Bay Oaks Campers, Budding Artists


A Work of Art!

“Use a pinch of black paint and I mean a pinch! Now, water color tornadoes! Don’t worry if you are not sure about your sketch, because we will walk around at the end and make you feel good about it, so just relax and have fun – GO FOR IT!”

So enthusiastically instructs Mercedes Price Harry to the 20 children of the Bay Oaks Recreation Center Summer Camp at The Knotty Bean Coffee Bar last Thursday afternoon, August 3rd. Mercedes, with the capable help of her assistant, Anissa Aguirre, taught the class to draw a manatee, with helpful and always positive tips throughout the two-hour session. She is the manager of Vino’s Picasso who ordinarily hosts painting and wine parties, including those at the Knotty Bean, but is making an exception for the Bay Oak kids at the personal request of Valorie Steinbeck, co-owner of the coffee bar with husband Steve.

Valorie arranged for the Bay Oaks Summer Camp art program “just because we want to be a big part of the Fort Myers Beach community and support our kids and future leaders by giving them a memorable experience. Sean DePalma, Director of Parks & Recreation for the Town of Fort Myers Beach, is a regular customer, so I approached him and we quickly came upon the art class. I spoke to Mercedes, who agreed to do this for me, and I donated the shop and snacks, so it is a super cool partnership!” The next adult paint and wine event is Wednesday, August 23, at $30-per-person, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. “I recommend advance registration,” explained Valorie, “because the last session was a sellout.”

“Tap paint into the body of the manatee – tap, tap, tap! Put purple paint on your brush and start in the middle – tapping, tapping, tapping! Breath deep and have fun with it – one more time – Whoo-Who!”

“I am a struggling artist myself and love it,” continued Valorie. “Art plays such a significant role in everything we do, like interior design or marketing or engineering, so art will help the children in so many ways in college and their future. It is so fun to see them today, as they are all locked in; these kids are so intense. They are so digging it – this is awesome!”

The Bay Oaks kids ranged in age from 6 years to early teens, and were captivated and well-behaved throughout. Only near the end, when they were painting the manatee’s snout, did curiosity take hold, with the children suddenly holding up their masterpieces to show them off to their campmates. “Someone asked if I knew what I was getting into,” laughed Valorie, “packing 20 youngsters into my place, but they are definitely in the zone and taking advantage of the opportunity. Everybody is so proud of what they are doing, as it is their own creation. I just wish I could be painting with them!”

“Now finish with the eyes, and do the little exhaust on the nose. Does anybody know the last step – YOUR SIGNATURE! You can sign at the bottom or on the back, and it can be your name or initials or a wave or symbol or question mark – it is up to you!”

“I enjoy the complete process,” explained Mercedes, “because 99% of the time, people say ‘I can’t paint,’ but then it is amazing what they accomplish with upbeat instruction, patience and a good time. Art is so personal; students will often say, ‘but my painting does not look like yours,’ but you are not me and your art is a reflection of your subconsciousness, as we are all so different. We travel all over Southwest Florida, and I always marvel at the results.” “I love Mercedes’ passion,” exclaimed Valorie. “Whether with adults or children, she never changes her positive demeanor; I am so happy we partner together.”

Beginning in October, the Knotty Bean will have special hours for families with Alzheimer members on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. “This is not only an opportunity for those who are afflicted to get out, but for their caregivers as well,” Valorie explained. “They can get a little time to relax and catch their breath without worrying about how others see or judge their loved ones.”

Knotty Bean summer hours are Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and it will close for September. It is at 2801 Estero Boulevard, Suite K, with an associated location on the 3rd floor of the Fort Myers Beach Public Library; call 239-233-8635 or see Vino Picasso has locations in Naples and Fort Myers; contact Mercedes at 239-288-6953 or at


Gary Mooney
Photos by Gary Mooney