America’s first settlement. Woah, that has a nice ring to it. Established in 1559, Pensacola has over 450 years of influential character instilled in its soil. Remnants of the five national governments for which the city is so nicknamed can be found around every turn in the city, including its art.
Art is wonderful in the way that it can be almost anything.
The beautiful thing about art is that it has no limits. I am constantly in awe of some of the medium I find being used and the many surfaces that they are scattered, smeared, burned, inlaid; you name it.
This month we’re introducing you to some of our community’s greatest creators, this is Visit Local Pensacola.
Fiore of Pensacola
At the corner of Palafox and Main, a quaint brick building can be found almost whispering to guests as they walk by to enter. Inside, you’ll find luxury candles, witty coffee-table books and any personalized gift imaginable. But if you dare step a little deeper you’ll notice a shiny pair of French doors leading to owner Shannon Palin’s office. From the moment I entered, I felt the calm atmosphere and instantly sensed the creativity she held. Her medium? Living breathing flowers.
“I found my passion in flowers; it was a creative outlet that had a lot of freedoms. There weren’t a lot of boundaries of what you could and couldn’t do. There weren’t a lot of rules.”
Palin found her entryway into the floral business while living in San Diego, California. California is noted as the land of flowers and is said to be a florist’s dream. Here, Shannon soaked up all that she could, learning the logistical basics all the way to the perishability of the flowers. Eager to take on the next step in her career she made her way to New York.
“In that city, I was as green as they come, I was Eloise at the Plaza,” Palin said. The next few years she would find herself bouncing around crafting flowers for the coveted Carlyle Hotel, Preston Bailey Entertainment, Oprah Winfrey and finally Martha Stewart.
“Working for Martha Stewart was a once in a lifetime experience because I learned about television, I learned about magazines, I learned about how to look through a lens and set up a shot, I learned all of the stuff, so that was my school, it was four years, that was my college, that was my training.”
Finally, after taking a trip back to Pensacola during one blustery New York winter, she met her husband and decided to move back to the state of infinite sunshine.
After relocating, Palin spent time bouncing around and eventually settled at Duh Garden & Home. As time went on and they both grew, a mutual understanding developed that the two should separate.
“I went out there and got a business license and picked a name, my husband’s part Italian, it’s an Italian name, Fiore means flower in Italian and just put everything into it and decided to start a flower business and I had a little bit different design style than what was going on in Pensacola at the time so it was kind of fun and interesting to be a new look for this area and that’s how we started to get hired and we literally still have the warehouse that we started in”
Comically nicknamed “Shannon’s Sweatshop” by her mother, husband and friends, the group took Shannon’s dream and turned it into reality. To date, the flower shop has moved out of their garage but they still use the original workshop. Shannon and her talented team service nearly 200 weddings a year, provide floral subscriptions, daily deliveries and so much more.
“The floral business is involved in the events of people’s lives – whether it’s a birth, a birthday, a death, a wedding whatever it is, they’re highly emotional times so we deal with a lot of that, it’s a lovely thing, we’re not saving lives but we’re making them happier.”
To this day Shannon still sees every single client and still gets giddy when the phone rings.
“If I looked back now, I would not have guessed that I would be where I am now. I still I told a client yesterday “how did you find us?” because in my head I still think of us as this small entity and I still hope that the phone rings and I still hope that we make it and so I think that’s part of what keeps me going too, is that I’m still nervous every Saturday that things are going to go exactly as hard as we have worked for it to plan out.”
Sean Rogan Photography
When Sean Rogan walked into my office this past month, he had just gotten off work from his day job at Sysco Gulf Coast. Cool as a cucumber, he began to express to me that this was the first time he had made it over the Pensacola Bay Bridge in months.
An islander by birth, Rogan started his business as a hobby to showcase the unforeseen nooks and crannies that Pensacola Beach offers, his medium: Light and Water.
“I started out taking pictures on Facebook eight years ago. All the sudden I would start getting 100 likes here, 200 likes there and people would start saying stuff about it. I still to this day think all I do is hit the button, I don’t think there’s anything to it.”
At what started as a hobby began to turn into a reality as Rogen’s friends kept encouraging him.
