Someone asked me recently what I love about the beach. It was then I realized why I’ve always gravitated to the nearest body of water. The Great Lakes stay cool, even in the dead of summer; the Atlantic Ocean’s waves make me feel like a little kid, no matter my age; the Gulf of Mexico is warm and clear, reminding me of the Caribbean Sea, the most beautiful body of water I’ve ever seen.
Despite their differences, every shore I’ve walked along has made me feel like I’m at standing at the earth’s end. At night, the contrast between the dark water and the star-filled sky puts me right at the edge of space. More importantly, the beach has always been a fertile hunting ground. Whether I’m gathering colorful beach glass on the rocky shores of Lake Erie or sand dollars and conch shells here in Florida, I take advantage of this plentiful natural resource to build a stockpile of art supplies. I’ve spent hours at a time combing the shore-line; it’s a peaceful thing.
Unfortunately, what I collect rarely gets to realize its full potential. Today, a decade of my gathered beach bounty fills storage bins in my shed, only seeing the light of day to be picked through by visitors from up north wanting cool Florida souvenirs. I am more inclined to get creative with the English language rather than a glue gun and glitter, and admittedly, have given the contents of those storage bins very little consideration until now.
A recent visit with 25-year Goodland resident and multi-faceted artist Judy Wittwer made me realize just how much someone inspired and driven to create could do with such a collection. She started her company, Judy, Judy, Judy Inc., 12 years ago, but has expressed herself through art as far back as she canremember. Born and raised in a New York City suburb, she recalls spending hours at a time in the woods near her home as a child, collecting odds and ends and later transforming them into art projects.
She moved to Marco Island with her two daughters in 1985 and continued that tradition. Beach combing became a much-loved, fun family activity, and the Gulf shore proved to be a smorgasbord of intricate seashells and countless other exotic treasure just resting in the sand, begging for Judy’s artistic touch.
“Growing up the way I did gave me an appreciation for nature. I love shells; they’re a natural resource,” said Judy. “And I just love the way the beach makes me feel; I like the quiet and listening to the waves.”
She began adorning everyday items with the interesting things she found at the beach, and sold her pieces at local craft fairs, one of which was Goodland’s annual Christmas Bazaar. She decided to make Goodland her home in 1994, and joined the Goodland Arts Alliance soon after. From her elaborate wall collages to her illuminated, shell-embellished glass blocks and similarly decorated wine and tequila bottles, aptly named “tipsy luminaries,” Judy’s shell art decorates homes all over Goodland and beyond.
These days, Judy keeps busy working in Goodland, pursuing other artistic outlets like her faux painting, volunteering for local non-profit organization For the Love of Cats and holding workshops around local Marco Island timeshares. She instructs up to 14 people per session as they make their own shell art. Last year, she offered a workshop here in Goodland; she said it was such great fun that she hopes to do more this year.
She provides all of the materials to complete a project in one-and-one-half to three hours, depending on the project. Thetipsy luminaries and beach comber hats can be finished in the least amount of time, while a wall collage can take a bit longer. In addition to the glue guns, shells, beads, glass, lights, netting and ribbon she brings to her workshops, she also encourages people to use trinkets of their own.
So many of us have some long-forgotten find, maybe a heart-shaped rock we kept but never found a use for. Having my own vast, aforementioned collection of beach treasure but little to no artistic vision, I’m thankful for any opportunity to use some of my shells. It’s a welcome bonus that time spent with someone like Judy tends to inspire me with ideas for future projects as well.
“I’ve always been like this; I can’t even remember everything I’ve done art-wise, but if you’re an artist you keep evolving,” said Judy. “I’ll continue to evolve and pursue whatever interests me; it always changes. Inspiration hits, and I imagine a new thing to do; but that’s what keeps it fun and exciting.”
Some of Judy’s artwork can be seen in Marco Island at Shells by Emily, Blue Mangrove Gallery, China Rose Florist and in the gift shop at the Marco Island Center for the Arts, in the ship store at the Goodland Boat Ramp as well as on display at the Little Bar, and in Naples at Nora Butler Designs.
She will also be at the GAA Arts and Crafts Fair on January 25.
For more information about Judy’s work, contact her at 239-877-2781 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Melinda Gray studied journalism and political science at Youngstown State University in Ohio. Before relocating, she wrote for The Vindicator and The Jambar in Youngstown, and is currently a contributing writer for an emergency preparedness website. Melinda now lives in Goodland with her two children. She can be contacted at email@example.com or 239-896-0426