by Jennifer Yarbrough
We live in a beautiful area. The sandy shores of our local beaches provide sunsets that seem painted across the sky with beautiful pinks, oranges, and blues. The murky depths of the St. Johns River with its flora and fauna beckon us to pause and look and listen and view the beauty of nature. With all of this natural beauty, it is no surprise that local artists are inspired to create!
The two artists profiled below took different paths to find themselves here in Northeast Florida, they use different mediums to express their creativity, but they both have a passion for looking around them, capturing what they see and sharing it with others.
Josh Phares, Valen Artwork, Painter
Josh Phares was born in Orange Park and moved to Jacksonville Beach at six years old, and that was when his love of the ocean, the sea, the beach began. He recalls fondly spending time at the beach as a kid and how his mom bought a boogie board for him and his brother and told them that if they learned how to stand on it and ride it, then they would get a real surfboard---the goal of every beach kid! Well, those days at the beach and the painting of Van Gogh’s, “Starry, Starry Night,” hanging on the wall at home, provided inspiration for the pieces of art that he creates today.
He is an artist that is constantly challenging himself and experimenting with new techniques, what he calls “Happy Accidents,” referring to American Painting legend, Bob Ross. His older works show “stenciled” images of fish and sea turtles on realistic backgrounds, his newer ones, are “non-objective,” a mix of abstract and realistic that “allow your eye to move around the canvas,” a goal of his. His paintings of surfers and the pier and sea life painted in this style hearken back to VanGogh and the Impressionists. He looks to Rick Piper, Paul Jenkins and Jackson Pollock as inspirations, even joking that he sometimes refers to himself as “Jacksonville Pollock.” And one can see the style, colors and subject matter of all three of those artists in Phares work. He currently offers his work through Facebook, “Valen Artwork” and Instagram, valen_art and occasionally offers giveaways. He also takes clients photos and turns them into one-of-a-kind pieces of art. Josh Phares is a creative local artist that paints interesting, unique works of art, reflecting the beauty of our area.
Shannon Dunham, Artist
Shannon Dunham was born and raised in Wisconsin and visited the seashore in Florida for the first time in the 3rd Grade. As they say, once you get the Florida sand in your shoes, you can’t shake it out. and it’s inevitable that you will one day return. She took trips over the years back to Florida with her own daughters and husband, making more memories and falling more in love. After a particularly brutal winter in Wisconsin three years ago, her family decided to make the Sunshine State their permanent home, settling down in Durbin Creek.
In the past two years, the beaches, the nautical history and the old world charm of St. Augustine have provided the inspiration for her jewelry, photographs, painting and crafts. Her jewelry is made from seaglass that she finds on our beaches, wraps with silver and sometimes gold wire and turns into wearable art. Her paintings are inspired by the sea; her painting, “Dark to Day,” is a beautiful representation of dawn over the ocean with soft muted grays and blues and white. She photographs a wide variety of subjects—the sea, birds, historic places in St. Augustine. She looks for the details when taking photos and enjoys shooting with her daughters because she says they tend to stop and see things that adults might miss. An example of this is a beautiful photograph of water droplets on grass that she took, the droplets glisten and gleam and seem like glass up close.
All of her various styles and works of art are limited in production and displayed exclusively at Salty Restorations in Mandarin, ensuring you a unique piece created locally by an artist with a love and passion for our area.
All of my coffee filters were up cycled or re-purposed after serving their original purpose of filtering coffee first. As a wife / mother & homemaker I’ve always been interested in recycling, composting & keeping my input into landfills to a minimum. Fashions are our metaphorical armor we select each day to go out & face the world.
Carol Ann Rice Rafferty, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1956, combines her love of art, history and sewing. As a young girl she enjoyed spending hours listening intently to her mother and grandmothers as they shared childhood memories, sang songs they learned as children, cooked favorite family recipes together, and learned to embroider and construct garments. Her mother had a career in fashion which strongly influenced Carol's interest in design and fashion. Carol sewed and knitted her entire wardrobe during her high school years. Her passion is creating trauqil environments, sewing, cooking, and gardening as an outlet for her artistic energy. She earned her degree in Design from Buffalo State College. She remained at Buffalo State teaching in the Fiber Program as an Adjunct Instructor continuing to build the program, assisting with workshops and introducing new techniques into the fiber program.
Carol's art has recently been published in the book 500 Paper Objects. Her work has been accepted into Fiberarts International 2007, Craftforms 2006 as well as numerous juried shows in Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Carol left her teaching position after two years to study in the graduate Fibers Program at Savannah College of Art and Design. She offers college level classes in fiber reactive dyes, painting, papermaking, shibori, weaving and other fiber techniques at her home studio in Clarence, NY.
"My art is on the bridge between fine art and craft. Thinking of ways to improve designs, experimentation to repurpose materials are my passions. Creating beauty from ashes, designing functional, aesthetically pleasing environments is imperative to me. My art is an extension of myself.”
by Jennifer Yarbrough
The story of St. Augustine Beach-based MERA Surfboards is one of courage, resilience and family. Owner, David “Ben” Tiller’s love of surfing began when he was fifteen years old, but had little opportunity to actually get in the water. As the years went on, he found himself in the US Army, then back home as a husband, father and police officer. Not having the chance to hit the water, he kept up with all things “surfing” through magazines and the internet. During his time as a police officer, he also worked undercover for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. On April 28, 2011, during one of these operations, he found himself in a precarious situation, he and his fellow agents exchanged gunfire with the two criminals and Ben’s femur was shattered.
The shooting, surgery, recuperation and post-traumatic stress counseling all pointed Ben in one direction: the ocean, surfing, and more specifically, surfboard “shaping.” Ironically, it was internet “surfing” while homebound that allowed him to learn more about the time-honored art of surfboard shaping. It was there that he bought a “Build Your Own Surfboard Kit,” and hobbled to the garage on his cane to work on it. This time in the garage was his solace, his escape and his chance to reflect. Thoughts of his family and the water were most important to him and he decided that he would make them a priority. He returned to work as a police officer for a time, shaping as a hobby. Eventually the desire to create boards and share that with others won out and he created MERA Surfboards, with each letter in the name standing for one of his children: Madison, Ethan, Riley and Abigail. It was the thought of his children and the water that helped him through and it is now that sense of family and surfing that he wants to share with the community.
He currently crafts boards out of his garage on St. Augustine Beach, but has plans to open a surf shop, The Shapers Sanctuary, where people can, with the help of himself and Master Shapers, create their own boards. He speaks with passion of being able to paddle out into the sea, at one with mother nature, on a board that you shaped with your own hands. If you would like more information, please visit www.merasurfboards.com, check out “MERA Surfboards” on Facebook or, if you would like to contribute to the “Shapers Sanctuary,” visit www.gofundme.com/merasurfboards.
St. Johns Magazine