Local artist Bob Nickerson gestures to his painting, titled “Yankees Legends,” that graces the walls of the Ponte Vedra Recorder’s offices.
The painting depicts pinstripe legends Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Roger Maris – an odd choice of subject for a Massachusetts native and later Maryland resident who rooted for the Yankees’ arch rivals, the Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles.
“I painted it for a good friend of mine who was a big Yankees fan,” Nickerson recalls. “I was going to surprise him with it. But he became ill suddenly and passed away before he saw it.”
Nickerson’s painting is just one of the many works of art produced by members of his group, First Coast Artists, that adorns the Recorder offices. From seascapes and still lifes to a portrait of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the eclectic collection highlights the diverse talents of the group’s members. And like Nickerson’s Yankees painting, each one has a story behind it.
Artists and friends
Nickerson credits local artist and teacher Gene Barber with the formation of First Coast Artists.
“Gene was an excellent teacher,” he says, adding that a group of artists had been meeting weekly with Barber for 15 or 20 years. “We were all taking classes with him at the beach or wherever we could gather and we became very close.”
Then about eight years ago, Barber was diagnosed with cancer and died. Far from being the end of the group, though, Barber’s passing led to the more formal founding of First Coast Artists.
“Before he died, Gene made a point of saying he hoped we would stay together,” Nickerson says. “Besides, we had all become such good friends!”
Since then, anywhere from 10 to 200 artists gather each Thursday at a church hall in Neptune Beach to paint and socialize. “The group was designed so we can paint together, share ideas and share the common knowledge of our background.”
In addition to welcoming the public to its offices during regular business hours to view the group’s works, the Recorder has exhibited the artworks at special events.
“The Recorder has been very, very nice to us,” Nickerson said. “When they’ve had events or held exhibits, the cost has been borne by the newspaper, which is wonderful.”
The group also has exhibited its works at community and church events, while individual members have shown their works in juried exhibits and other art shows.
Nickeron is quick to note, however, that the primary goal of First Coast Artists members is sharing their works, not selling them.
“It was never designed to be a business,” he says, “but to show the art of our members. If a member should happen to sell a painting, that’s just icing on the cake.”