Artist Emerges Through Skillful Landscapes


Lagniappe
By Chris Waddington

These days, "emerging artist" has come to mean a well-connected kid with a gimmick. That makes it especially pleasing to find a young talent such as Billy Solitario, whose productivity and commitment to old-fashioned discipline of oil painting is so plainly evident in his exhibit of 24 Gulf Coast landscapes at Sylvia Schmidt Gallery, 400-A Julia St.
Still in his twenties, Solitario has learned that personal vision emerges from the working process, that art is a matter of direct experience and can't be forced by dressing one's subjects and materials in a set of clever ideas. In practice that means Solitario has focused on a set of traditional visual problems; How to render atmospheric space, how to define forms as light-touched solids and how to transform the world's ruck of details into a painterly shorthand.
Those skills are evident throughout this show, though he sometimes yields to an illustrator's slickness. In works such as "Women on the South Side of Horn," his single-point perspective hews too closely to the dull monocular vision of the camera; in his views of the Yucatan beaches, his well-rendered plant forms seem borrowed from a pattern book - not recast into a personal calligraphy that reveals something about the artist himself.
Still the show offers plenty hints that this journeyman is beginning to find a personal vision. In "Horn Island Interior," the humps of grass-topped dunes are rendered in loops and slashes of paint that bespeak the energy of the painting process - and serve as a visual metaphor for the natural forces that shape the dunes themselves. In "Dune Shadow, Study No. 5," he uses shadow not simply to define forms in space, but as a compositional tool, creating an abstract design full of thrusting angles and boldly contrasting lights and darks.
Solitario sometimes employs the kind of expressive exaggerations found in Romantic paintings. That's especially true in skyscapes such as "Witching Hour Study No. 8" and "Cloud Study No. 9." In the former, skeins of warmly hued clouds stretch across a vast sky - each painterly mark leading one's eyes to the single lick of orange that marks the setting sun. Here every part serves a purpose, giving the scene a dramatic economy lacking in Solitario's more naturalistic works.
This show is essential viewing for those with an interest in local topography; but it holds even more delights for those who prefer to trace the slow process by which a real talent emerges. (Through Sept. 23).



Coast Inspires Local Artist


Mississippi Press
By Lici Beveridge

Pascagoula - Capturing a Coast scene and making it come to life may be beyond the reach of many people. To make it appear three-dimensional on a flat canvas is even more challenging.
Artist Billy Solitario is up to that challenge, however, as he shows in his paintings of the Mississippi coastal area. The realism in his work is pure; his world is our world.
"What separates me from other artists is I have a true love of the way things really exist," he said. "The way you see things is always going to be interpreted through my hand, but I still truly try to see what is in front of me, what exists."
Solitario works mostly in oils, painting scenes from the barrier islands and bayous as well as still lifes, often of things found right at home.
Majestic Live oak trees, sunsets over the bayou, the starkness of Horn Island all are captured in Solitario's paintings.
He said he takes his inspiration from "growing up on the Coast, in the South, and falling in love with the world around me."
Solitario has pursued his love of art from an early age, and has made it his career.
"I enjoyed it," he said. "I stayed with it. I realized I could actually make a living at it."
The key to success, Solitario said, is "find what you love and stick with it."
He attended the New Orleans Academy of Art, and is working on a master of fine arts degree at Tulane University in New Orleans.
Solitario's work is represented by Sylvia Schmidt Gallery in New Orleans, and is on display at many businesses and in private collections. He is one of the featured artists at Matthew's Downtown in Pascagoula.
He recently was selected as one of 100 top artists to participate in the annual Arts for the Parks competition, which honors artists who have captured the spirit of national parks.
The competition was created in 1986 by the National Park Academy of the Arts with the National Park Foundation to celebrate representational artists, to enhance awareness of national parks and to contribute to programs benefiting the national park system.
The Top 100 show will tour the country, and will be shown in galleries across the country. The winner of the competition, who will be awarded $50,000, will be announced this month.
Solitario will show some of his newest paintings through Sept. 30 at the Jolly McCarty Historic Depot Gallery in Pascagoula. There will be a reception for him from 5;30-7;30 p.m. Sept. 21. The gallery is located at 504 Railroad St., Pascagoula. For more information, call 938-6752.




