Artist develops talent along the road less traveled

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If there’s a well-worn path that artists typically take to develop their talents, Charlotte S. Chastain didn’t follow it.

Her background is varied and surprising, and perhaps therein lies the secret to her unique works. If art imitates life, her paintings have rich source material.

Though painting seriously since she was about 20 years old, the roots of her art go back much further.

“It’s a passion of mine that I’ve had ever since I was a child,” she said.

As a young woman in the 1970s, she earned an associate’s degree at a school in Virginia and then went on to become a business major at the University of Georgia.

However, she got married her senior year and left college. She had two children and later moved to Atlanta, where she worked as a legal secretary for major law firms.

The work was “very, very, very, very hard,” but it taught her some key skills in grammar and punctuation that would prove beneficial years later when, as a volunteer for the First Coast Cultural Center, she would be tasked with editing all of the nonprofit’s communications.

Throughout it all, she continued to paint and had one-woman shows while living in Atlanta.

In 2000, her life took a new direction. As an empty nester, she moved to Ponte Vedra. Four years later, she finished her education, graduating magna cum laude from the University of North Florida. She also studied painting and art history in Rome with the Rhode Island School of Design.

After that, she went a whole new direction.

“I decided after I got my degree I didn’t want to go back and be a legal secretary or administrative assistant,” she said. “I decided I would become a merchant marine.”

She attended The Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education, which is affiliated with the Seafarers International Union, in Piney Point, Maryland. It took her a year to get all of her Coast Guard endorsements, but then she set sail with the U.S. Merchant Marine for the next decade. She traveled all over the world, cooking aboard ship.

But that didn’t mean giving up her art.

“I would paint from different sites around the world,” she said.

When her world tour ended, Chastain returned to Ponte Vedra where she enjoys painting and gardening. In fact, a Master Gardener, one of her favorite subjects is flowers, and she likes to sit in her garden and paint.

But her talents don’t stop there. She also does needlepoint and chair caning, a skill she learned from a master craftsman in 1976 as a young woman back in her hometown of Thomasville, Georgia.

She also enjoys playing her great-grandmother’s baby grand piano and volunteering at the First Coast Cultural Center. At this year’s Beaches, A Celebration of the Arts, she was recognized as the nonprofit’s Volunteer of the Year.

“She comes in the studio every Thursday to edit our outgoing communications,” said Cultural Center Executive Director Donna Guzzo. “She is a student of master artist Ellen Diamond here at the First Coast Cultural Center.”

This week, Chastain’s work is the subject of an exhibit at the center.

“Charlotte is a fabulous artist who we are delighted to showcase on May 26 with an opening exhibit,” said Guzzo.

The show features some of Chastain’s earliest paintings and work she’s done all the way up through today.

“I wanted to show my progression and my love of watercolors,” she said.

She also hopes to include one of her unfinished chair caning projects to reveal that part of her skillset.

The exhibit went up on Tuesday, May 24, and will be on display through Friday, May 27. The opening is 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 26. It is free and open to the public.

The First Coast Cultural Center is located at 3972 3rd St. South, Jacksonville Beach.

For further information, go to firstcoastculturalcenter.org/exhibitions/current-exhibitions.

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