BY LIZA STROUT - When Joyce Howe first came to Gasparilla Island in 1978, the Boca Grande Club was barely an idea.
“There were a couple of years in Cincinnati where we had a lot of snow, and it gets very dreary along the Ohio River” said Joyce. “We were looking for somewhere to go to escape for a while, and our neighbor’s mother suggested Boca Grande.”
Joyce and her husband, Roger, arrived in a sleepy fishing town.
“The Club was stakes and strings when we got here,” she explained. “We ended up on Captiva Island then, at the South Seas Plantation.”
When that island eventually became too crowded for them, they remembered their visit to Gasparilla Island and came back.
“We already knew Boca Grande, and we liked it. No one really knew about it. They would get it mixed up with Boca Raton all the time. They don’t do that anymore. At first, we were only here for a short time each year,” Joyce said. “I played tennis at the Boca Grande Club, and started meeting more and more people.”
As their circle of island friends grew, the Howes spent more time on Gasparilla Island.
“These days, we spend more time here than we do anywhere else,” she laughed.
In 1985 the couple built their first house on the island.
Today, they live in a home down the road from that first house. Joyce’s upstairs studio looks out over the Gulf of Mexico.
“The water is always changing. The color, the texture, there is always something different to see. It is much calmer than the Atlantic, though it does have its moments,” she said.
She may be creating a painting of the gulf this summer.
“I had one that I did a while back, and I contributed it to the health clinic auction this year,” Joyce explained. “I think I am going to paint a new version. I will have to go out and watch the water a few times, see it on different days, watch it change before I decide what I want.”
Joyce was born in Ashland, Ohio, the “world headquarters of nice people.” She was raised with her sister and brother.
“My father was a lawyer, and my mother was a teacher,” she explained. “She retired to raise the three of us, though.”
Joyce’s earliest memory of creating art comes from when she was 5-years-old.
“I was in church with my family, and that’s how they kept us quiet, they gave us something to draw on. I remember that my parents saw my picture and told me that it looked just like the organ pipes. That’s the first thing that I drew that really registered in my mind.”
Joyce continued her drawing through high school and went on to Miami University in Ohio, where she majored in art.
“I wanted to become a commercial artist,” she said. “A lot of what I learned to do by hand then, you can do on a computer today.”
While she was a student at the university, she met her husband, Roger. He was studying at the university’s business school.
Together, they have three children, two daughters and a son. Their daughters are homemakers and community volunteers, one in Hartford and the other near New York. Their son works with a company that makes pneumatic valves, and lives in Connecticut.
Each of the three children has three children of their own, and Joyce has introduced them all to the island. It has not been all sunshine and sand, though.
“One of the boys, he’s older now, but when he was young he just couldn’t understand the bugs here,” Joyce laughed. “His mom says that he is a complete city boy.”
Joyce remembers when the mosquitoes were controlled with the help of an airplane.
“I’m not sure what kind of plane it was, but it was a large one,” she said. “I would be out walking on the bike path, and it would come overhead and dive-bomb the island. It was directly over me, and I’m sure I got sprayed, but back then you just didn’t think anything of that.”
These days, mosquito control is done with a much smaller and more nimble helicopter, and is schedule so that residents are not as likely to be sprayed.
Another thing that Joyce remembers are the early days of the Art Alliance, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
“I was one of the first people to become a member, right after the Alliance was founded,” she said. “I knew a lot of the people who started it. Cecilia Bisset was my sponsor. Back then, we were teaching each other the very basics, things like how to write a resume as an artist, which most of us didn’t know how to do. We had meetings, and members would give demonstrations. Mariana Alzamora showed how she painted silks with wax and then dyed them. I remember once Wini Smart and Jane Carlson had dueling paintings. They were both painting the same still life in watercolor at the same time.