“About four years ago I started using a GoPro Camera and that kind of took it to a different level. Some good friends of mine are big-time artists in this town and they kept encouraging me to do something with it. He got me on board with a company in California which back then they were the only people doing really fine canvas, metal prints and that sort of thing. So, I bit the bullet and spent $1,000 getting all of these big pictures and went to gallery night and sold out. I was baffled.”
And if you didn’t think he was busy enough, around that same time Rogan began sea turtle patrol for the National Park Service. Sean used his time on patrol to capture some of his greatest works. Volunteers and rangers typically search for new nests at sunrise and hatchlings at sunset.
“I do a lot of reflection shots, at sunrise and sunset, there’s a brief moment when the wave comes up where it looks like glass,” Rogan explained. Additionally, his GoPro allows his to get up close and personal with the elements. “The moment I take the picture almost half a second later I’m drenched.”
When asked what it meant being considered an artist he chuckled and said he hated the term because all he does is hit a button. Among his peers and the community is a totally different story. “It’s a pretty tight-knit group. It’s very cool that when I go somewhere people recognize me or if I’m hanging out with Ashton [Howard], to be able to stand next to Ashton and to be considered an artist, to have the same respect is really cool, there’s a lot of really artistic people in this town.”
Currently, on the side of everything else, Rogan owns a print shop, but the goal is to launch Sandbar Lifestyle this Spring. Brought on by his islander lifestyle and the local nickname for Pensacola Beach “The Sandbar,” Sandbar Lifestyle will feature his current print shop, artwork, daily beach and surf reports, sunrises and sunsets and island news.
“My job was brought on by the community,” Rogan said. “I’m passionate about this area because I’ve lived here my whole life and I don’t think people really get out and see what’s really out there and I plan to keep showing that.”
At the end of the day, Rogan is humble. It took me prying it out of him that he’s been featured in National Geographic more than a few times. Aside from that, you won’t find any watermarks on his photos or a needy manager nipping at your heels, but what you will find is the most unique sunset in the whole state.
First City Art Center
For those looking to try their hand at being an artist, First City Art Center (FCAC) is the place to begin. FCAC is a working art center that engages the community through a broad range of workshops, classes, gallery shows, community events, outreach and field trip programs. FCAC's role in the community is unique. The center is an artistic "hatchery" for many forms of art creation including glass, pottery, music and visual arts
I sat down with Managing Director Caitlin Rhea, to find out what it meant to be at the forefront of a community center that based itself in service and acceptance.
“That’s what initially attracted me to the center; it’s very diverse as far as the demographic,” Rhea expressed. “We bring some students in on scholarship from Title One schools and then they’re in Summer camp with a very high profile, it’s amazing to see those kids sitting next to each other and interacting in ways that they aren’t in the same schools, they probably wouldn’t be in the same circle of friends, but here at First City they’re all a part of the same program.”
Children aren't the only demographic the center caters too. Additionally, they have a senior program with United Way, offer classes to all age groups and have partnerships with UWF and PSC for classes and volunteer opportunities.
Volunteering was exactly how she ended up working for FCAC. An artist since her early teens, Rhea earned her Bachelors and Masters in Fine Arts and Ceramics. Following, she accepted a job as an adjunct at Pensacola State College and that’s when she began volunteering for First City on the side. The rest is history.
“I think everybody needs an outlet in their life and that’s very different for people what that outlet means. For me it’s creative projects, so I feel like if we can offer that to the community and help people find that outlet even if they’re not currently aware of what that looks like or what that is, then I feel like that’s a really valid thing to be doing.”
To date, visitors and community members alike can find just about anything imaginable at First City Art Center. One of its largest events that you’ll see in mid-October is the 11th Annual Pumpkin Patch sale. Here, over 4,000 handmade glass pumpkins are fawned over and sold to fundraise for the center. Another event of note is Hot Glass, Cold Brew. Patrons are given the opportunity to purchase handmade glasses that are then filled with beer on tap. The good news is that there are several of these events throughout the Fall and Spring months.
First City Art Center is located at 1060 N Guillemard Street, Pensacola, Fla., 32501.