“High season” in Southwest Florida brings the height of art festival fanfare. It’s a chance to browse unique, top-quality artwork while interacting with hundreds of artists who create in a diversity of mediums. Many of these nationally recognized artists hail from other regions of the United States — and a few from international destinations — to showcase their beautiful wares to the admiring public in Estero, Bonita Springs, Naples and Fort Myers.
Several of Southwest Florida’s art festivals are ranked among the Sunshine Artist “200 Best” fine art shows in the nation, including the No. 2-rated Bonita Springs National Art Festival. Typically, close to 1,000 artists apply to these major festivals, competing for the 200 or so available booth spaces, local organizers report. Major shows draw crowds of up to 20,000 over a two-day festival. Moreover, about $248 million in economic activity is generated annually by the nonprofit arts and culture industry in Lee and Collier counties, according to the “Arts & Economic Prosperity” report produced by Americans for the Arts.
Few understand the logistics of running a major art show as fully as Estero artists Diane Schultz and Judy Ladd. Both have experience as directors of longstanding fine art and craft festivals in the Midwest. This month, they are teaming up to produce a much smaller scale, “boutique” show in the Community Room of Fountain Lakes.
The Fountain Lakes Boutique Art and Craft Sale will feature about 20 local artists, including Ladd, who makes hand-painted, porcelain-bead jewelry and porcelain tile wall art, and Schultz, whose whimsical artistic endeavors include textiles (handbags, aprons and potholders), styrofoam sculptures, acrylic paintings and watercolor greeting cards and prints. Other artists will offer pencil collage art, dried florals, beeswax soaps and candles, clothing, sculptures and more.
“There will be a lot of affordable items, as well as some really nice home decor items,” says Schultz, who is directing the Fountain Lakes sale for the fourth year. She expects about 500 people to stop by the show on Feb. 24.
The Fountain Lakes sale is a microcosm of February’s greater art festival scene, reflecting the region’s great enthusiasm for fine art. While the boutique show is small, rest assured the quality of artwork will be superb. Schultz and Ladd have experience in discerning artistic talent.
Schultz is founder of the “Schultz is in Stitches Boutique,” which she started in her St. Paul, Minn., home 40 years ago as a way for local artists to sell their wares during the Christmas holiday season. The show quickly outgrew her home and migrated to various venues in the Twin Cities until she sold it to another artist. This annually anticipated art sale is now called Peggy’s Holiday Boutique and includes about 150 artists from around the nation.
Ladd is in the process of retiring as director of a top-rated outdoor art festival in South Bend, Ind. The Leeper Park Art Fair celebrated its 50th anniversary last summer and is rated No. 30 of the Sunshine Artist “200 Best.” Ladd started as an exhibiting artist and eventually took over as organizer, a post she’s held for 23 years. When the Coconut Point Art Festival comes to Estero each winter, she always recognizes several of the featured artists as friends from her own show up north.
Both Ladd and Schultz started out as high school art teachers. Ladd, who also taught art at the University of Notre Dame, was teaching a high school ceramics class when the owner of a local shop asked her to try making jewelry to sell there. Ladd made her own beads from clay and had her students use the patterns on the bottom of their tennis shoes to create unique designs.
Similarly, Schultz started her teaching career in pottery and silk screen printing. As her family grew, she sought ways to pursue art from home. She began doing freehand stitching over appliqués, then framed them in mason-jar lids. Her original designs were purchased by a company who sold the concept to J.C. Penney for mass production.
These days, Schultz dabbles in a variety of mediums from fine art paintings to“funky” sculptures made from styrofoam. In her Fountain Lakes home, there’s a bird in a cage, a tropical fish and even an end table with “feet” fashioned from styrofoam inside matching red high heels. Juxtaposed with the colorful coastal vibe are paintings of koi fish — one in watercolor and one in shiny acrylic.
“It’s Asian meets Caribbean in fantasy land,” says Schultz of her spunky decor.
These days, she only does two art shows a year: the one she organizes in Fountain Lakes and the one she founded in Minnesota. Ladd exhibits throughout the season with the Estero Art League at the Arts Council of Southwest Florida Co-op gallery in Coconut Point Mall. She also will be a featured artist in the Naples Artcrafters Fine Art & Craft Show in Cambier Park on Feb. 10.

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Date: Saturday, Feb. 24
Time: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Place: Fountain Lakes Community Room (west side of U.S. 41, south of Coconut Point Ford)
More info: DianeDSchultz@gmail.com

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‘Sunshine Artist 200 Best’
Top Ranked Festivals in SWFL

When: Feb. 3-4 (Opening night Feb. 2: 6-9 p.m.)
Where: Downtown Fort Myers
What: Only 1 in 5 artists who apply are accepted into this juried art festival along the waterfront in historic downtown Fort Myers. A wide range of prices and artistic mediums ensures something for everyone.
More Details: artfestfortmyers.com

When: Feb. 10-11 & March 3-4
Where: Riverside Park on Old 41, Bonita Springs
What: This top-rated Fine Art and Fine Craft Festival runs for a weekend in both February and March, featuring the works of 200 national and international artists and supporting the many programs of the Center for the Arts Bonita Springs.
More details: artcenterbonita.org/artfest

When: Feb. 17-18
Where: Coconut Point Mall, Estero
What: Howard Alan Events presents this popular, annual art festival at Coconut Point Mall, featuring more than 200 juried artists. Stroll amid life-sized sculptures, breathtaking paintings, one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces, stunning photographs and more.
More details: artfestival.com

When: Feb. 24-25
Where: Cambier Park, Naples
What: Sunshine Artist Magazine has rated this festival in its “Top Ten National Shows” for seven years in a row. More than 20,000 visitors flock to the Naples National Art Festival each year. Admission is free, but a $5 suggested donation supports educational programming for the Naples Art Association.
More details: naplesart.org/naples-national


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