Poetry to Paintings!

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Fierro Library Artist of the Month

“I never took an art class in my life,” good-naturedly laughed Shea Fierro, the January Artist of The Month at the Fort Myers Beach Public Library! “The closest I ever came was the art classes we all had to take in school. As a kid, I wrote poetry. Back in those days, you did not dare to tell anybody about your emotions or how you felt, so I wrote it down. I was always writing then, with a lot of poetry, and even some books for children that featured ‘Sam I Am,’ who was a lizard or a turtle – I forget which now, as it was so long ago! Art was not important to me, either as a child or a young adult.”

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Shea Fierro works with a pallet knife, producing sharp lines and bold strokes.

Shea is originally from Delhi, New York, “that was a dry town in the Catskill Mountains, and being from a dry town, you don’t know any better until you get out! My parents did not have a lot of money and could not send me to college, so I worked for a year as a secretary until I could save enough on my own to attend Farmingdale State College on Long Island, where I earned a Associates Degree in Applied Sciences. I was a little disappointed about Farmingdale at first, because other kids were heading off to big time colleges, but I became excited when I left Delhi for New York, thinking, ‘I am free!’”

Her parents wanted her to go to a business school, “so that I could be sure that I would be able to get a job after graduation,” Shea recalled, “but I did not want to go to college just to get a job, as that would have killed me, so I went into Landscaping and Gardening, where I eventually got to teach about forests and rainforests and all kinds of neat natural things, especially to kids.”

As was common in those days, Shea married her first husband at a young age, and had her three children while in her 20s. “When I first became engaged, he was attending Columbia University and I thought he would take me away to some big college or city, but we ended up right back in Delhi instead, where we started our family. Prior to that, however, I did get to travel to Europe for several months, living in places where you worked as well, to offset your expenses, like in Naples, Italy, at an orphanage owned by two Italian couples, and that trip was like attending the college of life! You didn’t fly to Europe back then, but took a ship, so you were on the water for 11 days.”

Began to Tire of Writing

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Shea Fierro with a painting about the 9/11 tragedy.

“I already had my family and was in my 40s when I began to tire of writing,” Shea stated, “so I decided to try art and asked a friend to show me how to prepare a canvas. The funny part is, once I start to work, I would just go, then I stand back and look and often exclaim, ‘Oh My God!’ To this day, it often surprises me how good my art is! My first piece was in charcoal, around 1966, of an African headpiece, and I was amazed it turned out so well! Today, when I sit down to do art, my hands often take off on their own, and suddenly these beautiful things appear. Eventually, I had my first art show in the Adirondacks.”

Once she started painting, Shea searched out a style that fit her, “because those that were popular then, like Grandma Moses or other American formats, did not appeal to me, and I was already too old to become another Picasso or Rembrandt. Once I knew how to prepare a canvas and the paint, I soon discovered that working with paints through brushes was not the right format for me – it was quite frankly, too neat – so I began to use a pallet knife that is similar to a putty knife.”

A pallet knife is a blunt tool to mix and apply paint to the canvas “and you can create some pretty stunning effects that are not possible with a brush,” Shea offered. “You can produce sharp lines and bold strokes, allowing you to paint on top of wet layers without the color blending like with a brush, giving it a tremendous look. You just load up the pallet knife with paint, then dab at the edge of the canvas, leaving you with a rough and scattered edge as opposed to the softer look you get from a brush, and everybody loved the results. I am proud to say that my art doesn’t look like the artwork of anyone else! I have seen a few other pallet knife artists over the years but not that many.”

“My Saving Grace!”

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“My art doesn’t look like the artwork of anyone else!” Shea explains.

Over the years, Shea met her second husband and they became sailors. “We began to vacation in the early 1970s in Southwest Florida and discovered the Fort Myers Beach area because it reminded us so much of the Caribbean where we previously would sail. In the early 1990s, we were contemplating retirement and started to explore places for that, and Fort Myers Beach was at the top of the list, as other spots like the Keys were not our cup of tea.” Once they relocated, Shea joined the Cape Coral Art League.

This will be Shea’s first FMB Library exhibit. “A neighbor of mine showed Kathy DelBalzo, who schedules the displays, one of my art notecards, and Kathy got in touch with me several months ago and offered me a slot, saying I could pick the month. Not long after that, however, she called back to say they had a cancellation for January and asked if I could fill it. As I was born on January 1, I thought that perfect, to match up the display with my birthday, so in a way, this is a birthday present to myself! I have roughly 20 pieces on display at the Fort Myers Beach Public Library exhibit that my grandson helped me pick out.”

One of her favorite paintings was from the 9/11 tragedy. “I was watching on television and saw one of the planes fly into one of the towers and thought, ‘I have to get this down,’ as it was such a horrendous event. When I work, I feel what I see, and then my hands just take it away and interpret the event.”

To interpret Shea’s exhibit for yourself, visit the Beach Library’s 3rd Floor Gallery through Friday, January 31. Speak with Shea directly at her “Meet the Artist” Reception on Friday, January 10, at the 3rd Floor Exhibit from 3 to 4 p.m. The FMB Library is at 2755 Estero Boulevard, with hours Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and closed Sundays and Holidays, including January 1 & 20. For Fort Myers Beach Library information, please call 239-765-8162 or see www.FMB.lib.fl.us.

As for what art means to Shea personally, she answers simply and succinctly: “My saving grace!”