Sanford is so lucky to have an abundance of creative thinkers and artists! Kevin and Debe are no exception. They are five years “new” to Sanford. We caught up with them as they were happily doing something people up North don’t do this time of year – yard work. Read on to find out who introduced them to the area . . .
What do you do?
We are both career artists. Debe is a painter (oil, acrylic, mixed media and pastel). She does abstraction and landscapes. She also makes jewelry. Kevin, “KV,” is a painter and sculptor. Mostly non objective abstraction in the tradition of the “New York School.”
We also enjoy gardening, alternative building and sustainable living. We have an off-grid cabin on six acres in upstate New York where we spend summers. We used to be avid skiers, both Nordic and Alpine, but not so much now that we are here in Florida. Something to do with a lack of mountains and snow. We miss skiing, but not the shoveling.
How did you find your way to Sanford?
My mother and sister conspired to get us down here. My mother (Kevin’s) moved to Lake Mary almost thirty years ago and my sister has a home in Lake Mary. Her husband, Stan Van Gundy, used to coach the Orlando Magic. They are currently in Michigan while he coaches Detroit. They plan to return when he retires.
Anyway, we were looking to go somewhere warmer. We had been in the Syracuse, NY area for over 25 years. We owned a small regional art gallery and frame shop there. We were looking at Asheville, NC, New Mexico and other places. We hadn’t really considered Florida, even though Deb had gone to school in Miami in the early 70’s, but when we saw Sanford it just felt like a good place to be. We fell in love with the “Old Florida” charm. That was five years ago. A year later we moved here.
What was it like being an art ambassador for the State Department?
Wow! That was really something. I remember the day the phone rang. It was an ordinary work day at the gallery. The phone rings and the gentleman says he is calling from the State Department in Washington, D.C.
“Yeah right? Ok, so who is this pulling a prank?”
As he went on I realized he was for real. A local, former New York State Senator had been appointed by the Bush administration to be the ambassador to El Salvador. Senator Barclay and his wife, Dee Dee, had been long-standing customers at our gallery. They had recommended me to the Art in Embassies program. They requested my work. I had not heard of the program before. Shortly thereafter I was asked to submit images and information for the catalog that would be published to accompany the two year exhibition. Sometime later a climate controlled truck arrived and my work that had been selected by the curatorial committee was packed up in rather impressive crates and off it went. The work was on loan to the U.S. Deptartment of State and was displayed at the American Embassy in San Salvador, El Salvador.
Two years later the work came back in the same truck and crate with a nice thank you letter. Ambassador Barclay called a few days later and asked if one of the paintings was available for purchase. They had fallen in love with a painting of the Salmon River which runs through their property in rural Upstate NY. The painting now hangs in their home near Lake Ontario.
The whole experience was wonderful and the media exposure surely didn’t hurt. Every newspaper and magazine in central New York ran a story it seemed.
What do you think the future of Sanford’s art scene looks like?
Well, we think it looks bright. There are already a lot of very talented artists and musicians here. The vibe is here. The bones are here. It’s still relatively inexpensive to buy a home here. These are things that should make this city attractive to artists. There has been some talk of a public art initiative. I think that would be a great move for the city. A good public art program would be one more draw for downtown and the city in general.
Tell us more about your home here in Sanford! We hear it’s very unique.
Our house is one of only a few brick houses in the downtown Sanford area that we are aware of. We are just outside the Historic District but it was built in 1933, making it older than some of the houses inside the district. It is quite unique and has a charm that appealed to us right away. It had been foreclosed on and vacant for a while. It was distressed, but we saw that it had great potential. We have it nearly restored, although there are still some things that need to be done. The chimney pots give it a real English cottage look. Last year we were nominated for a Historic Preservation Award but narrowly missed out. Maybe when we get it all done. Who knows? It was nice just to be nominated.
Our cabin in NY is made from recycled materials and is off-the-grid. We built it ourselves.
For more on their NY cabin, visit Kevin and Debe’s off-the-grid home website here: http://thedragonwoodchronicles.blogspot.com
What is your favorite book?
Last year I (Kevin) was on a Malcolm Gladwell kick. Read a bunch of his work. The most recent book I read was All American, a book about two cadets. One at the Naval Academy and the other in the Army. They played against each other in the Army-Navy game the year before 9/11. They are both commissioned and go on to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. The book follows them through their time at the service academies and their subsequent military experiences. A great book. As an Army veteran I enjoyed it. A far as a favorite book? Not sure, maybe something I read in high school. Always liked anything by Hemingway. Deb likes to read cookbooks if you can believe it, and of course we have a lot of art books.
Positive Friction by Donna the Buffalo. Herd of em? We are big Donna fans. Donna the Buffalo has a group of followers known as “the herd.” We are not quite that extreme. Close. We try to catch their shows whenever we can. They tour Florida every winter.
What is your favorite Sanford event?
Wow. Tough to pick just one. Alive After 5 and the Sanford Art Walk in terms of monthly events, but annually I guess the Love Your Shorts Film Festival would be it. There is always something going on here. That’s one of the things we love about Sanford. Never a lack of things to do.
What does Sanford need?
More businesses downtown. The empty storefronts bother us.
What is Sanford’s greatest area of opportunity?
We both believe that Sanford is a gem and is no doubt on the cusp of busting things wide open. I know gentrification is a dirty word in some circles, but it seems like it is inevitable. Orlando is, according to a recent study, the fifth fastest growing city in the U.S. As the greater Orlando area continues to grow, it’s only a matter of time. We have the waterfront and a wealth of historic buildings. I talk to people daily at the gallery. Many are first time visitors and most are very impressed with our fair city. Growth and development are bound to happen. Hopefully it happens in a positive way that can benefit the city and all who live here.
What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen in Sanford?
Not sure if this is weird, but I guess it was at first. The bird man. The guy that used to ride his bike around with all the exotic birds. Turns out he ran a bird rescue. Haven’t seen him lately. Maybe he moved.
If you were marketing Sanford, what would it’s tagline be?
“Sanford, the Florida you didn’t know existed.”
Maybe not true for some, but I hear it often from visitors and for us it was the case. Before we came here we had a narrow, stereotypical view of Florida. When we thought of Florida, we thought of beaches and theme parks. Obviously there is a lot more, but to folks who lived up north most of our lives, that’s what came to mind.