Billy Solitario: A Love Affair With Nature


Louisiana Life
By John R. Kemp

"Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art." Though an English poet wrote these words almost two centuries ago, they capture the life and work of New Orleans artist Billy Solitario who has spent his short career exploring the unforgiving natural coastal landscapes of south Louisiana and Mississippi.
At a time when so many people's lives have been altered forever by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Solitario finds an immutable grace and beauty among the sand dunes and savannahs of the region's coastal marshes and barrier islands. He is at peace when alone with his brushes, palette, canvas and the cries of gulls and waves breaking on a sandy beach. Like the famed but eccentric Mississippi painter Walter Anderson, Solitario often visits Horn Island to find the same inspiration that haunted Anderson a generation earlier. "It is a true escape into nature," he says.
The 33-year-old artist was born in Manhattan Beach, California, where his father worked for the Mercury space program. While still a child, the family moved to Gautier, Mississippi, near Ocean Springs (Walter Anderson's hometown), where he spent his childhood enjoying the natural and wondrous pleasures the Gulf Coast had to offer a young boy. After graduating from the University of South Florida in 1994, he moved to New Orleans. After a brief stint with an advertising company, Solitario quit his job and toured Europe for four or five months where he "did the Italian Renaissance" by visiting museums in Italy and Spain.
A graduate of Tulane University, Solitario studied painting in the mid 1990s with Auseklis Ozols and Phil Sandusky at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Art where he now teaches beginner classes in portrait painting and oil painting. Solitario resides with his wife of one year, Nici, in a delightfully adapted Uptown shotgun. With a full-time painting career well underway, Solitario is represented in New Orleans by LeMieux Galleries and in Seaside, Florida, by The L2 Gallery. He's also searching for a gallery to represent him in California. He has received several awards for his work and his paintings can be found in a number of corporate collections.
Like most kids growing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the natural world was all around him. His imagination was free to explore the woods near his home and the Gulf islands just a few miles away. "That's why I do landscapes," he says. "I found that love of nature, especially on Horn Island. It's an amazing natural sanctuary."
Though Solitario explores various subjects in his painting, including portraits, he prefers landscapes. His brush is to the natural landscape what words are to the poet. "People expect landscapes from me and a certain style," he says. "I paint landscapes not because it sells but because it is what I paint. It's that primal human instinct of wanting to be in nature. Plus, it's an excuse to go into nature. What better job is there than to go camping and work while you're out there. I just went out on Horn Island and I'm ready to paint it again. I'm all jazzed up. That's why I can never get bored painting landscapes. I've never painted a desert or snow. I have subjects for a life time."
While his images of the land are striking, his cloud-scapes are even more dramatic. Solitario's paintings of roiling and billowy cumulus clouds have all of the drama of a heroic Wagnerian opera. In paintings like "Storm Clouds," "Distant Light" and "New Orleans Skyline," clouds dominate the paintings.
At a recent showing of Solitario's recent work in New Orleans, viewers got a glimpse of his connection to nature, both its beauty and its power. Hurricane Katrina found its way not only into his life but his paintings. Several paintings, including "Searching the Debris," "Breaching the Natural Levees," "Wheelbarrow Under Clouds" and "The Hurricane Proof House," depict the destructive force of the storm's winds and tidal surge.
Like many artists, he lost his studio in Mid-City New Orleans to flood waters - he had moved into the study only four days before Katrina hit - and his parents' house in Gautier was totally destroyed. But his art continues. "The loss in Mississippi is so much more devastating because people I know lost everything they had. I want to address that a little more."
Solitario and other artists are now exploring post-Katrina themes that are finding their way into area galleries. Over the next six months to a year he is expecting to see "fantastic art" emerge as artists deal with issues in their own way.
"I'm still looking for beauty but I'm also trying to deal with issues," he says. "The landscape of New Orleans has changed; the landscape of the Gulf Coast has changed. It's devastating." He's quick to reflect upon the ironies of recent events and all the talk of destruction on everyone's lips. "What's in nature hasn't changed," he says, carefully trying not to minimize the losses in people's lives. "It's just what humans have built. If you go to Horn Island, it's not gone, just washed over. Nature has a way of working itself out. I'm doing a couple of paintings of Horn Island."
In capturing the natural world, Solitario prefers to a paint plein-air, that is, painting on location, a style popular among the Impressionists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cezanne once claimed pictures "painted inside in the studio will never be as good as the things done outside." Solitario puts it a bit differently; "It's fantastic. You're outdoors and you're painting. A photograph is a cropped piece of info flattened out. Plein-air is three dimensional and you can move things around easier."
Though the plein-air is preferred, Solitario does photograph scenes, such as cloud formations, for later use back in the studio. He also will do quick on-site studies and drawings to capture certain moods, lighting and objects that will become finished paintings later.
As to the future of New Orleans art scene, he says the city "has always been a place that has drawn artists, musicians and the creative spirit. I think that will continue once the young people return." He laughs. "They certainly are not coming here for the industry." Will he return to his storm-damaged studio in Mid-City New Orleans? He is waiting to see what happens to the neighborhood. "I don't want to be the only one painting in all that destruction."



