Photography by Brenna Kneiss
Each spring, the area from Mexico Beach to Carrabelle, Florida, plays host to over a hundred artists who travel there for the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air (also known as America’s Great Paint-Out) and the Plein Air South conference. Their subjects have included the gorgeous coastal landscapes and wildlife, the area’s charming homes, inns, and businesses, and even the local people. This year, some of the artists were no doubt concerned about what they might find since Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm, ripped across the Florida Panhandle on October 10 last year.
The devastating hurricane made landfall directly on the small town of Mexico Beach and wiped out nearly all the homes and businesses there, but it was not the only 2018 disaster that affected the one-hundred-mile region nicknamed the Forgotten Coast. A controlled burn turned into a wildfire and destroyed thirty-six homes and eight hundred acres last June in and around the community of Eastpoint, just across the bay from Apalachicola. These two major events drastically changed the landscape that participants in the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air had come to know and love. Still, that might have made the fourteenth annual paint-out the most significant one to date.
“This is an important time to document what has happened and how our communities are recovering,” says Joe Taylor, president of the Forgotten Coast Cultural Coalition. “Artists always find beauty, even in the most interesting and challenging situations.”
Twenty artists from around the world, plus four Florida-based plein-air painters, set up their easels along the coast from May 3 through 12 for the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air. Immediately following that event, Plein Air South brought in 160 participants from May 12 through 16.
Beautiful and poignant works from Forgotten Coast en Plein Air 2019 are available to view and purchase online at ForgottenCoastCulturalCoalition.WildApricot.org under the “Art” page. Paintings such as Standing Firm by Vicki Norman, Keeper’s House Recovery by Brienne Brown, The World Turned Upside Down by Charlie Hunter, Still Standing by Anne Blair Brown, The Flag Is Still There and After The Storm by Luke Buck, Claims & Adjustments by Mark Shasha, Amongst the Debris a Ray of Light by Charles Dickinson, and several others document the damage as well as the hope, determination, and progress that the “Unforgettable Coast” of Mexico Beach has made since last October.
“Mexico Beach was delighted to be part of the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air paint-out for 2019,” says Kimberly Shoaf, president of the Mexico Beach Community Development Council. “While our landscapes offered a different perspective than the normal beachfront community for artists to capture, they were able to document our coastline with depictions of endurance and life.
“Mexico Beach was delighted to be part of the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air paint-out for 2019,” says Kimberly Shoaf, president of the Mexico Beach Community Development Council. “While our landscapes offered a different perspective than the normal beachfront community for artists to capture, they were able to document our coastline with depictions of endurance and life. This was the first annual event that came back to Mexico Beach since the storm and it became a stepping stone on our journey forward. It showcased that our wonderful beach community is still relevant, resilient, and ready for the next steps.”
Mexico Beach’s recovery efforts have been ongoing since the day after Hurricane Michael. Residents and visitors alike vowed to help the tiny fishing and tourism town get back on its feet and retain the friendly, unpretentious, hometown charm that has made it a favorite vacation spot for so many. After extensive cleanup of the marina and canal, the Mexico Beach Marina reopened in May, and the annual GollyWhopper Classic, Offshore Classic, and MBARA Kingfish Tournament fishing events returned for the summer! The GollyWhopper Classic raised $12,500 for the City of Mexico Beach to use for canal repair efforts, while the Offshore Classic on July 26–27 and the Kingfish Tournament August 23–24 are also bringing more business and donations to the cause.
Other small businesses in Mexico Beach continue to reopen on what seems to be a weekly basis. Many are ready to welcome patrons and can’t wait to see visitors and friends return: Caribbean Coffee, Cathey’s ACE Hardware, Crazy Beach Pizza, Forgotten Coast Property Management and Vacation Rentals, Forgotten Coast Realty of NW Florida, Mango Marley’s, Mexico Beach Harmon Realty and Vacation Rentals, Mexico Beach Marina, Mexico Beach Sundance Realty, Mexico Beach Wine & Spirits, Pristine Properties, Rustic Sands RV Park and Grill, Splendiferous, Two Gulls at the Beach Gift Shop, the US Post Office, White Sands Salon & Boutique, 98 Real Estate Group, and more.
Thanks to the generosity and the grit of locals, visitors, friends, family, and many others who wish to help these small beach towns come back to life, Mexico Beach and its neighbors will rise again.
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Keep up with news, business openings, and more updates via MexicoBeach.com, by signing up for the town’s monthly email newsletter, or by following along on social media at Facebook.com/MexicoBeachFL, Instagram (@mexicobeachfla), or the hashtag #rebuildingwithlove.