SoWal Spotlight: The Artists at Gulf Place

February 6, 2012 by Tom McGee

An old, gray tabby cat and I basked in the warm sun, relaxing in one of the well-crafted wooden chairs for sale at the Artist Village at Gulf Place, while I waited to talk to some of the artists. 

If you're looking for art by imaginative local artists, you need to visit the cabanas of the talented artists at Gulf Place. This enterprise, inspired by local potter Dwight Ward, in cooperation with the forward-thinking management of Gulf Place, commenced business in a small way 11 years ago. Thanks to Dwight and the management team at Gulf Place, nine artists now have tastefully-designed, permanent quarters. 

Dwight, a burly guy with long hair, a meticulously coiffed gray beard, and playful blue eyes, has been making pottery for twenty years now. He throws durable, utilitarian stoneware, glazing it in muted greens and blues. Many of his works are large, beyond the ability of most potters to throw. On special occasions he will do Raku demonstrations where the pots emerge from the firing flashing iridescent, metallic colors. In keeping with Dwight’s whimsical, jovial personality one can find humorous ceramic sculptures and melted glass ornaments in his well-stocked shop. Multi-colored glass wind chimes dangle from the ceiling and tinkle in the breeze. I am especially fond of the iridescent ceramic fish, turtles and crabs that adorn the wall of his cabana.

When asked “How did you get into pottery”?” Dwight drawls with a deep bass southern accent, “My sister and her husband were doing pottery up in Pell City, Alabama. While working there as an iron worker erecting metal buildings, I was helping them out firing their pottery and delivering it to customers. I liked what they were doing and had had enough of being an iron worker. They taught me the basics of how to throw, glaze and fire pottery. I moved to Walton County and went on to study pottery at Okaloosa-Walton Junior college in Niceville for four years.”

Dwight set up his own pottery studio on the north shore of Choctawhatchee Bay at Jolly Bay, which is now a part of the town of Freeport. Over the years Dwight has sold his wares at local craft shows and at Seaside. Eleven years ago, the management of Gulf Place encouraged Dwight to solicit other painters, sculptors, photographers, jewelers and other crafts-people to sell their creations on the grounds. It soon became apparent that the artists required quarters more permanent than just tents--which had to be dismantled each night. Imaginative Gulf Place managers agreed and built nine sturdy, whimsically-designed metal cabanas where artists could set up permanent shops. The construction resulted in the small village known as “The Artists At Gulf Place”.

Artist Wendy Ridley calls her cabana “Salty Sisters”. When one steps into her space, immediately notices paintings of mermaids with a mystical quality about them. Wendy also specializes in black and white photography. I was amused by the tastefully done pastille signs that proclaimed such messages as “Mermaid X-ing”, “Peace”, and my favorite, “A Spoiled Rotten Dog Lives Here.” Wendy creates personal signs and murals by appointment. She can be reached at (850) 830 2295 or e-mail

Wendy, who was raised outside Huntsville, Alabama, has loved art ever since her mother introduced her to stained glass painting at age eleven. Wendy studied drawing at Calhoun Community near Decatur, Alabama, before moving to South Walton eleven years ago. She has been an artist at Gulf Place since last June.

Wendy describes her art work as “Fun and Funky with a Fantasy flavor”. She adds, “Art gives me a sense of peace and serenity.” 

After completing a degree in interior design, Patti Schlotterlein became acclaimed as a designer specializing in Faux Finishings. She claims that she no longer cares for climbing up on tall ladders to accomplish this task.  Instead, she moved to South Walton County a year and half ago to be inspired by the tranquility and beauty of the seashore.

Her work demonstrates the depth of inspiration of the emerald coast on her art. Patti employs some of the same techniques she used in Faux Furnishings to create glittering works of art on canvas. She primes the canvas with a plaster-like substance, then imbeds found bits of recycled glass and sea shells which she gathers on the beach. This gives her works of art a three dimensional quality. A final translucent glazing allows light to bounce off the painting in a most delightful manner.

