Known for its casual, laid-back lifestyle, the small fishing village of Goodland has an unusually high percentage of artists — people with talent and leisure to spend in its practice. So, when the post office needed a facelift, Goodland Postmaster Judith Pritchard knew where to turn.
Pritchard wasn’t content with simply buying a gallon of paint and giving the walls a fresh coat.
To pass time on slow summer days, she spiffed up the back office, painstakingly creating a trompe-l’oeil, an optical illusion painting of a shuttered window looking out onto rolling hills.
“I’ve never taken any art classes,” she said, “but people give me tips. I’m crafty, but never considered myself an artist until I painted the bathroom door,” she laughed, pointing at the rustic faux planks with tendrils of wisteria vines growing around it.
Once she’d beautified the area behind the counter, she turned her attention to the drab walls in the lobby. An idea began to take shape, and she encouraged the residents of Goodland to give her a hand.
“I told them I couldn’t pay them, but if each one painted a section, it would be like a little gallery, and they could share their art with the community.”
Two friends, Evelyn Cook and Sara Jane Foltz, shared one wall. Foltz’s bright hibiscus blooms over an Everglades seascape and the Rosewood Cottage. The cottage has burned down, but Foltz was able to paint from an old photograph to share the memory of one of her “favorite little places.”
Cook used birds as her theme; an egret and herons perch on mangroves, wood storks and ibis soar in blue sky.
The women’s techniques are different, but the beauty of nature complements one another.
“Everyone develops their own style,” said Evelyn Cook about the creative process. “In art there are no mistakes.”
Tara O’Neill, a Goodland resident for more than 14 years, jumped at the chance to be part of what she calls the social hub of the community.
“I have a love of whimsy,” said O’Neill. “I started my panel one way with an underwater scene, but when I was done, I had a mermaid with her hair caught in the door!”
“Judi begged me for a year,” said Dick Lockard. “I kept saying I’m not good enough for that yet.”
He hesitated until he came across an old photo of the now defunct eatery and bar called Chuckles. He knew most locals missed it and remembered it as a fun place to hang out. He thought the residents would appreciate the nostalgia.
“People told me someday my picture would be on the post office wall, but I didn’t think they meant like this!”
Carol Atkins, from Marco Island, heard a rumor about a painting project going on in Goodland and claimed her spot on the wall. She found a photo she’d taken of the Island Woman Boutique at Stan’s. The reflective qualities of the colors were spectacular, and even though the piece would be complicated, she decided to give it a try.
“You have to push yourself,” she said and is now glad she did. With help from Pritchard, she also refinished the counter directly below her picture. The two women scrubbed, sanded and primed the wood, then Atkins smeared it with colors as if it were an extension of the water in her painting and sealed it with pour-on epoxy. The result is a beautiful and useful piece for the whole community.
The best part about being involved in the post office project, Atkins said, is that while she was painting, residents came in to collect their mail, and she met a lot of people with a “kick-back” lifestyle.
“Things have changed so much, but Goodland is what we all thought Florida was going to be.”
“I’ve never painted anything else in my life,” said Elaine Merkel, whose keeper snook swims toward the office door.
Merkel, who is a certified Pre-K teacher, always thinks first of the children and wanted them to have a spot of their own. She organized the Goodland kids, and the little ones had fun pressing their handprints in different colored paint to the front wall.
John the Greek (as he’s known to his friends in the community) painted a wave in a Greek Key design to decorate the window sill above the handprints.
Ten years ago, postal clerk Tammy Jula had tapped into her creative side by refinishing furniture and painting flower pots. Since then, her talent has blossomed into larger images, and she decorated one wall in the back office with a faux window and flower scene.
“I need to stay busy,” she said, “and this is a peaceful activity.”
Dave Fuller painted an existing boat in the harbor on one side of his panel, and on the other side he painted a portrait of a stone crabber.
“The portrait is a combination of pictures I’ve seen, then I change the features in my mind. He’s not the real captain of the boat or a real person in Goodland — he’s a result of what my mind has put together.”
A Norman Rockwell fan, Fuller thinks it’s exciting to tell a story or have some action in his painting. He said artists are interested in mood and romance and believes that’s why this small fishing village has so many creative people.
“I have a feeling that a lot of folks in Goodland are risk-takers. By that I mean they want something different and off the wall. There’s an aura here of Florida the way it used to be, and that draws a person more artistically inclined. If I had to describe Goodland in one word, it would be — charming.”
Acrylic painting isn’t the only form of art you’ll see. Gail Kahoun’s artistic flair leaned in another direction. She loves shelling on the islands nearby, so she mixed some Elmer’s glue, water and sand to fashion the shell picture that hangs above the mail boxes.
Watercolor is Molly Ludwig’s favorite medium, and her sunset titled, “Sunny Rose,” adorns the office above the rack of envelopes.
Linda Van Meter donated five framed pen and ink drawings — and she’s not finished with her contributions yet. She’s tackled the ambitious project of building a decorative valance for one window.
The exterior of the small building has gotten a makeover as well, and thanks to Denise Santos, the post office has a newly designed sign. Santos, who’s been in the sign and billboard business all her life, enlarged a photo she’d taken of Blind Pass for the background, then hand painted the letters. She uses computer programs to design large commercial outdoor projects, but picked up her paintbrush and applied her fine art talent to an inside section, too. Her Goodland sunrise, nestled above the mail boxes, greets customers as they walk in the front door.
“There’s a lot of love and a lot of talent in this post office,” said Santos.
A shared project brings like minded people together, and the close-knit friendly atmosphere of this tiny fishing village reflects a love and dedication to community not usually found in larger cities.
From her place behind the counter, Postmaster Judith Pritchard exudes the same caring and warmth, grateful to be a member of the community and proud of what her friends have helped her accomplish.
“When guests come to town, we’re on the list of places the residents get to show off.”