“Of course we had shows, and more and more people joined the Alliance. Wini Smart was a member, and she suggested that we start offering classes as a way to give back to our non-artist members,” Joyce said. “I began teaching a beginning course on watercolor. That’s the kind of thing the Art Alliance did back when it started. I have seen a lot of changes, but there is still the comraderie, and there are people coming along. Young people, new people, learning about art. We have very active exhibiting members.”
She also took classes from her fellow members.
“That’s truly what it was back then,” she explained. “We helped each other and taught each other. We were really a group of friends who just wanted to share.”
Eventually, the group decided that they wanted to apply for non-profit status.
“As part of becoming a 501(c)3 organization, we started a scholarship program for art students,” she said. “It is still very active, and has helped many local students through the years.”
Joyce’s knowledge of art mediums does not end with watercolor.
“I have worked in many,” she said. “I did metal etching, print making, silk screening, lithographs, wood block prints, engraving. A wide variety of different types of work. They all take a lot of time, and involved a lot of machinery. I haven’t really done a lot of three-dimensional work, though there was an artist here on the island who had a clay-making studio. I worked on that a little bit, but I’ve never really done anything sculptural.”
She has also learned quite a bit about art history.
“I volunteered at the Comtemporary Art Center of the Cincinnati Art Museum as a guide, then as a docent,” Joyce explained. “There is a lot of background information you have to know, in case a question comes up. I learned about the lives of different artists, different styles and a lot about contemporary art in order to do that. With the tours, each was completely different. You could go from adults to school children, so you had to know how to structure the tour or information for each group.”
After leading groups for a while, she moved into fund raising for the museum.
When she is not creating art, Joyce loves to garden. At least in Ohio and Michigan.
“I don’t do too much down here,” she said. “It’s a little prickly in Florida, though I am a member of the Garden Club on island. When we get back up north, though, I do a lot of perennials. It’s a battle, because we have so many deer that eat everything up there, especially in the winter.”
For the last 10 years, Joyce and her husband have been spending part of the summer in Michigan.
“Cincinnati is just as hot as Florida in the summer, and I think it is even more humid,” she explained. “We have a home on a lake in northern Michigan, so we go there each year. I like it because I can leave the windows open all night. Quite a few of our friends from Boca Grande spend time there, too. It’s not too far from Cincinnati, so we can drive down if we want to.”
While she is in Michigan, Joyce teaches short classes on different aspects of painting.
“The lesson portion is around 15 minutes long, plus I do a short demonstration for the class,” she said. “It makes me get on the internet or into a book, to figure out how to explain what I mean in a short time. The people I am teaching all paint, so they know what they are doing. I teach on composition, reflection, light, perspective, all of the little things that an artist might miss, I cover those. Sometimes you have a painting or a drawing that you know is just a little bit off, especially if you are painting realistically. You can’t exactly put your finger on it, but you know that there is something that you are missing. That’s what I am hoping to teach people to do, to find that thing, before the painting goes completely off track.”
Joyce may be a teacher, but she is still a student.
“It is important to me to take courses from outstanding artists,” she said. “When I’m taking courses, I sometimes hear something that I have heard before, but it just hasn’t connected with my hand-eye coordination, and it clicks. That is very important to me. A lot of art is time, patience and experience.”
She plans to take a recent painting of orchids back to her critique group in Cincinnati.
“We get together and look at each others work and help each other,” she said “If one of us can’t figure out where to go with a painting, or wants advice, or even just to show to another artist what we are working on, that’s what we all are there for.”
One of Joyce's latest projects is learning to paint from photographs. At the same time, she is learning about oil painting.
"Something I have learned is that when you are painting from photographs, you have to know how to take photographs. That’s something I am becoming interested in and working on. So that's been something else that I have been doing lately, taking photos.”
While Joyce continues to learn and grow and change, one thing remains the constant: the sense of community on Gasparilla Island.
"There are a lot more people here now, and there are condos downtown where the big barn used to be, but everyone is just as friendly as they ever have been," she explained. "The island has the same atmosphere that it had then."
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