Bushnell FMB Library Artist

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Being the Fort Myers Beach Public Library Artist of The Month is nothing new to Fred Bushnell! “I actually started hosting displays there many years ago,” he recalled, “even before the new building, when the old place had a little office for artwork in a tiny corner. Then Dr. Leroy Hommerding, the Library’s late Director, came along and significantly expanded the building and now we exhibit on almost the entire third floor! I have a show there about every year or two, with my last one I believe in March 2018. I like being on the calendar for March, as there are so many people and visitors in Town at this time of year. People will see some of my best works, but unfortunately nothing new, as now that I am close to 90-years-old, I am a semi-retired painter! In addition to the Beach Library, I have a permanent display at the Chapel By The Sea Presbyterian Church, with about 20 works there.”

Fred was born in Rochelle, Illinois, “where Dad was a teacher, so education was important in our family. My parents went to Iowa State so I did too, and it was there I met my wife, Meg, as her parents attended Iowa State as well. After graduating, I went to work for the Del Monte Company in Rochelle in insect control and insecticides, but it affected me with bad headaches, so I had to get out and went into farming, spending over 40 years doing that in Byron, Illinois, outside of Rockford, about 80 miles west of Chicago. We still have the farm and go there for the summer, as two of our four sons now operate it.”

He and Meg started coming to Fort Myers Beach in the early 1960s, right after Hurricane Donna. “We stayed in several cottages, then eventually bought one near the Pink Shell Resort, and the boys really enjoyed it. We got a catamaran prindle, learned to sail, and had a great time every winter. I planned to build a condominium, but Meg fell in love with our current neighborhood at the north end of the island, on the Back Bay, and literally walked it, putting notices in everyone’s mailboxes to see if anyone wanted to sell. One gentleman contacted us, saying that while he had no intent to sell, he had to speak to the person who showed that kind of initiative, so we met and became fast friends! It turns out he was a farmer from Elgin that was only about 60 miles away from us; several years later, he was ready to move and we made the deal real quick!”

Good People & 1st Class

Because of farming, Fred got into art later than most people, “but of course farming in Illinois meant long cold winters with not a lot to do, so to pass the time during those depressing months, I began to paint using the old ‘Paint By Numbers’ kits and that is how I developed my initial interest in art. Once we wintered in Fort Myers Beach, I became familiar with the Fort Myers Beach Art Association (FMBAA). When here, however, the Illinois Governor chose Meg to Chair a Commerce Commission, meaning she had to spend a lot of time in Chicago, flying down only on weekends, so painting cured my boredom when she was gone.”

Once familiar with the FMBAA, Fred took Beginner’s Classes “and really liked the people, so I became a member. I bet that I attended more than 50 workshops, taught by about 20 different artists, and you pick up something from every one of them. My instructors taught me the basics to watercolors, especially in how to use them as part of the composition, and that became my primary medium. The FMBAA is full of good people and is a first-class operation, and I would not be anywhere near the artist l am today without their help, guidance and encouragement, especially for someone like me who did not take up art until an older age. It is a great facility and this island is lucky to have them! Meg is an artist and sculptor in her own right, and she constantly gave me positive encouragement.”

Fort Myers Beach Library March Artist of the Month Fred Bushnell, surrounded by his artwork.

Almost all of Fred’s works focus on the Great Outdoors! “I do mostly watercolor landscapes and love painting rivers, lakes, woodland streams, mountains and our farm, of course. Down here, you must paint seascapes as well as shrimp boats and docks, and I spent a lot of time at our local parks, especially Koreshan State Park, and there is a little bird island on the Back Bay right outside our windows that I painted many times from several different perspectives. One of our sons and several grandchildren live in Montana, so we visit often and I have many paintings from there. As for my style, my two constants are composition and color: composition because that holds the work all together to form one cohesive piece, and bright colors because they allow me to put my own spin on my paintings, in just the way I feel about them. I don’t need much of an excuse to use bright colors!”

Fred is a little different from many artists in that he does not sell his paintings. “Shortly after retiring from farming, I had several shows and made quite a few sales and earned something like $10,000 but then all my good paintings were gone and eventually you spend the money and give the Internal Revenue Service its cut, and at the end of the day, everything is gone and it felt like I came up empty-handed, like they cleaned me out! Now I keep almost everything I paint, though I often showed them in competitive forums. I was in one, though, where they required I price them, and I had one of my favorite paintings there, so I put a figure on it that was so high that no one would purchase it and – wouldn’t you know – someone bought it!”

A Glorious Feeling

To Fred, art became essential “because it is my creative outlet. Art tends not to be readily available to a farmer, so it became everything to me! Prior to painting, restoring furniture like big wooden chests and old beds was my hobby, but once I took up art, I could put a part of me into every one of my paintings. I love seeing the final results and most other people do as well, where you can take the vision of what you see, dress it up and often make it better than it really is, and that is a glorious feeling.”

View Fred Bushnell’s glorious artwork at the Fort Myers Beach Library’s 3rd Floor Exhibit Area throughout March, including the “Meet the Artist” reception on Tuesday, March 10, from 3 to 4 p.m. The Library is at 2755 Estero Boulevard, with hours Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and closed Sundays and holidays, including Saturday, March 14, for the Shrimp Festival Parade. For more information, see www.fmb.lib.fl.us or call 239-765-8162.