Among the attributes that make St. Johns County attractive to longtime residents and newcomers alike is its vibrant, diverse and cosmopolitan arts scene. In fact, fine art aficionados have found galleries here that rival those located in major cities. Nowhere is that more apparent than at the Cutter & Cutter Fine Art Galleries.
“You don’t have to go to New York or San Francisco or Chicago to see great artwork,” said Matthew Cutter, co-owner of the family business. “It’s actually right in your backyard.”
Cutter & Cutter has been in business for 22 years, with its primary gallery located in St. Augustine. Four years ago, the family opened a second gallery in Sawgrass Village, just around the corner from Publix Super Market. Each location features work by master artists from around the world. Visitors will encounter still lifes, landscapes, seascapes, etchings and portraits, as well as sculpture, pottery, wood-turning creations and works of blown-glass.
Residents looking for top quality art to display in their homes often turn to Cutter & Cutter, which offers work in a price range that runs from $100 to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Though the work represented by Cutter & Cutter is world class, visitors shouldn’t harbor reservations about whether they are appropriately attired to enter the galleries or whether their knowledge of fine art is lacking.
“We’re so laid back,” said co-owner Mark Cutter. “We want everyone to come in.”
In fact, knowledgeable staff members are eager to share information about the artists and their work.
At the two galleries, art enthusiasts will find work in various styles by artists from Russia, Spain, Albania and more. Most of it is traditional at its core, but some works will be new to many visitors.
One collection that has been very well received in Ponte Vedra has been the work of Jeong and Choon Yun of Korea. They use a 2,000-year-old technique called Hanji. In a process that takes four months, the Yuns turn the bark of the Korean mulberry tree into paper pulp, dye it with synthetic and organic pigments and weave it onto a screen to make abstract images.
“Instead of taking a piece of paper and painting on it, they’re taking the paper pulp and creating the artwork from that, which is really unique, very different,” said Mark Cutter. “The process itself is, for me, the intriguing part.”
Visitors will also find original etchings by surrealist legend Salvador Dali and whimsical artwork by Dr. Seuss, as well as pieces by some of the premier artists working today.
Among them is Spanish painter Navarro, whose stunning seascapes are dynamic and expressive. Born Alfredo Navarro Montllor in 1965, he is the son of an artist and has been painting since age five. He paints in oil on canvas or board. In his work, he seeks to reveal the sea as he perceives it.
Ukrainian painter Dmitri Danish is a year younger than Navarro, is the son of an artist and also began painting at five, but his work is a world apart from that of his contemporary. He prefers to depict cityscapes, with streets, canals, doorways and windows. His strong use of color, light and dark pulls the viewer in, evoking a kind of warmth and coziness. Among his works are several depicting St. Augustine.
Another Spanish painter, Ramon Vilanova, uses a palette knife and bold strokes to create his plein air works. His paintings have won critical acclaim and have been exhibited in museums across Europe.
Works by Albanian-born painter Josef Kote have been called “symphonies of light and color.” His skill as a painter is apparent in the way he balances classic and abstract elements. His paintings tend to be bright and have a freshness about them that appeals to the viewer.
At first glance, Cape Cod artist Anne Packard’s work appears simple: a rowboat on the marsh, a field, a beach. But there’s more here than meets the eye. The colors are often layered in such a way that, as ambient light dims or brightens, the character of the image is subtly transformed. For that reason, they might be best displayed in areas of the home where the day’s evolving sunlight can bring out these qualities.
Handcrafted jewelry by Kim Lotton uses colorful pieces of hand-polished glass. The designs and shapes are often surprising and eye-catching. Each item is unique.
Bronze sculptures by California artist Paige Bradley depict the human form in kinetic poses with astounding detail but without giving in to literalistic constraints. Like many artists, Bradley began showing her talent at an early age and cast her first bronze work at the age of 17. She was assistant sculptor on a monument for the Atlanta Olympic Games and in 2014 exhibited more than 40 works at a major American exhibition.
