WEDU Arts Plus


Episode 917

Produced by students at St. Petersburg College in partnership with WEDU, award-winning plein air painters in Indian Rocks Beach use their work to help preserve the history of their beloved seaside city. Violinist Lucia Micarelli shares her journey as a musician. Painter Paul Peterson explores his heritage. Sacramento artist Gerry Simpson expresses himself through different mediums.

AIRED: September 17, 2020 | 0:26:45

(soft music begins)

- [Narrator] This is a production of WEDU PBS,

Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota.

Major funding for WEDU Arts Plus is provided through

The Greater Cincinnati Foundation

by an arts loving donor

who encourages others to support your PBS station, WEDU,

and by the Pinellas Community Foundation,

"Giving Humanity a Hand Since 1969."

- [Dalia] In this edition of WEDU Arts Plus,

plein air artists save the history

of Indian Rocks Beach.

- Plein air is painting outside. You see the light,

you see the shadows so much better.

Once you smash a cottage, you'll never get it back.

It's gone.

- [Dalia] The life of a professional violinist.

- So many things that have really fed my life

have come out of this instrument

and my relationship with this instrument.

- [Dalia] Connecting to a long lost family.

- My goal for this project is to be able to give back

to our birth family in Colombia

and help build them a home as there much need for a new one.

- [Dalia] And developing an artists' diverse portfolio.

- So that's why I just work as much as I do.

And I work as in many different spots as I do,

'cause it might not happen over here this week,

it might be over here this week,

so you have to just purchase yourself out there.

- It's all coming up next on WEDU Arts Plus.

(lively music begins)

Hello, I'm Dalia Colon,

and this is WEDU Arts Plus.

The quaint seaside city of Indian Rocks Beach

is home to two distinguished plein air artists.

They've been working to preserve the city's history

for the past decade, and as a result,

their work and the city itself

have gained international notoriety.

- [Narrator] This story was produced by the students

at St.Petersburg College in partnership with WEDU.

(gentle music begins)

- You can take a look around Indian Rocks Beach

and see that it is very different

from other communities around.

- Indian Rocks Beach prides itself on preserving

the best of the past.

- The Island, there was really nothing here in the 20's.

I mean, there were just a mile without any cottages.

So it really wasn't until after World War 2,

then people started building cottages,

and mostly people from Tampa.

And this was a second home.

- Here is a place that you can time travel

back to the 1950's and feel what it was like.

- Indian Rocks Beach uniquely has managed to maintain

a small town character.

- [Wayne] And there's a strong local desire to protect

and retain that character.

- Our plein air cottage artist took the plight,

and instead of tearing down those old homes

to create a sense of what yesteryear was like

and refurbish those homes back to the way they are today.

- Not only is the artwork incredible,

but the story and the advocacy,

it is a story in and of itself.

- If you've probably seen them,

but they were these glorious dresses,

and they're very free spirits.

And they're basically our Hollywood.

(speaks indistinct)

- My name is Helen Tilston,

and I was born in Ireland,

and have been painting since I was young.

- Mary Rose Holmes.

I'm one of the plein air cottage artist,

and enjoyed art all through my childhood

and up through college.

We moved here approximately 22 years ago.

We came only for one night, and we never left.

- And then met Mary Rose about 18, 19 years ago.

So we met at a course in our course

and just got along famously, it was a life drawing,

and we both agreed we love painting outdoors,

so we took our easels outdoors and great comradery,

and painting daily.

- We'll paint in the morning, we'll come in and have lunch,

go back out because of the shadows.

We love the shadows in the late morning,

great shadows in the late afternoon.

- Plein air painting is a painting in situ or on location.

- Plein air is painting outside.

You see the light, you see the shadows so much better.

If you paint from inside,

you're usually painting from a photograph,

and a photograph makes the painting flat.

You don't see around the tree.

You don't see around the cottage.

- Once you paint outdoors,

it's very difficult to go back to the studio,

because there's reflected lights when you're outdoors.

You're aware of the sights, the sounds, the smell, the mood.

And I think as an artist, you put that into the painting.

- When you take a look at some of these works,

you can't help but look at the beauty of it.

There's color in here that is amazing.

There's the scenery.

There's the architecture. There's the plants.

It's absolutely stunning.

And then when you actually see it in person, you're like,

Oh, this is just amazing.

- We love them.

- They really are our royalty.

- Many paintings capture my sight,

but not all capture my heart.

And we only paint originals.

We do not duplicate our work.

