Painting during Plein Air Church, an annual favorite
Painting during Plein Air Church, an annual favorite

The 19th annual Forgotten Coast en Plein Air, America’s Great Paint Out, was held this year March 15–24 with 17 internationally acclaimed artists participating. The artwork produced captured the many varied aspects of Florida’s Forgotten Coast – a 100-mile stretch of coastline that includes some of the last vestiges of authentic old Florida – from fishing boats to sand dunes; weathered timeworn buildings and graceful old homes; palm trees and showy displays of azaleas in full bloom.

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The artwork was exhibited and sold throughout the event at The Joe Center for the Arts in Port St. Joe. Each artist reserved his or her best painting of the week to be revealed at the collector’s Maecenas Dinner held on the final Friday night. From these paintings, the artists themselves voted for the “best of the best” with Haidee-Jo Summers’ “Crazy ‘bout ‘zaleas” selected and purchased as this year’s addition to the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air Artists’ Choice Collection.

Haidee-Jo Summers with her Artist Choice winning painting
Haidee-Jo Summers with her Artist’ Choice winning painting

A clear blue sunny sky and the waters of Apalachicola Bay were the backdrop for Plein Air Church, a memorable and moving part of the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air event since 2015. This outdoor worship service, with gospel music and performances by Forgotten Coast community members, includes the special Blessing of the Easels. Each year artists bring their easels to record the celebration and the public is invited to attend. Attendance was high and the resulting works of art truly captured the spirit of the day.

Relevancy to the communities served is important to the Forgotten Coast Cultural Coalition (FCCC), which hosts the event. Over the last 11 years, artist residencies have tackled wide-ranging issues of community concern, providing opportunities for dialogue. There were two Artists in Residence this year with the resulting work displayed during the 2024 event. Charles Dickinson, a Forgotten Coast en Plein Air Invited Artist since its inception in 2006, was uniquely suited to speak to the 19 years of change, both natural and man-made, that has come to this area. Charles’s residency, “Time and Resilience,” captured on canvas his observations about how the changes through the years have revealed the strong faith and resilience of the people who live here.

Kathie Odom’s residency collection, “Within the Walls of the Forgotten Coast,” focused on the houses and buildings of the Forgotten Coast. She observed that these structures are an intriguing reflection of the lives of the people who have lived here throughout the years; each structure is infused with stories from the past and resonates with those who live there still. Kathie’s paintings reflected that feeling and spirit. Both Charles and Kathie gave brief presentations reflecting on their experiences and observations at well-attended receptions in their honor.

More than 70 artists competed for the Quick Draw for over $16,300 in prizes, with First Place in the Professional Class going to Robin Popp and Linda Kubecka taking First Place in the Open Class.

Forgotten Coast en plein air Quick Draw
Forgotten Coast en plein air Quick Draw

On Student Art Day, each invited artist was paired with a student from local high schools to mentor and guide in creating a plein air work of art. All student artwork was then on exhibit at the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce – one of eight different exhibits open to the public.

Excitement and anticipation were high this year, with workshops offered by Michelle Held and Poppy Balser selling out well in advance. Painting Stations – a 2-hour introductory plein air painting experience – were also sold out. Also sold out well in advance were the Lunch and Learn artist presentations, featuring invited artists as instructors, presenting tips, techniques, and insights about plein air art.

Most exciting of all was the number of new collectors, joining those who have attended and collected for years. Their enthusiasm for the work and for interacting with the artists at demonstrations and receptions was infectious.

Forgotten Coast en plein air

Artistic excellence and the production of investment-quality art, as well as relevance to the Forgotten Coast communities and the greater plein air movement, continue to be the trademarks of this festival. “The Forgotten Coast is a uniquely special place to all of us, with its natural beauty, classic old South architecture, and wonderful local people, all lending inspiration for outstanding plein air art,” says Susan Bassett, President of the FCCC board. “We are committed to sharing the plein air art experience with students, locals, and visitors. Proceeds from our event go back into our communities, extending the reach of our ten-day event year-round.”

As the 2024 event wraps up, planning for the 20th Anniversary of the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air is already underway. Mark your calendar for March 14-23, 2025.

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