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Historic structure returns to its roots this weekend

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image Artist Jerry Pontes (right) and Conrad Peterson (left), owner of the property, discuss various pieces to be exhibited this weekend. Melody Jameson Photo

“Why go the conventional route, when you can chart new ground?”

By MELODY JAMESON

RUSKIN – Most working artists aiming for an appreciative audience seek out an appropriate gallery frequented by that certain type of art aficionados.

Maybe something on the funky side in New York City for the Andy Warhol followers. Or perhaps a place in more staid Seattle for those devoted to Thomas Kinkaid. Or, there’s always glass and chrome Dallas where eclectic tastes embrace a whole range of styles.

But no, not Jerry Pontes, the painter of seascapes with lighthouses firmly anchored underwater and of structures whose windows on the world resemble eyes that just may see and of Manta Rays so realistic they appear ready to float off the canvas.

“Why go the conventional route, when you can chart new ground,” he says with the kind of offhand nonchalance a young and definitely unconventional Jack Kerouac might have displayed. Especially when you can, at least for a weekend, take a restored historic house back to its roots.

Pontes, who calls Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, home base, has brought his line of “Twisted Fish” driftwood sculptures and shore scenes in acrylic on canvas to the setting in Ruskin where local artistic endeavor began — the music, drama and arts center of the first Ruskin College that now is the home of dancer and choreographer Conrad Peterson.

And, in a twist on the usual gallery showing but definitely more appropo to the subject, Pontes’ “Twisted Fish” will “swim” in all of their brightly colored glory outdoors around the property, he said last week.

The showing is slated for 10 AM to 3 PM on Friday, May 18, and Saturday, May 19, at 410 4th Avenue SW, west of the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce office in downtown Ruskin. It is open to the general public at no charge.

Peterson, whose career as a choreographer included work for the late Michael Jackson, several years ago bought the former college arts center that also had housed some of Ruskin’s most notable citizens. He was committed to restoring the structure with as much authenticity as possible in what he has called “a real labor of love… sometimes more labor than love.”

While updating kitchen and bathrooms to meet 21st century standards, Peterson also has set out on the ground floor an array of antiques collected during his travels through several continents. In addition, he made an unexpected but equally historic installation behind the original large red brick fireplace that warmed Ruskin College students nearly a century ago.

The first floor of the house, which the former dancer admits was at times a source of frustration and picked up the nickname “Misery Mansion,” will be open for a conducted tour on Friday afternoon and again on Saturday afternoon, he said, “barring bad weather.”

Pontes’ outdoor exhibit of combined woodcraft and works on canvas is “today’s perfect counterpoint” for the restored college arts center, Peterson noted. “His somewhat warped sense of humor that can be so evident in his art and is so contemporary showcases the historic house by going to the opposite extreme,” he added.

Not unlike other artists who have been attracted to the road less traveled, Pontes has explored many occupations in his life, he said. He has piloted commercial fishing vessels, built boats, bought, repaired and sold furnishings from eras past and “bummed around” several countries, he added, often sketching as he went. “I’m probably a vagabond and a rebel first, with a little mystic and thinker mixed in,” he summed up.

The artist, who has exhibited his work in other Florida locales, including Key West and Cedar Key, said he plans to remain in Ruskin through May.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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