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Sea Grape Gallery in downtown Punta Gorda weathered two hurricanes and a recession during the last 35 years and emerged thriving. 

The Marion Avenue gallery celebrated its 35th anniversary Thursday with music, food and celebration, as throngs of admirers, art aficionados, locals and visitors alike filled the space and viewed various exhibits. 

Potter Bonnie Benande, whose functional stoneware reflects Florida’s flora and fauna, coordinated the event catered by local restaurant F.M. Don’s. A bar was set up in the rear outside terrace where guitarists played. 

Inside, Punta Gorda Mayor Lynne Matthews greeted friend Sue Krasny, one 21 artists featured at Sea Grape. Krasny’s art is oil, acrylic and mixed media. 

Exhibits of various mediums were on display, including glassware, jewelry, photography, fiber art, baskets, gourds, stained glass kaleidoscopes and paintings. 

Bob Rioux, a renowned artist with studios in Kennebunkport, Maine, and Punta Gorda, creates kaleidoscopes, which range in price from about $100 up to the thousands. His client list includes author Stephen King and singer Adele. 

Sea Grape was founded in 1988 by seven artists who were part of the Arts Guild, which became the Visual Arts Center that is now in a large building across from Fishermen’s Village. The founding artists applied to become a 501(c)(3) organization, which was the beginning of the gallery, Benande said. 

As Charlotte County grew, so did Sea Grape’s recognition as a place to visit. 

“We have a lot of good support,” Benande said. 

The gallery suffered a major setback when Hurricane Charley hit Aug. 13, 2004, closing it for 15 months. The roof was destroyed, and the artists found themselves without a home to display their creations. 

A local potter with a studio on Taylor Street allowed the gallery to use the space while he was away. The artists of Sea Grape bought cases from a baby shop that was going out of business in Fort Myers, and a makeshift gallery was set up in the studio while repairs were being made to the Marion Avenue location. 

After Hurricane Charley, which destroyed many buildings in Punta Gorda, the city began to rebuild. Within a few years, new hotels arrived in the downtown area, including Four Points by Sheraton and Marriott Springhill Suites, both of which display and sell Sea Grape art. 

The River City Grill and Italia restaurants on Marion Avenue display the art as well. 

Benande said the gallery switches out the pieces from time to time. 

Things slowed during the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009, but Sea Grape again bounced back.   

Hurricane Ian slammed Punta Gorda more than 13 months ago. Once again, the roof failed. “You could see the sky,” Benande said. 

In addition, the large front bay window blew in, closing the gallery for five months. The artists again scrambled to get things back in place once the roof was replaced, and the gallery was reopened. 

The gallery represents a variety of media. Anne Tuttle is known for her colored pencil and silverpoint art. 

When asked how one knows they are an artist, Tuttle said, “You don’t feel right if you don’t do it. You just have the desire to create.” She said she knew at a young age that she was an artist. 

Benande said she knew after she took her first pottery class in 1977 she would continue her craft. 

The gallery is approaching its busy season. With Allegiant Air flying in visitors from out of state, and hotels and restaurants displaying Sea Grape art, many flock to the downtown gallery, which is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 

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