Library Artist of The Month, Craig Petersen

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“I have been an artist all my life, and a professional one for most of it,” laughed Craig Petersen, the Fort Myers Beach Library March Artist of The Month. Originally from the Cleveland area, Craig visited Southwest Florida for many years, as first his grandparents then parents lived here. “My wife Joy and I moved down as seasonals about a dozen years ago, then fulltime into a mobile home park five years back. We recently purchased our home last year, so I officially made the last move of my life!”

Even though Craig was in Southwest Florida many times before, “it wasn’t until a friend took me to lunch at Bonita Bill’s Waterfront Café that I knew I found my home, as there are so many friendly folks here, and the next thing you know, I am a regular. I love the people and the musicians are top notch,” said the non-drinker. “I even sit in Wednesdays with ‘K2 & The Unusuals’ who perform from 6 to 9 p.m. I never miss a Wednesday night, play a little guitar, do a couple songs when they are on break, and I even wrote a few, including one about living large on a small island!”

While a professional artist for four decades, the powers-that-be tried to discourage him as a young man. “I always loved art and wanted to be an artist. Dad, however, sent me to a military school because that is what he did. When it was time to apply for college, I interviewed at an art school, but the Head Master rejected me as soon as he saw that I attended military school, saying that regimented background would inhibit my creativity, so I was devastated! I attended college and earned a Business degree, but art remained my dream.”

Hitting My Stride

Fortunately, Craig met an American Greeting Cards artist, “and he said if I studied under him, he could turn me into a professional artist, and I did so for much of the next ten years. I quit my job at age 30, and though I struggled the first few years, teaching classes and doing art shows, I have done art ever since, finally hitting my stride, selling limited prints and calendars and especially painting corporate art, getting those jobs through my business connections. You can still see those on my website, including well-known Ohio attractions like the Terminal Tower and West Side Market, lighthouse and ‘Good Times 3’ gambling boat. The funny thing is, the art school that rejected me went out of business, while I still paint, with my art career putting my two daughters, Jennifer and Julie, through college as art school graduates, so I feel very fortunate.”

During his corporate art career, Craig never painted a portrait, “but since I became a Bonita Bill’s regular, meeting all the island musicians, I took that up to honor them, as they are some of the most wonderful people you will ever meet. The owner, Bill Semmer, said if I started painting musician portraits, he would hang them on the walls; there are over 100 so far and counting! I discovered as well that from this vantage point, painting the docks and shrimp boats is fabulous and inspiring. I love to paint seascapes and have become quite good at birds, though I never painted a bird in my life before coming here. I love painting at Six Mile Cypress Slough and Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge and suddenly I know a lot about birds! As far as shrimp boats go, they are the ‘covered bridges’ of Southwest Florida! There is so much to paint here in Paradise and you cannot swing a cat without hitting an extremely talented artist!”

Craig’s greatest joy as an artist is that his works are hanging all over the world. “There are several in museums, and people purchase them for their homes. Business people from Cleveland bought them to take to Japan, because tradition dictates you always bring a gift to your Japanese host, so there are many there and some in England as well. This means a lot to me, as these are the footprints I will ultimately leave behind. That used to bother me, but I know that whenever I will leave this Earth, my mark will remain behind – some people may not care about that, but I do.”

Even though Craig is a successful professional, “I must thank my wife, Joy, because she has a real job, and that helps make everything possible, so I give her all the credit. In every painting, somewhere in there I incorporated the word ‘Joy’ in gratitude to her, to say ‘Thanks’ for believing in me. I didn’t want to look back one day when I was 65 that I didn’t do art when I was 35, and now I am 70 and am as happy as I was at 35!”

A Wonderful Memory

This will be Craig’s third exhibit as the FMB Public Library Artist of The Month. “The Library learned about me around 7 years ago, then about 3 years ago I contacted them for a return appearance, and this time they reached out about a year ago for March.”

Craig reflected on the loss of Library Director Dr. Leroy Hommerding. “He was so kind and such a friend to the artistic community, and he was a wonderful artist himself with his magnificent Ukrainian egg creations, and of course the Library was everything to him! I saw him about two weeks prior to his murder, when I was at Kiwanis and he volunteering at the cash register. I told him the frames I was buying were for the Library show, and in a few weeks he would be carrying and hanging them, and that was the last thing I said to him. His passing still seems so unreal. I placed one of my artworks with those assembled by ‘The Friends of the Library’ from the monthly artists for the exhibit at his memorial service.”

Craig offered a humorous Dr. Leroy memory: “Following my first Library exhibit, we were loading everything up and Dr. Leroy said he would like me to consider donating a painting to the Library because he was filling the new building with first-class art. I said I would love to and asked if he had one in mind. Dr. Leroy smiled, saying not only did he favor one, but he already pulled it and it was hanging on the wall just outside his office! I laughed and laughed and he had a huge smile and I had to go back inside to see which one he choose! I was extremely pleased then and it is a wonderful memory now!”

To enjoy Craig’s artwork, visit the Fort Myers Beach Library’s 3rd Floor Exhibit Gallery through March 30 at 2755 Estero Boulevard. Hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and closed Sundays and holidays. The library is also closed March 9 for the Shrimp Festival Parade. For additional information on Craig, visit watercolorartist.org; for the Library www.fmb.lib.fl.us or call 239-765-8162.

 

 

By Gary Mooney
gary@fortmyersbeach.news