At her Cabana Cabana shop, she also sells glass ornaments containing small sea shells and silver beach sand that would be perfect for Christmas ornaments from our part of the world.

Patty likes to think of her work as “Making Peace From Broken Pieces”.

Husband and wife team Wendy Mignot and Jean-Noel market their elegant handcrafted jewelry both at Blue Water Jewelry in Gulf Place and at La Vie Est Belle in Seaside. The creative couple started designing and creating their one-of-a-kind jewelry in 1994. Back then they lived like gypsies aboard their sailboat, traveling to exotic ports and selling their unique jewelry before embarking toward the next destination.

The handsome pieces the couple design and create are fabricated from hand-rolled leather and Tahitian, South Sea Fresh Water Pearls. This beautiful jewelry would appeal to women of all eras. In my humble opinion, guys wishing to impress their gals will find 
these objects of art to be the perfect gift.

The Santa Rosa Beach Tee Shop Store carries a broad range of creatively designed, colorful shirts with logos extolling the virtues of all our beautiful communities along the scenic highway we call 30A. This is a must stop for visitors to our part of paradise.

John Hollan photographs both families and landscapes. His landscapes are breath-taking. John’s beach scenes captures the splendor of the twenty-four miles of beautiful beaches which both visitors and residents of South Walton County are so lucky to enjoy year around. John also offers affordable cards and tee shirts that display images he has captured on this camera.

Maxine Orange received her degree in art and graphic design at the University of Alabama, then moved to New York City to practice her skills. She brought her work to affluent Orange County in California before relocating to our area. This articulate young artist does abstract paintings on large canvasses.

Some of her canvasses are converted into attractive handbags that will appeal to women with a sense of adventure.

After the devastating tornado that destroyed much of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, citizens created a nonprofit organization called “Alabama Forever Foundation” to assist needy folks in the area of destruction. Maxine has designed and sells a small pendant for the foundation with the profits all going to this worthy cause.

At the cabana called Chastane, the nickname artist Christina Lee has gone by since childhood, one can readily see that Christina’s art is inspired by music. She signs her work “Chastane”. Christina is presently working on her masters degree in education from the University of West Alabama so she can pursue a career as a teacher of art to children.

Born in Mississippi, Christina moved here two years ago from Demopolis, Alabama, with her six-year-old son, Jackson. This young artist proclaims, “I am a southern girl born and bred. Since moving here I feel like I am living my dream. I live in a mini-paradise doing what I love. I am in an art environment, doing art and and helping kids find an art outlet.” 

Christina’s work involves the difficult technique of reverse painting on glass. But her art does not appear on just any old kind of glass. She leaves old window frames in the state she finds them, then paints her abstract beauties in reverse on the glass panes themselves--a task that requires extraordinary talent. This classy art work would be a complement to any comfortable beach house.

At Wild Dyes, the shopper for art can find what the name implies. Kris Ogden has a vast collection of clothing that she has dyed with colors which lift the spirits just to look at. Kris not only offers the traditional tee shirts, in her shop one can find pants, jackets, hats and scarfs. If you are feeling a little blue some day, just visit Kris’s shop for a uplifting treat.

Each Thursday night, Christina Lee and Maxine Orange conduct adult art classes they call “ARTISTIC SPIRITS” at Gulf Place. This is a playful experience where the artists invite the public to bring their own “spirits”, so they can learn in a relaxed, convivial atmosphere. These two artists also conduct private lessons by appointment and Christina offers lessons for children by appointment.

To sign up for “ARTISTIC SPIRITS” or arrange for private lessons contact Christina or Maxine at: 337 344 6659, 714 658 9491,

Before I left, the artists reminded me of the Mardi Gras block party at Gulf Place on Saturday, February 18, from noon until 8PM. As one would would say in Cajunland of Louisiana, “Come on out and pass a good time with The Artists at Gulf Place”.


Tom McGee's picture

Judge Tom was born in North Louisiana but his family moved to New Orleans, The City That Care Forgot, when he was nine years old. He likes to say he was born a Redneck, but raised a Creole. He has spent half his life in courtrooms as a trial lawyer, prosecutor and judge.

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