somebody, who knows? It could have just ended up being stuck in some warehouse someplace, or some storage bay for the next 50 years, and been lost.”

In addition to the works sold to Palm Avenue Fine Art, two of the four paintings by Hopper were given to the Hernando de Soto Historical Society on loan, although the airport did keep a bronze manatee and disposed of some artwork depicting clowns.

Thomsen said at the airport, the works had been displayed in cubbies with light that was “not very helpful,” but that the public will now have a chance to see them with improved lighting. 

“Art is all about the light. Without the light, you lose the color, and you lose a lot of what the painting has to offer,” he said.

He hopes to see some big names in attendance at the future show, including the mayor of Sarasota and influential figures in the development of the area.



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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