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It shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise that Goodland artist Denise Santos has found a niche painting Christmas scenes on the windows of businesses throughout the island.

After all, it was a Christmas present she received when she was 7 years old that revealed her gift as an artist.

“Someone gave me an oil painting kit for Christmas when I was in the second grade,” Santos said. “I went off to my bedroom and created this painting of a big oak tree with highlights and shadowing without any training. That pretty well blew my parents’ minds. I got encouragement and so I went with it.”

Santos grew up in California, where she was first paid for some large abstract paintings as a high school student in San Jose. That motivated her.

She married a sign painter when she was 18.

“We worked beautifully together,” Santos said wistfully, “he passed away in 2001.”

She and her husband bought a motor home and left California in 1980, ending up in Goodland.

“We sold everything, bought a motor home and a Subaru and decided to travel the country,” she said. “My husband had been in Pensacola before. So we just made our way down to Florida and just kind of accidentally found Goodland ... and boy that’s all she wrote. When we spotted Goodland, we pulled in. Within a couple of hours we had a place on Margood Harbor. Thought we’d died and went to heaven. That was about 35 years ago.”

Today Santos does murals, sign work, logos and has recently recreated three of the decaying “Marco dolphins” that have appeared around the island since 2003.

She said a lot of the dolphins are in bad shape.

“They’re popping at the seams,” she said. “They’ve been through hurricanes. They’re in pretty bad shape. The reconstruction involves major fiberglassing and sculpturing. I’ve really, really enjoyed doing that.”

In recent years, she’s seen her Christmas window work growing.

“I really like it a lot,” she said. “I wish it lasted longer. It’s a great surface to paint on. It’s quick. I just pull up with my truck full of paint and get to work. It started about five years ago. I have a client base of about 20 right now. I pick up a couple new clients every year.”

Santos also does permanent window painting. The client’s imagination is about the only limitation.

“If I can see it I can paint it,” Santos said.

More information

Denise Santos’ website is denisesantosdesigns. com.

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