3305 West County Highway, 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459

Phone: (850) 687-0399

The Area’s New Fine Arts Destin(ation)

Guests to Florida’s Panhandle visit for a lot of reasons. The sugar-white sands and crystal clear waters at the beach are at the top of any list. The relaxing lifestyle promised — whether for a few days or even longer — is also an obvious choice. Add in the best in Gulf Coast dining, shopping and entertainment and it’s a sure-fire recipe for vacation success.
​​​​​​​Jason Lindblad is hoping tourists and locals alike will add one more thing to that list: Art.

The namesake behind the new J.Leon Gallery + Studio, located at 13370 U.S. Highway 98 in Miramar Beach, Lindblad is finally realizing a dream that began when he was just a toddler.

“We were born with a vision to make fine art attainable for everybody,” said Lindblad, himself an artist who focuses on traditional drawings and digital illustration. “We wanted to create a unique experience that wasn’t available in the Destin area so far.”

Situated on U.S. 98 beside McCaskill & Company in the former Bontemps Interiors building, the gallery houses nearly 5,000 square feet of exhibit space, with an additional 600 square feet of studio space in the rear of the building. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., visitors to the gallery will see work from local artists including Lindblad, Kathy Schumacher, Skip Deems, Marian Pacsuta, Mary Redmann, Donnelle Clark and Jenna Varney. The current show is the gallery’s first, curating pieces from relationships built as a result of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County.

Lindblad had been living and working in Atlanta, where it became more about the “daily grind” and less about his art. He began to feel unsettled there and missed his family, Shawn and Richard Tomasello, who live full-time in Sandestin.

“I was like, ‘OK, what’s going on. Why don’t I like Atlanta anymore? I never see my family,'” Lindblad said. “So, I realized that I needed to sort of adjust and rearrange what was important for me. Work had been ‘plan A’ and art had been ‘plan B.’ Art needed to be ‘plan A.'”

Lindblad, 35, admitted the thought of that adjustment brought a bit of trepidation.

“It was a little bit scary. You know, this is going to be a complete life adjustment, but it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I got involved with the Cultural Arts Alliance and it’s just been such a blessing to work privately as an artist and work with my family and be with my family down here. It’s just been awesome.”

Lindblad’s mother, Shawn Tomasello, has even given herself a title in the new gallery: “Happiest Mom in America.”

“Jason has been focused on his passion of art since probably four years old. He was very small when we realized he had an incredible, God-given talent. He was drawing Belle from ‘Beauty and the Beast’ with all of her details,” Tomasello recalled. “This has been a career dream of his and it’s really just a blessing, as a mom, to see one of your adult children realize their dream.

“I also think we’re really lucky to be able to support other artists in the community and help make their art available. It helps the artists, it helps the community and we all profit from cultural and emotional satisfaction.”

The property that now houses the J.Leon Gallery was introduced to the family by agents at Scenic Sotheby’s International Realty.

“It was just fun to listen to their vision and help them find the perfect spot,” Jo Stewart said. “The excitement of bringing this to the community and what a generous gift it is for all of us was great to be a part of.”

One of the artists Lindblad met through the CAA was Megan Patterson, who serves as the gallery’s studio director and ceramics instructor. Patterson, who holds a bachelor’s degree in ceramics from Oklahoma State University, will lead a variety of classes and manage the open studio for beginners to advanced ceramic artists. (You can learn more about the class schedule here.)

“Clay is such a therapeutic medium to work with and I think it’s important to give people access to that,” she said. “Our classes will occupy a small space, which I think gives a more individualized, very intimate feel.”

Lindblad’s formal education came by way of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta.

True to his calling in opening the gallery, a trip through the space reveals that Lindblad’s favorites are abstract pieces in bold, graphic, contrasting shades of black and white. He points to Donnelle Clark’s “Black and White Dream” and Kathy Schumacher’s “Menagerie.” Patterson is drawn to Clark’s colorful “Granny’s Hanky.” Both remark about “Visit South Walton 2019 Artist of the Year” Jenna Varney for her hyperrealism, a type of painting with such vivid detail that it resembles a photograph. Pottery from noted ceramics artist Skip Deems occupies an entire wall.

It’s in keeping with the mission of the gallery to create a space that offers a broad, eclectic appeal.

“This first show is definitely something for everyone, but we might do a strictly abstract show or entirely reds at some point,” Lindblad said. “We want to give those artists out there that are creating things that are different the opportunity to show in this area.”

J.Leon Gallery + Studio’s fall show will begin in October. Artists interested in submitting their work are encouraged to visit the gallery’s website prior to the review process by the gallery’s visual committee in August. Lindblad said he plans to host First Fridays, artist workshops and other events in the coming months.

Written by Beth Hendricks on June 8, 2020

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