Ocala Appleton exhibit debuts ‘Visions of the Gulf'

Christopher Still's piece, “And My Father Before Me,” painted specifically for “Visions of the Gulf” exhibit, will be unveiled at the Appleton Museum of Art.COURTESY OF CHRISTOPHER STILL

Published: Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 1:38 p.m.

Last April, when oil started bubbling up from the Gulf of Mexico floor like so much of Jed Clampett's “Texas tea,” commerce around the Gulf screeched to a halt. The disaster posed substantial threats to Florida's essential tourism and seafood industries.


‘Visions of the Gulf'

What: Florida scenes by artist Christopher Still and photographer Carlton Ward Jr.
Where: Appleton Museum of Art, 4333 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala
When: Saturday through March 20; museum open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday
Artist presentations: Still will appear at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, with Ward to speak at 1 p.m.
Admission: $6 adults, $4 seniors and educators, $3 youth 10-18; younger children free (291-4455,

Millions of Floridians depend on others to vacation here and savor our seafood. Despite cleanup efforts, Gulf coast states, including Florida, continue feeling the effects of the BP oil spill that consumed so much of our attention in 2010.

While volunteers by the hundreds rushed to the Panhandle to help in the cleanup effort, Florida Artist Hall of Fame painter Christopher Still also went to Apalachicola Bay in an effort to preserve his lifelong vision of Florida.

“I saw this as a key moment in Florida's history right now,” he says. “How we are going to treat the Gulf.”

The result is some 40 paintings, most depicting Gulf settings from the Panhandle to the Keys, crafted over a few months in 2010; they have not been seen in exhibition before.

Until now.

The images go public beginning Saturday at Ocala's Appleton Museum of Art when “Visions of the Gulf” opens for a run here through March 20.

“The best way to make people concerned about the Gulf is to share with them how beautiful it is,” Still says.

Rounding out the exhibit are some pieces dating back to 1994 and borrowed from other public or private collections, as well as a double handful of Florida photos by co-exhibitor Carlton Ward Jr., great-grandson of former Gov. Doyle Carlton.

In his artist's statement, Ward notes: “The essence of Florida's Gulf Coast survives in the bays, beaches, palm islands, salt marshes, oyster beds, rivers and mangrove-lined estuaries, and in the people who have depended on these lands and waters for centuries.”

But, he continues, “there are limits to what the Gulf of Mexico can endure. Its nature and culture survives in a fragile balance.”

Museum Director John Lofgren is thrilled to debut this work here.

“Aren't we fortunate to have these guys come here? To me, it's amazing we have the opportunity to show this work to our community,” he says. “This is Florida at its best.”

Now a resident of Tarpon Springs, Still was born and raised in Clearwater a few miles to the south. Both Pinellas County cities share a marvelous stretch of Gulf coastline that's bustling and natural; it's not surprising if there's a hint of sea tang in his blood.

“I had gone up to Apalachicola out of concern over what may happen with the oil spill,” he says. Eventually, he adds, the experience “led to a conversation with the museum over wouldn't it be great to celebrate how beautiful the Gulf is.”

A celebration of this sort requires scenes of the Gulf before BP; and Still provides plenty, including haunting sunsets from Caladesi and Honeymoon islands off the Dunedin coast, a study of lobster and coral beneath the waves, the fine kitchen details — right down to a child's drawing held to the refrigerator door by magnets — that spill off the canvas in “A Florida Feast.”

Then there's the infinitesimal detail in the 6-by-10-foot “Changing Tides” mural of coastal life. “There are at least 200 different stories in it,” Still says.

Yet, some of his better-known work won't be at the Appleton; rather, they're permanently decorating the chambers of the Florida House of Representatives in Tallahassee. Other pieces grace the Governor's Mansion, Tampa International Airport and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Among the pieces debuting Saturday are “Sunrise on Apalachicola Bay,” the churning Gulf in “Fort Walton Waves,” the photo-like ethereal end-of-day in “Sunset on St. Joseph Peninsula.”

Contact Rick Allen at

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