Bonita festival’s artists have a wealth of reasons for their work

'White Mum,' Marc Duke. Duke will be one of the artists featured at the Bonita Springs National Art Festival.

Photo by submitted

"White Mum," Marc Duke. Duke will be one of the artists featured at the Bonita Springs National Art Festival.

'American Reddish Egret,' John Costin. Costin's work will  be featured at the Bonita Springs National Art Festival.

"American Reddish Egret," John Costin. Costin's work will be featured at the Bonita Springs National Art Festival.

Bonita Springs National Art Festival

Where: The Promenade at Bonita Bay, 26811 South Bay Drive, Bonita Springs

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16 and Sunday, Jan. 17

Information: 495-8989 or www.artinusa.com/bonita

Admission: $5 donation

Those who have attended the Bonita Springs National Art Festival know they can expect to see complex work by accomplished artists. They also know they can see a lot of it.

The festival comes to the Promenade at Bonita Bay from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m Saturday and Sunday, and it’s bringing 208 artists from the U.S. and abroad.

The juried show brings artists from every medium together to show and sell their work as they meet and greet the public. As guests find pieces of intrigue, they will also find even more intriguing stories as to why the artist created the piece. Or, why the artist chose art over all other paths in life.

Behind each accomplished artist is a story of a moment when a seed for art was planted within them.

When you look at the beautiful and exotic bird etchings by John Costin of Tampa, you know this is an artist who has spent years honing his craft. But, he was once just a kid from the gray city of Detroit. When his family moved to Florida, Costin was overcome by the beauty and colors of the birds.

“Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a fascination with birds,” Costin said. “They still fascinate me and the more I learn about them, the more seductive they are for me.”

'StillWater,' Don Plumridge. See more of this artist's work at the Bonita Springs National Air Festival

"StillWater," Don Plumridge. See more of this artist's work at the Bonita Springs National Air Festival

'Visionary,' James LaCasse. Artwork by LaCasse will be among the many pieces at the Bonita Springs National Art Festival.

"Visionary," James LaCasse. Artwork by LaCasse will be among the many pieces at the Bonita Springs National Art Festival.

Costin combines his many artistic skills, creating an etching by drawing on a copper plate, making a print and then painting the print in bold oil. His work can be found in galleries and private collections throughout Florida.

There was a point in his life though when becoming an artist was discouraged. “Art has always been important to me, even when I was very small,” Costin said. “My grandmother bought me a box of crayons and I did a huge mural on the living room wall. I got into trouble for that.” In high school his parents discouraged a career as an artist because of the obvious challenges, but Costin said that made him work even harder.

“Art widens your horizons, and gives you another perspective of how you look at the world and culture,” he said.

That idea is part of the clockwork behind the Bonita Springs National Art Festival, said Art League of Bonita Springs director Susan Bridges. Proceeds from the festival, one of the Art League’s largest fund raisers, benefit the many community adult and children’s programs offered by the Art League throughout the year.

“The arts have proven to make a difference in thousands of children’s lives, providing a rich exploration of our incredible world, creating a place of discovery and support,” Bridges said. “We are born creative, curious, engaged and whole and can be anything we want because no one has yet told us that we can’t. If there is no one to support you, how likely are you to learn to dream, to achieve?”

In 2009 the Art League awarded more than $49,000 in scholarships to children taking Art League courses. Bridges said no child was turned away because of inability to pay.

“Do the arts only belong to the privileged and financially comfortable? No,” Bridges said. “Everyone should be able to participate and benefit from the arts. Dollars from our festivals make it possible for children to attend classes in art, theater and dance.”

Those walking about at the festival this weekend also may notice the large photographs by Marc Duke. His work captures detailed parts of flowers and sea shells that may often be overlooked.

Duke began his photography career as a photojournalist working for newspapers and magazines, but took an interest in fine art in the 1970s.

“I started taking photos when I was a little boy. I must have been no more than 6 or 7,” Duke said. His father worked as a representative for a company called Argus Camera, so the family had many cameras around the house.

“I feel that art is enormously important for children,” Duke said. “Art allows children to bring a complex world that they see into a focus they can understand. They may be too young to draw anything but stick figures, but they can process the idea of people and own that in a way that they can understand.”

When one looks at the sculpture work of James LaCasse, they will most likely find them to be highly imaginative. Fluid jesters balance on unicycles juggling balls while acrobats twirl ribbon about themselves. All of the sculptures seem to be in motion, and one may think the characters have stepped out of a fantasy tale.

“Inspiration seems to be everywhere,” LaCasse said. “Often the kernel of inspiration will start with a basic feeling I want to express, then I tend to build layers of meaning and metaphor to the sculpture; elements of childhood, music I might hear, a hike in the trees.”

LaCasse said he always loved to make and draw things as a child but never considered himself to be an artist. He didn’t find the stigma to be flattering. LaCasse pushed the idea of art school out of his head and pursued a degree in economics. But, after creating a few sculptures his senior year, he was hooked and began the struggle to become an artist.

“The most successful cultures have tended to have a strong artist class, that is why kids need more art, not less,” LaCasse said. “Art is essential for children, and there is no one more suited to be artists because their imaginations are amazing. Why wouldn’t we encourage that abundant well of imagination through funding the arts?”

As schools continue to cut arts budgets, the Art League of Bonita Springs grows their children’s programming. “Studies abound showing that the arts make better students, citizens and future adults,” Bridges said. “The Art League has made its choice. We believe in the arts — the importance of arts education — and the value they bring to people of all ages.”

Meghan Easterly is public relations and marketing director for the Art League of Bonita Springs.

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