Cashing in on art: Arts Center awards $2,500 prize at exhibit opening

The May “second Tuesday” opening of a new show at the Marco Island Center for the Arts took a walk on the wild and exotic side, but the patrons’ focus was more on the mundane and financial.

It’s fair to say that, even with a showing of nature-themed artwork by local artists, and an exhibit of photos from the middle eastern Gulf states, the big draw for the evening was the big drawing.

The most popular piece at the show was a kinetic mobile sculpture that could have been entitled “metal drum filled with paper slips.” One of those slips was worth $2,500 to the Big Cash Raffle winner whose name was pulled out nine-year-old Sophia DeBilzan. Sandy Elliott won, although she was not present for the drawing. Having a cute kid pick the winner avoided the potential embarrassment for Art Center president Ken Stroud of calling his own name out. A last-minute flurry of ticket buying by board members Vip Grover and David Caruso was not enough to win.

The exhibit opened in the main gallery showcases featured the natural world, with a focus on endangered and threatened species. “The Gallery of the Endangered,” a juried art show, features endangered plants and animals, all around the world, but with an emphasis on the many local species whose habitat and longevity as a species is under stress.

Local photographer Capt. Don McDonald won the blue ribbon, signifying first place, for his photograph entitled “The Old Man,” showing a ghost orchid. Another photo he displayed depicted a 17-ft. long American crocodile – McDonald didn’t say if he had actually held up a tape measure to the reptile – photographed at a place called Crocodile Haulover.

“Technically, you’re not supposed to be there,” he said. Karen Swanker, another Marco resident, won second place for “Mangrove Sunset,” an acrylic work whose sky, paradoxically, is a bright cobalt blue.

Jerry Leeman was also awarded a ribbon, for his sculpture of an eagle snatching a fish. Titled “Highliner,” the piece carried a price tag of $2,800. David and Alice Ruopp looked over the paintings, and were drawn to “Morning at the Stork Club” by Inez Hudson.

“I can always pick out the expensive one,” said David, noting the $875 price tag.

In keeping with the natural theme, Rookery Bay volunteers staffed a table showing a giant turtle carapace and skulls of local animals including black bears and panthers, and promoted the summer programs at the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center on Collier Blvd.

In La Petite Gallerie, the center’s second exhibit space, Kamran Syed displayed a selection of photographs from the Gulf states of Muscat and Oman. A native of Bhopal, India, Syed lived in Delhi, Mumbai, and Dubai as well as Muscat, before coming to this country. He now lives on Marco Island and teaches photography.

The Arts Center’s headquarters is located at 1010 Winterberry Drive. For more information on the Marco Island Center for the Arts, call 239-394-4221, or go to

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