Martin County's Rich Art History and Culture

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Martin County, a jewel on the treasure coast, has long been an inspiration to artists

With seemingly endless stretches of waterfront land, breezy beaches and expanses of wetlands, this area’s natural environment provides muses of all colors and shapes. If you're looking to be inspired, Martin County should go on your "must visit" list.

It’s no surprise that the plants and animals of Martin County seemed exotic and alluring to sculptor Catherine Backus. Originally from Minnesota, she was drawn to the Stuart in the early 1900s because of its unexplored beauty. With an artist’s eye, she planted colorful flower beds and elaborate vegetable gardens that drew admirers from all over town. These functional works of art sparked a whole new industry in the area: commercial flower growing.

James Hutchinson, a relative of the famous highwayman painter Beanie Backus, grew up in Stuart along the St. Lucie River. His deep appreciation of the land inspired him to paint bright poinciana trees and stunning depictions of Florida marshlands that recall the wilderness in which pioneers had to live and work.

Hutchinson is also known for his intimate portraits of Seminole people, which, along with his landscapes, led the Martin County native to represent Florida at the World's Fair in 1965. He will be receiving Florida's Hall of Fame award in March 2011 in Tallahassee.

Today, art continues to take new forms in this South Florida community. Brenda Leigh, a local painter who is known for many highly visible murals in Stuart (for example, the bandshell on East Ocean Boulevard and at the entrance of Sewall's Point), has been reaching out to aspiring young artists by collaborating with students on Art Council programs.

She recently led a group of interns in the creation of a bas-relief seascape that can be seen at Stuart Beach. Incorporating real coral, shells and clay sculptures of fish, the mural’s greatest feature is the lasting impression it will leave on those students who plan to follow in Leigh’s footsteps. If you'd like to see more of Leigh's work, visit Historic Downton Stuart to see her Chrysanthemum mural. You'll also find her art when facing the train tracks at the Esplanade, at the Tourist Information Center located at the City Annex Building and at the Environmental Studies Center

While natural treasures from the beach are an obvious source of inspiration, Aida Fry is taking bold steps into the world of eco-art, by giving discarded items such as bottle caps and plastic jugs a second life. Her work is environmentally friendly and has been featured as home décor in the Children’s Home Services designer showcase home.

Fry is also renowned for her paintings. Her eye for pleasing color combinations, influenced by Florida’s great outdoors, has made her a highly sought after color consultant for builders when it’s time to choose paint and tile colors. Visitors can take Fry's oil painting class at the Elliott Museum, and see more of her art in West Palm Beach at the Mary Woerner Fine Arts Gallery.

Fry’s work is a good example of how art can be found in the subtlest of places, but visitors looking to see it in more traditional forms will have no shortage of opportunities. Be sure to visit the Old Court House Cultural Center, an artistic site in downtown Stuart, which serves as the arts information center for the community. Here are some other great places to check out:

●     Fish House Art Center and Gallery

●     Arts Council Programs

●     Arts Fest - Feb. 26-27, 2011

●     The Stuart Craft Festival - May 14-15, 2011

●     Classes at the Elliott Museum

Before you leave, make time to catch one of Martin County’s greatest charms - a beautiful sunset over the river. You just may be inspired to create a masterpiece of your own.

This article was brought to you by the Martin County Convention and Visitors Bureau. To plan your trip to Martin County, please visit www.discovermartin.com or phone 1-877-585-0085.

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