On Saturday, September 29, I attended the funeral service for artist Jerry Vallez in Naples. I didn’t know him well, we met years ago when he was painting at the City Dock at Crayton Cove (before Tin City, and before the Dock Restaurant) and I was a teenager with high aspirations of being an artist. He was cordial, sweet actually, if maybe not a wee bit salty, and over the years I made it a point to stop into his various Naples galleries for a chat and to view his latest paintings.
I learned something from Jerry during those few visits that spanned 40 years, as much about the art of living as painting – probably more, although the two are inseparable to me. He had an amazing life, but it’s not my intention to discuss that here – other area newspapers have already covered much of his biography.
I want instead to discuss the effect he had on others, and the arts scene that spread about him. At least a dozen studios and galleries have blossomed in the Cove neighborhood; Phil Fisher and Natalie Guess, Paul Arsenault, and Nora Butler are but a few. I always felt a strong sense of ‘family‘ at these venues – artists sharing ideas and working together towards common goals; it‘s not always like that in the art world. [One night a month the galleries all throw their doors open for Art After Dark, an evening centered around art and music, and flavored with hors d’oeuvres and a bit o’ liquid cheer. It’s a relaxed and delightful event and I strongly urge you to mark your calendars: 2nd Saturday every month from 7 until 9PM…or the liquid runs out.]
At the funeral I wasn’t surprised to see many of the pews of St. Ann’s Church seated with artists – many of whom I did not know, but there were artists all right – in the parking lot afterward there was hugging and hand-shaking and groupings, and how-you-been‘s, long-time-no-see‘s, and we-gotta-get-together-more‘s, phrases oh so prevalent at funerals. Later, a celebration of Jerry’s life was held on the verandah of The Dock and there a tight-knit community sat (or strayed) sharing stories both heartfelt and hilarious. There is something so precious being surrounded by people you care about, who care about you, who are of like minds and kindred spirits, and who all share a mutual purpose for being in that one place at the same time. A community built on love (and, in this case, art) is a holy place. Right now there is a hole in our community, and on that day we filled it with each other.
I certainly didn’t go with the intention of writing about the experience, but I was once again reminded how often it is only because of someone’s passing that we gather our community around us like a loving blanket, and share so much of ourselves. The thought grew as from a seed until I simply could not resist urging you to hold your loved ones closely, tenderly; make time for your dear friends, your family; pay attention to your community. Today.
What was it I learned from my few encounters with Jerry? That I, like him, and like you, am an individual, that I need heed only my own heart, live my own life, and follow my own dreams. Big stuff for a little girl, but for my dime the most important – and perhaps the most difficult – life lesson there is. Today, these words from Oscar Wilde are stamped all over my art studio: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”
Good-night, Jerry Vallez, and thank-you.
Tara O’Neill, a lifelong, award-winning, artist has been an area resident since 1967. She holds degrees in Fine Arts and English from the University of South Florida and currently works at her home studio-gallery on Marco Island. Visit www. taraogallery.com