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It was Marco Island artist Jo-Ann Sanborn who fi rst came up with the idea when shopping at the Esplanade one day. Passing by several vacant storefronts she imagined them as artists' studios, open to the public and alive with color and creativity. She gathered some local artists, and together they spoke to the management of the Esplanade. The concept they described provided a win/win situation for all concerned... the shopping center would look better and attract more visitors, the artists would have a place to work and display their art and the island would have a center for its artist community. It all came together remarkably quickly and now, eighteen months after the colony fi rst came into being, it is a vibrant, ever evolving community. Some artists have come, some have gone and the locations of the galleries have changed as the space was taken by stores, but everyone of the artists speaks of the enormous inspiration and feeling of camaraderie the colony provides.And, as an art lover on Marco Island, it's wonderful to have the oppor-tunity to watch the artists at work, to stop by and chat with them and to learn about their work. The diversity of the art on display is really impressive. The artists take it in turns to staff the galleries so you may have to stop by a couple of times to meet everyone but here's a quick review of who you'll meet if you take a tour of the three artist colony galleries...Carolyn Burger uses acrylics, water color and oil to capture, as she puts it "God's beautiful world". She loves the interaction with visitors to the gallery and is always thrilled to fi nd homes for her paintings of tropical fl owers, birds and local scenes.Concrete is not a medium that immediately springs to mind when thinking of art, but after seeing Darren Clack's environmentally friendly concrete creations I believe that it should. Unlike natural stone, concrete can be custom made to exact specifi cations and, using primarily recycled materials like glass and nylon fi bers from recycled carpets, Darren painstakingly makes absolutely unique jewelry, vases, furniture and countertops.Dr Anthony Dallmann-Jones works in two very different art forms... with his partner James Swanker, he uses dichroic space glass to create amazingly colorful light sculptures from a single white light source. These contrast with his abstract paintings which he immerses in the Gulf of Mexico and fashions with sand, shells and other organic matter found on the beach.

Maggie DeMarco specialized in faux fi nishing and mural painting until seven years ago, when she took some oil painting classes at the Art League of Marco Island. She too displays two very different kinds of work in her gallery... her moody Everglades landscapes with strong saturated color provide an inter-esting contrast to her bright and cheerful acrylic painted fi sh plates.Thomas Gallagher is a watercolorist who fi rst took up a paintbrush twenty years ago to paint a Halloween pumpkin for his daughter, found he loved it and never looked back. He retired to Florida seven years ago and now devotes himself to painting local scenes ...oh yes and playing golf.Amanda Ganong's hand woven decadent beadwork and intricate artisan jewelry pieces can take anything from hours to weeks to create. Using a variety of beads from around the world, as well as shells found on Marco's beaches, her goal is to design exotic and unusual jewelry that makes women feel beautiful.Inez Hudson paints to show the world as she sees it - beautiful and good, never negative. Eclectic in her choice of subject matter (paintings displayed in her gallery include sandhill cranes, a cat stretching on a bed, a woman emerging from the sea and a geisha girl) she has tried all sorts of media but always returns to her fi rst love, oils.Hailing originally from Switzerland, Claire Keery is fascinated with Asian culture. A self-confessed magpie, she collects all sorts of bits and pieces, which she uses to create her collage assemblage. Her incredibly intricate works, which often include items such as used cof-fee fi lters and tea bags, as well as her exquisite hand made paper, tell a story and need close inspection to be really appreciated.Betty Newman says "it's all about the journey". She likes to paint large and allow the colors, texture and the different qualities of acrylics, oils and watercolors she uses to lead her on "a wild ride of abandonment, freedom and liberation". Many of her works are abstract but she also paints a lot of fi gures, animals and what she describes as "Whimsy". Tara O'Neill has always been drawn to the tiny wonders of this world and she has focussed her talent on revealing the extraordinary within the seemingly ordinary. She describes herself as an oil painter with a Florida feel... "the soul of Florida is deep within me: its shad-owed shifts of sand, seas and skies; the brilliant sub-tropical fl ora and fauna; the hard-scrabbled histories and intimate village views. These are very much my story". A founding member of the Artist Colony she feels it has been good for Marco Island and Marco Islanders have been very supportive and good to it.And we end, as we started, with Jo-Ann Sanborn. Jo-Ann paints the Everglades in acrylics. Working initially on a "block-out" in the fi eld she fi nishes her paintings in the studio so as to respond to the landscape as a whole and not to get bogged down in the intricacy of detail. She aims to inspire others to see the mystery and magic of this amazingly beautiful, yet threatened environment, through her eyes. The Artist Colony at the Esplanade is located at 740-760 N. Collier Blvd. The galleries are open 11am-7pm Wednes-day to Saturday, with art walks on the last Wednesday of the month 5-8pm.