Pastel artist Lyn Asselta depicts rugged places that invite the individual viewer to imagine an accompanying narrative. A plein air artist, she depicts nature and landscape in her work. In 2009, she was an artist in residence for the National Park Service at Acadia National Park in Maine. Asselta lives and works in St. Augustine.
Many other artists, working in a variety of styles and media, also have art at the Cutter & Cutter galleries, including Matthew Cutter, an accomplished artist in his own right.
Of course, Cutter & Cutter is also known for its special events, even when accommodations must be made during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
If you’ve never seen a Goo-Goo-Eyed Tasmanian Wolghast, a Sea-Going Dilemma Fish or the extremely rare Sludge Tarpon, it’s not too late to add this experience to your bucket list.
These and other mirthful mountings from Dr. Seuss’s “Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy” are on exhibit now through Sept. 15 at the Cutter & Cutter gallery in Sawgrass Village. The show is called “If I Ran The Zoo” after the title of one of Theodor Geisel’s whimsical children’s books.
Dr. Seuss created his curious menagerie of unheard-of creatures in the 1930s from antlers, bills and horns of animals that had passed away at a zoo where Geisel’s pop had worked. The Cutter & Cutter exhibit features faithful reproductions of these elusive critters.
Chase Art Group is the exclusive art representative for “The Art of Dr. Seuss,” of which these three-dimensional wonders are a part.
In November, the Cutter & Cutter gallery in St. Augustine will host the National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society’s 30th anniversary show. This is a juried exhibition that will feature 150 paintings from a field of thousands of entries.
“It’s not an easy show to get into,” said Mark Cutter.
Ideally, the current situation with the pandemic will subside by that time and the gallery will be able to allow groups to gather again.
“Hopefully, the November show will be live, in-person, where artists can come in,” Mark Cutter said.
If social distancing protocols are still in place, the gallery may choose to go with an online presence.
On January 22 and 23, the St. Augustine gallery will feature works by the Akhriev family: Daud, wife Melissa Hefferlin and son Timur Akhriev. All three have studied art in the Russian academic tradition. One of the pieces by Daud Akhriev, at 14-by-7 feet, will be the largest painting Cutter & Cutter will have ever displayed. It is titled “His World” and depicts a Moroccan fisherman lounging in a rowboat amidst a flock of seagulls and apparently unruffled by the encircling entropy.
Matthew Cutter described the works of Daud Akhriev.
“A lot of what he does are fishermen surrounded by seagulls,” he said. “(Akhriev) says it’s kind of emblematic of chaos. He said every time you see these fishermen come ashore, they smell like fish and the seagulls are going nuts around them. You and I would try to swat them away, but they just walk along like nothing’s happening. He likes that as a metaphor for what’s going on today.”
THE HOME GALLERY
Cutter & Cutter is more than a place to view great art. It’s also a place to purchase it.
Matthew Cutter called art in the home “critical.”
“Art, music, all the different disciplines, they kind of mark times and show us the best of what we have to offer,” he said. “Especially in times like this, it’s really profound to be able to look at something that maybe makes a statement about the time — or maybe it’s just so darn beautiful to look at: the way the light hits some object, the way the artist has captured it.”
Mark Cutter summed this up with a quote by Picasso: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
His brother said the thing that sets Cutter & Cutter apart is its customer service.
“We really pride ourselves on going above and beyond,” Matthew Cutter said. “We say it all the time: We want to earn your business and let us prove to you that we can do that.”
Cutter & Cutter brings artwork to the customer’s home, installs it and even offers lighting recommendations.
“We try to do it first-class from top to bottom,” said Matthew Cutter.
The galleries have been doing more in-home showings recently due to COVID-19 concerns. Cutter & Cutter has even held private appointments, closing down for a period to allow clients to visit without exposure to the general public.
“We’re just doing whatever works for people’s comfort level,” said Mark Cutter.
Cutter & Cutter Fine Art gallery at 333 Village Main St. in Ponte Vedra is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.
The St. Augustine gallery at 25 King St. is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday -Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.