So then when the goes on to you,

some of you is also included in that oil painting.

- We are often approached while painting, and we love it.

We can paint and talk at the same time.

And it's really neat, because as we're painting,

they are noticing these wonderful cottages,

also they're noticing our paintings.

And a lot of times they buy them right off the easel.

- They approached us because they're curious,

it is not often that people see plein air painters.

So, people are quite surprised when they see us.

And some say, we're like the dolphins,

it's gonna be a good day if they see as painting,

because it's a rare day that you see dolphins too.

- We adore them. They are our treasurers.

They're really connected with the cottages.

- I think the plein air artists have had a tremendous impact

in raising general public awareness,

not just in Indian Rocks Beach,

but in the surrounding area about the nature of the cottages

and the fact that they're threatened.

- What started all this was the fact that developers

are starting to tear down cottages

and old places along here.

- Places that have been ruined

and have been destroyed forever

by the large concrete condominium buildings.

- Great wall of Florida.

- Just wall to wall condominiums.

- [Jim] And so they wanted to recognize the need

to keep those places.

And so they've painted a lot of them.

- I think by preserving some of these beautiful cottages

and allowing future generations to see what Old Florida

really was and how beautiful and quaint

and just absolutely drop dead, gorgeous old Florida was.

- We wanted to capture the essence of the cottages,

the beauty of these little cottages,

just get their memory on a canvas.

- Each cottage that was demolished

and each condo that went up got a variant.

So city hall had planning and zoning,

had to give out a variant.

So we were telling people as we painted, they said,

"Why are they pulling down this cottage?"

Well, you could do something about it

if you went up to city hall

and objected to the variances.

And people started to do that.

- But to be able to encourage others,

to fix them up and rehab them and preserve them

and keep them so that there isn't some big concrete wall

that goes up between beautiful Shell Road

and the Gulf of Mexico.

- Once you smash a tree, you can plant another tree.

Once you smash a cottage, you'll never get it back.

It's gone.

- I think they've been a great asset as far as

letting folks know that, okay, this is something unique

to our community and we need to do everything possible

to preserve these structures.

And can't think of a better way to get that message out

than through what the plein air artists have done.

- You can find the artists at


Violinist, Lucia Micarelli,

trained classically at Juilliard from age 11.

She went on to establish her own solo career.

Micarelli shares the story of her journey so far.

- I'm always thinking about music.

I'm always thinking about playing too.

I mean, it's pretty dorky,

but I'm always thinking about music.

(violin music playing)

Before I understood music more intellectually,

I always felt really emotionally connected to it.

My name is Lucia Micarelli, I am a violinist.

I started violin when I was three.

My mother made me play the violin.


You know, my mother was very involved

in the technical aspect of like getting on top of the violin

and getting around it and practicing and auditioning

and things like that.

But, my dad, he was so emotionally, so moved by everything,

and so moved by words and so moved by music.

I think I get a lot of that from him.

I knew that I wanted to be a violinist

probably when I was 6 or 7.

When I was 11, I auditioned for the Juilliard School

pre college division.

And, that was a big step.

I started off with classical music, like super hardcore.

I never even listened to any music

that wasn't classical until I was like 17.

(violin music playing)

Once I started working,

it was like working with Josh Groban

and then with Chris Botti,

and just working with all these different people

and not just being exposed to those artists,

but their bands and their, like, all the musical people

that they knew,

really kind of gave me an education.

(violin music continues)

All of these experiences and all these people that I've met,

and just absorbing all this music

has kind of gotten me to this place

where I love just a really wide variety of things.

(fast violin music begins)

When I put together a program to play live,

my number one concern is I don't want to play anything

that I'm not in love with.

And so it ends up being a really eclectic mix of things.

It's classical and it's jazz and there's folk music.

I like it that way.

I feel like it's really representative of just

sort of all the influences I've had in my life,

it's all music that I feel really strongly connected to.

I loved performing since I was little.


And I get super nervous, you know.

I just love how alive it is and how

it's a collaborative experience,

not just with the other musicians,

but it's a collaborative experience with an audience.

It was the 4th of July, and I was on tour with Chris Botti.

We were doing a wedding in Italy,

and we had just done the concert and we were backstage.

I was holding a glass, and I was wearing my gown

and I tripped on my dress and I landed on the glass.

Went to the ER, they just like closed it up,

came back to LA, went straight to a hand surgeon,

and then we found out I had severed three nerves

in my left hand.

