My local library sits adjacent to a small parking lot, partially shaded by pine trees, on a spit of land stretching between the Choctawhatchee Bay to the north and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. Like any library, staff at the South Walton Coastal Branch seek to be a window to the world, curating information from books, movies, music, and more.
Knowing they incorporate art and rotating installations into the library's schedule, I walk the five minutes from my office desk at the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance to their front walls on a regular basis. On one particular Tuesday visit, my eyes widened and I beamed when I realized the new gallery created and curated by Lori Drew was based on her summer trips to national parks!
Lori Drew is a well known artist in Northwest Florida, her oil paintings of coastal dune lakes and beach scenes captivating both the beauty but also the movement of our shoreline ecosystems. She "always wanted to be an artist but lacked the confidence and time to devote to this passion."
Drew says, "I feel so blessed to be able to work at it at this time of my life."
Drew's paintings gel together not only due to the subject matter, but the material as well. "Working with cold wax and oils is a journey rich in texture and complexity," she explains on her website. "Every day I have the pleasure of exploring new effects of layering, new feelings of comfort and new surprises that culminate in loving little memories of my life near the Gulf of Mexico."
Her introduction to the national park system impressed Drew. "My first visit was to the Grand Canyon as a gift for my 50th birthday," she explained. "We went to the North Rim and when I saw the welcome sign, I cried. Still get teary eyed just thinking about it."
She continues, "We spend two weeks every summer hiking different ones. I just started painting from the thousands of photos we accumulated over the last 10 years. This exhibit is my first and only attempt, but not the last."
In the library, her works decorate the cubby rooms housing work tables and computers, full of natural light. I slowly make my way past a canvas of a deep red mountain scene, of starfish on wet sand, of herons and egrets against a green background. Drew has visited nearly 20 national parks, and her paintings here are inspired by Acadia National Park , Rocky Mountain National Park, Everglades National Park, and more. Unlike many other landscape artists, Drew does not try to capture a direct likeness, but rather the impression and feeling attached to each of her national park memories.
Drew wants to highlight the beauty of national parks in her paintings, but also inspire action. For those visiting the library, she hopes that when someone gazes at her work, they feel "a desire to go and experience the beauty on their own."