17 APR 2017: If you drive north along Gulf Boulevard past the bustling strip of tourist hotels and restaurants of St. Pete Beach and before you reach the high-rise condo developments of Clearwater Beach, you will come to Indian Rocks Beach. Here picturesque cottages sit comfortably - complementing the landscape rather than dominating it. It’s a small slice of ‘old Florida’ and a large amount of the credit for keeping it that way goes to three talented women.  

As you drive through Indian Rocks Beach you may chance upon them.

The Plein Aire Cottage Artists – wide brimmed sun hats, flowing skirts - they could seemingly step in for afternoon tea at a moment’s notice. But these are serious, award winning artists who have exhibited around the world, but save some of their best work for their beloved ‘IRB.’

Eighteen years ago they began painting ‘en plein aire’ – which essentially means leaving the four walls of the studio to primarily paint outdoors.

Since then, armed with canvas, oil paints and easels, Violetta Chandler, Mary Rose Holmes and Helen Tilston are often seen at work along Gulf Boulevard and various sites in Indian Rocks Beach capturing in a vibrant impressionistic style the unique local architecture and beachscapes.

One fascinating aspect of their work is their painting of triptychs – three panels each painted by one of the artists which when hung together form a single image. Triptychs are not an unusual form of painting – but they are almost always painted by a single artist - a trio of artists creating a triptych is unique. The Plein Aire artists have even painted a ‘polytych’ or five panel painting.

Disturbed at the encroaching development to the north and south, Chandler, Holmes and Tilston wanted to make people aware of what, and how much, was being lost as beach cottages were mown down. By painting the endangered cottages and pristine beach they aimed to capture this essence of Florida beach communities, encourage historic preservation and to inspire conscientious renovation and a respect for things past, rather than the ‘tear down and build high’ culture so pervasive today.

“If you smash a cottage it’s gone forever, and a condo takes its place. We do not want the Great Wall of Florida.” Says Holmes, whose family has lived in Florida for five generations.

The artists encouraged local business and government to support their efforts and continue to donate generously to environmental and other related causes. Together with the Indian Rocks Beach Action 2000 group they also present a "PRESERVATION AWARD" each year to one business and one residence in Indian Rocks Beach.

Now, the Emmy Award-Winning production team, Lynn Marvin Dingfelder and Larry Wiezycki, are preparing a documentary featuring the Plein Aire Cottage Artists. They were on location at Indian Rocks Beach this winter following the artists at work, interviewing them and getting the views of local residents.

In advance of the documentary ‘Save Our Cottages; Artists with a Cause’ they have produced a trailer which makes interesting viewing.



The Plain Are Cottage Artists and their work
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