- And this little cut,

must have had like a dagger in

because it went all the way down to the bone.

(violin music begins)

- Oh those are playing fingers.

Left hand is, I mean,

that was what was so nerve-wracking,, was I was worried,

you know, I have to do a lot more with his hand.

(violin music continues)

I do remember asking my surgeon if he thought

I would play again.

And he was like, "Well, I think so."

(violin music continues)

We just kind of didn't know.

And the feeling thing was the big question,

because I still don't after all these years,

I still don't have full feeling in three fingers,

in my thumb, fore-finger and pinky finger.

And, kind of just didn't know what that would mean.

When they took the cast off

and I couldn't move my fingers

and I was just like this for a week or two, I was like,

I couldn't imagine, you know, I was just like,

this is the worst possible thing to be looking at it

and you're like, okay, I can't even open my hand,

but I'm totally going to play violin again.

(violin music begins)

I just did a lot, a lot of physical therapy

and just kept pushing and pushing it and pushing it,

tried to get on the fiddle and just kept trying to play.

(violin music continues)

And I ended up recovering really quickly because of that.

It just made me realize so many things that have really

fed my life have come out of this instrument

and my relationship with this instrument.

(violin music continues)

Just in the classical repertoire,

there's so much music that I want to play.

I don't know if I'm going to get to play it all,

but God, I hope so.

Anyone can be successful doing anything they want

as long as it's something they really love.

I hope that if I love it and I present it

with a lot of love,

then other people will see why I love it

and hopefully they'll like it too.

- Discover more at

Growing up in Shoreview, Minnesota,

painter, Paul Peterson was eager to explore his heritage.

After meeting his biological family in Columbia,

he started a series of paintings to help them.

(gentle music begins)

- [Attendant] Hello.

- How's it going?

- Good. How are you today?

- Good. I'm looking to put together a bouquet of flowers

native to Columbia.

- [Attendant] Columbia?

- Yep.

- I have some in the cooler for ya.

- Perfect.

My newest project, I'm revisiting my childhood,

learning about my heritage.

This project is special to me because it allows me

to give back to my family.

- There they are.

- Thank you.

- You're welcome.

(gentle music continues)

- I was born in a Pitalito, Columbia,

and at the age of 18 months old,

my sister and I were adopted

and moved to Shoreview, Minnesota.

My goal for this project is to be able to give back to

our birth family in Columbia

and help build them a home as there much need for a new one.

(calm music begins)

- [Marita] Oh, there's our baby pictures.

- [Paul] There are our baby pictures.

- Oh yeah. There's little ones.

This is when we were, when we became citizens.

So at the age of 30,

after wanting to really find out about our family

and our past,

I came in contact with a friend of mine whose mother

still lived in Bogota and had her help.

And her suggestion was why don't we

put a radio announcement out

and see if we can send a message saying,

does anybody know this Esperanza Karia,

which would be our birth mother's name.

And within 30 minutes,

somebody called the radio station and said that

she was this person Esperanza.

And then within six months

I traveled down there to meet them.

This is actually all our siblings.

And then we had a brother that was killed

three months before I flew down there.

(slow music continues)

Paul's new art series in regards to our Colombian heritage

has been pretty awesome for a couple of reasons.

One is that he's starting to message

and talk to our birth family more.

- [Paul] They're so happy to communicate with us.

- Mm-hm.

It brings them a lot of joy that we still want to be

in contact with them.

- Yeah.

The series is Colombian themed,

and I chose to do the paintings on burlap coffee bean bags

from Columbia.

I chose not to do it on just regular canvas

because the burlap originated from Columbia,

and would have the most amount of texture.

Most of the subjects that I'm painting on the bags

are traditional and native to the region of Columbia

where we're from.

(soft music begins)

My favorite part about being an artist

is the challenge of each painting.

And diving into it, parts of it are are frustrating,

but that's where the learning begins.

(soft music continues)

I like to experiment with surfaces other than canvas,

such as wine corks, I've painted on, golf tees,

it just adds depth and a whole new texture

and gives it a different feeling than canvas.

(soft music continues)

This series has 8 to 10 paintings,

subjects are some of the local churches, mountains,

cultural dancers.

So this is the first time I've used Colombian theme

in my artwork, and it's near and dear to my heart.

My Colombian family knows about this project.

I'm really excited for them to see it because

this is their first time seeing a completed piece

of the series.

Since my sister has returned,

there's been a number of our close friends

that were also adopted from neighboring towns

that have traced back their family

and have gone actually down there to meet them

and connect with them,

and it's been fun to watch all their photos that they post.

