Barbara Hesse, Artist of The Month


    Tom, Dick, & Harry

    “I think of Barbara whenever I see something spectacular!” – Carol Gwatkin.

    That is the striking introduction to Barbara Hesse, January’s “Artist for the Month” at the Fort Myers Beach Public Library. She is one-half of the dynamic duo of Don & Barbara, husband-&-wife for 55 years! “Don is actually responsible for my career in art,” she explains. “He, as a gift, bought me the famous photographer John Shaw’s book on the basics in the early 1990s. My Dad was a photographer so it was always an interest, plus we travel and do independent things and photography is excellent for that. We recently retired our old VW van we bought new in 1990 because it has over 300,000 miles.”

    Detail from a photograph by Barbara of restaurant shutters — a personal favorite of Barbara.

    She loved taking photos right from the start, and soon submitted them to magazines, “but you cannot make a living that way – you never knew what perfect picture each needs, and it was not a fulltime job because I worked until 1999. By then, computers were making a huge difference in photography. It was still a hobby, however, and I did not devote 300% of my time to it because we have other passions.”

    Sallie Seabury, a member of the Fort Myers Beach Library Board of Directors, set up the show. “Sallie is a good friend and neighbor,” explains Barbara, “and she made arrangements with Dr. Leroy Hommerding, the director, almost a year-and-a-half ago. As so much of my work involves birds that are so cheerful to experience during the winter, I was content to wait until January; now I can’t believe it’s already here.” Don was happy for the lead time: “It gave me the chance to convert our lanai into a carpentry shop,” he jokes. “It is her show but I made frames for almost 40 pictures!”

    Squirt, Spurt, or Spray

    Barbara specializes in giclee prints that use fade-resistant archival inks and substrates to make reproductions of two-dimensional artwork for resale, while preserving the original. The term is from the French “le gicleur,” meaning to squirt, spurt or spray. “You can leave these out in the rain, and the prints will still last for years,” she says.

    Many of the pieces in the show are right off their living room walls: “I will have almost nothing up during season,” Barbara laughs. “And of course we will have company! There will be only about three pictures up in our home.”

    Several in the display are from the Lower Antelope Canyon, on Navajo land in Arizona from roughly 7 years ago. “To capture these we had to climb not up but down 70 to 100 feet,” she relates. “Flash floods carve them from soft sandstone, and when the sun passes over, it changes their color and pattern. These canyons are so narrow you have to squeeze through, carrying your backpack off to the side, with your lunch and water and cameras dangling in the air. They are gorgeous but you must be careful about life-threatening floods, so you cannot enter them in summer or winter; April is the safest month. Skies overhead can be perfectly clear, with rain you have no idea about 100 miles in the distance, and then suddenly it can wash you away.”

    A Tiny Little Sign

    Her favorite work, entitled “Tom, Dick, & Harry,” is in the show. “We lived in Miami still but visited here on a Sunday. In the middle of driving through the Everglades, we saw a tiny little sign on the side of the road, inviting people to take photos at a wildlife preserve. We went to the old-old trailer office and met the elderly owner named Ellen. Her husband recently passed away but their property was full of big cats to photograph, like lions and tigers, jaguars and cougars, all with such bright healthy alert eyes.”

    Barbara returned the next day with her camera. “Ellen had three adorable cougar cubs named Tom, Dick, & Harry, and they were precious! The enclosure was dense with foliage, so I had to climb through on my hands-&-knees to photograph them. They were running and playing and having the time of their lives, as was I! They have the bluest eyes that gradually change as they age, but were striking when I was with them.”

    As she finished, one cub jumped on her, securing his front paws to her back and his rear ones to her hips. “I was laughing so hard, and he was so young he could not figure out how to let go to get down. I lay down on the ground to make it easier and Don captured the moment – it was terrific and the memory makes it my favorite piece!”

    Years later, in 2003, after they moved fulltime to Fort Myers Beach, they visited a small wildlife refuge on US 41. “I stopped for a photo,” Barbara recalls, “and the owner told us their cougar is their most photographed animal, and they obtained him from a caring elderly woman in the Everglades, and I exclaimed ‘Ellen!’ His eyes popped and mouth dropped open; within minutes we went from perfect strangers to the best of friends. Turns out his cougar was one of the three I photographed when they were cubs; he provided me Ellen’s contact information so I could reconnect and show her the photos of the adult cougar. These pictures bring me nothing but happiness, reminding me of that special once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

    Meet The Artist

    To speak with Barbara while viewing her marvelous artistry, attend the “Meet the Artist of the Month” reception at the library’s third floor gallery on Tuesday, January 24, at 1:30 p.m. Vote then or throughout her exhibit on your favorite picture through Tuesday, January 31. “If you want a session that explains apertures and technical things like that, this is not for you,” Barbara offers. “We will talk about the backstories behind the photographs, with me doing the first part and Don the final half. It is the memories and experiences that matter the most.”

    To learn about the library’s free events or for related information, see or call 239-765-8162. The Fort Myers Beach Public Library is at 2755 Estero Boulevard; hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with Wednesday to 7 p.m. Saturday hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; closed Sunday and holidays.

    Gary Mooney