Christmas morning of 2008 was a bit unique for me. As I opened presents in my mother-in-law’s living room in Huntsville, Alabama, everything seemed pretty normal. Then it happened. I opened an envelope that I didn’t expect. Scott had coordinated with his mom for her to watch the girls while he and I escaped for a couple of days to Destin, Florida. While it might not seem like a big deal for adults to plan a getaway, this was new to me. When we moved back to Iowa, my parents flew to California and escorted the girls while Scott and I took turns driving a van full of valuables and our three dogs to our new home. Aside from that, I hadn’t left them in anyone’s care. Scott would travel for work and I would stay home with the kids. As for me… well, I didn’t travel unless they were with me. From the time the girls were born until that Christmas, Scott and I hadn’t been able to enjoy any quality time alone.
The weather was what you would expect of the Florida panhandle in late December: cool and breezy. We found time to enjoy the sunsets, but during the day we would get behind the wheel and explore with no plans and no destination in our pre-Yelp days. We stumbled across a small town along Highway 98 that offered a quaint downtown with a handful of restaurants and a courtyard filled with small bungalow-style shops. We perused them before continuing our adventure down the highway. As we took a bend in the road, we noticed a quaint cottage with a sign in front. We turned around to see what it was and were delighted to learn it was an art studio!
We made our way inside and met Justin Gaffrey who welcomed us into his very messy studio. As we toured his facility, we couldn’t help but notice how it looked like a thousand cans of colorful stucco had exploded all over. The place was caked in the special formulation of media that he used to create his beautiful artwork. Mr. Gaffrey took time from his schedule to chat with us about how he mixed together his own batches of acrylic paints to create a thick, pliable paste that he was able to mold into amazing, 3-dimensional artwork. He explained that he would wipe his tools onto whatever surface to clean them and it wasn’t unusual for surfaces to end up with a huge buildup of paint on them. I vividly recall how his workbench was several inches thicker than it should have been and pretty much everything else in the room, including the coffee pot, was equally coated.
Fast forward to this past December. We booked a VRBO and spent the holiday with my in-laws in a beach area east of Destin. Once again, we spent our days soaking up the sunshine and exploring the area. One day, we headed to the nearby town for ice cream and Scott and I recognized the familiar artist bungalows in the courtyard. We asked the rest of the family if they would mind seeking out the studio with us and they all agreed. A short distance down the road, we once again discovered the small cottage, this time with a new front entryway and an outdoor sculpture garden. When we walked inside, we learned this was no longer Justin Gaffrey’s working studio. A front window-filled showroom was added and now home to a gallery of his many works of art. A design associate at Justin Gaffrey Gallery informed us that his new studio is a larger facility elsewhere in the city. I found a postcard that offered all the details on the studio, the gallery and the artist’s creations.
Despite the transformation of what we knew as the studio into a gallery, we were pleased to see that remnants of what it used to be remained. In addition to walls still coated in what is now a permanent tribute to the original studio, we found the old sink, covered with several inches of acrylic composite. While it may have seemed out of place amidst the vibrant works of art, I knew it belonged there and it made me smile to see it.
One of my memories of our first visit is that the studio was very dark. The new gallery is equipped with fantastic lighting showcasing a variety of floral, landscape and lifestyle paintings by Justin Gaffrey. This was a huge improvement, brightening things up and giving the paintings the justice they deserved.
As we walked around the showroom, I couldn’t help but think about how this gallery had been in the back of my mind since the original visit. I’ve told so many people about it over the years and often tried to look up the name based simply on what I could remember of that drive along the highway a decade ago. Stumbling across the place once was a surprise, finding it a second time was an absolute delight.
We didn’t have room in our vehicle to bring a piece of Justin Gaffrey artwork home on this trip, but you can bet that I’ll plan accordingly during our next visit to the area. If you find yourself nearby, be sure to stop by and check it out. Who knows… maybe one of these days we’ll even see Justin Gaffrey’s paintings featured in an art-themed board game!
Have you ever seen this style of artwork?