This is the least I can do in giving back to

the family that brought me into this world.

And although we're not in the same country or state,

we still stay in touch,

and it means a lot to me to be able to help out.

(calm music begins)

- Learn more at

Sacramento, California's Gerry Simpson

is an artist who works in paint, photography, and fashion.

See how a quest to show the world something new

has allowed him to learn about himself.

(soft music begins)

- I started painting for one reason.

I couldn't afford to buy nobody else's art,

so I paint my own pictures and put them on a wall.

I wasn't gonna waste any time compete with other people,

my competition would become myself.

(lively music begins)

I've been a singer, I've done off Broadway in New York,

fashion design, visual art, photography,

I'm writing, teaching,

I've done acting.

I've heard often that if you don't use the talents given,

it's a sin.

And so I'm trying to get through life without sinning.


My mom always sew, she made clothes and stuff,

so there was always a sew machine hooked up in my house.

When I became a junior in high school,

I developed a career as a singer.

So I went from there to making the clothes for the guys

I sang with.

And like 1982, I won this trip to California,

modeling and designing clothes.

And when I got ready to move from the Bay area

to Sacramento,

I got this job as a stylist for Nordstrom.

While I was at Nordstrom, and I got this phone call,

well, I answered the phone call

'cause they didn't call for me.

And this teacher called from American River College,

she wanted to know if she could bring her class in

for visual merchandising tour.

And I told her, "Yeah, come on, bring your class."

About two days later,

35 people showed up at the door looking for Gerry Simpson.

And I took them on this in depth tour of Nordstrom.

And one year later, this teacher called back and said to me,

"Would you like to teach at American River College?"

And so I ended up teaching at American River College

for 10 years,

teaching fashion promotion and visual merchandising.

(lively music begins)

So it was in the last couple of years I said,

okay, I'm going to make this return trip

to being a fashion designer.

My attitude is, if you're not hanging my art on your wall,

hang it on your back.

And I came up with the idea of a show called,

"From the Canvas to the Runway."

Crazy enough, right after I thought about that,

I got a phone call from the Crocker Art Museum,

asking me would I come and do be a part of

this event that they were gonna be having,

would I do fashion?

That was like heaven.

What may me do the denim thing was,

I kept noticing everybody that went past my studio

had on denim.

Today's fashion, being the second most highest polluter

to the world next to oil,

that's kind of crazy.

So, where does it end up? In the wasteland.

I'm trying to keep some of this stuff from going in there.

If I take your jeans and serve them back to you in a way

that you not expecting them.

I don't know where ends.

My wife asked me, "So when are you going to retire?"

And I said, "You know, in reality, people like me just die."

I have to give it to my wife for being very, very

understanding and allowing me to have the room

to be Gerry Simpson.

Meet me when I'm at home, I'm creating something.

I'll be celebrating 20 years of being

creative in Sacramento.

It's not always been easy.

Coming to a place where you don't know anybody

and you're trying to do something like creative,

you know, 'cause then you have to find an audience

who wants to see you,

who wants to be spending their time looking at what you do.

So that's why I just work as much as I do.

And I work as in many different spots as I do.

'Cause it might not happen over here this week,

it might be over here this week, you know?

So you had to just put yourself out there.

And don't be afraid to fail at it.

Don't be afraid to make a mistake,

'cause out of mistakes come great things.

If you look at my art, there are circles in all of my art.

That came about because of a mistake.

I was working with a pen that exploded

on one of my paintings, and so I couldn't get the paint off.

So what did I do? Covered it with a circle.

So there has been circles in my art ever since.

So, you know,

you do what you do.

(soft music continues)

Having this gallery has been a dream come true,

a dream that I never knew I had,

a dream that I never thought would come to me.

So I don't take it for granted.

I use it as a platform for me to show young folks

that this is all possible.

I hope that somebody got something out of my time

being here.

It means a lot to me to have had the chance.

- To see more of his work,

check out

And, that wraps it up for this edition of WEDU Arts Plus.

For more arts and culture, visit

Until next time, I'm Dalia Colon.

Thanks for watching.

(lively music begins)

- [Narrator] Major funding for WEDU Arts Plus

is provided through The Greater Cincinnati Foundation

by an arts loving donor who encourages

others to support your PBS station, WEDU,

and by the Pinellas Community Foundation,

"Giving Humanity a Hand Since 1969."

(calm music begins)