PHOTOS: James Combs
Beautiful artwork portraying Tuscan fields, white egrets and New England resorts grabbed the attention of several hundred curious onlookers at The Villages Art League’s “Silver Anniversary Art Exhibit.” The opening of the exhibit, held Aug. 18 inside the Eisenhower Regional Recreation Center, showcased watercolors, oils, acrylics and pastels from 10 current and former VAL presidents.
Among them is 90-year-old Eleanor Simmons, who proudly stared at her watercolor-and-oil painting depicting a nature trail at Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park near Gainesville. For her, this memorable event was a reminder of how she and several others shaped the arts scene in The Villages.
Eleanor formed the VAL in 1989, when the retirement community was known as Orange Blossom Gardens. She and 11 other artists would gather then inside the Paradise Center and share their passion for painting.
“Even though we were small in the beginning, we had lots of fun and really inspired one another,” Eleanor says. “As time went on and The Villages grew, we would hold a show at Spanish Springs Town Square once a year.”
Twenty-five years after its inception, VAL has grown to 300 members who conduct two large art shows each year and teach their craft to local schoolchildren. But those feats would not be possible without past presidents whose loyal support and strong leadership paved the way for a colorful future. And that’s why current president Nancy Dias felt strongly about honoring them.
“This exhibit is a perfect way of saying thank you to those who have done so much to keep our art league going,” says Nancy, who became a VAL member in 2003.
The exhibit runs until Oct. 20. Beginning in 2015, the artwork of VAL members will be showcased inside the Eisenhower Recreation Center and changed out every two months.
“People are pleasantly surprised by the level of talent our artists have,” Nancy says. “Some members have been artists for a long time, and some even taught art in school.”
VAL holds meetings inside Saddlebrook Recreation Center at 9a.m. on the first Monday of every month. In addition, members have weekly workshops to share techniques and ideas.
“The workshops give us a place to paint together and feed off each other’s energy,” Nancy says. “The camaraderie we have is unbelievable.”
Members also host two annual art shows to give the public a peek into their creative world. The “Artist’s Showcase” is held on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving at the Savannah Center. The Summer Art Festival is held on the second Saturday in July at Lake Miona Regional Recreation Center.
“We love promoting art in The Villages,” Nancy says. “It’s not a job or a chore; it’s a passion.”