Solitario's Paintings Reflect New Style


Gautier Independent
By Valerie Winn

Now that Billy Solitario has earned a master's degree, he's painting landscapes again.
Only this time they are different - "meatier," he said, pointing to wider, thicker applications of paint in one of his Horn Island scenes.
"I'm in a transition," said 31-year old Solitario as he stood among the works of his new exhibition inside the Christopher Inglis Stebly Art Gallery.
His show will run through Sept. 23.
"It's a mixture of stuff I was doing when I was working on my master's at Tulane," he said.
Some pieces were completed two years ago. Others he finished only two weeks prior.
"That one's still wet around the edges," he said pointing to a large painting titled, "Island Interior."
Together, the 17 oil paintings encompass a diverse show, bringing together images of New Orleans, Destin, Fla., the Pascagoula River, and the Barrier Islands.
One of the most impressive is a 15" x 50" panoramic painting of Chandeleur Island.
"The subject matter made me want to paint it that long," he said, adding that it is painted on a part of an interior door. "It's a lot easier to paint on a door," he said. "It is lightweight and a canvas would have required so many braces."
His smallest prints are 8" x 10" and portray beach scenes in Florida.
Solitario, who grew up in Gautier, has come a long way since drawing military tanks as a boy.
Selected as one of the "21 under 31" emerging artists by SouthwestArt magazine, he was featured in its September issue.
"The positive publicity has been really nice," he said, adding that the magazine article prompted telephone calls from a gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico and another one in San Francisco.
Though the New Orleans based artist is not from the western United States, Solitario said the editor of the magazine became familiar with his work when one of his paintings was selected for an exhibition sponsored by the National Park and Wildlife Services more than two years ago.
A graduate of the University of South Florida, Solitario also studied art at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts where he was recipient of the Gwendolyn Laan Ozols Scholarship. He has worked as a graphic artist for a New Orleans advertising agency and at a graphic arts studio. His works are also available at LeMieux Galleries in New Orleans.
Devoting at least five to six hours a day to his painting, Solitario said his master's degree in fine art/painting will afford him an opportunity to teach if he decides to go that route. But in the meantime, he continues to develop his distinctive style which he said "developed slowly by painting, painting, painting."



Emerging Artists: 21 Under 31, Meet 21 Young Artists With Promising Careers


Southwest Art
By Southwest Art

Billy Solitario
Louisiana
Born- Manhattan Beach, CA, 1972
Raised in Gautier, MS
First artwork- "I was always drawing cars, planes, tanks, trucks, intricate battle scenes-on the back of technical paper my father would bring home."
First art sale- "When I was about 18, I entered a local art show at a mall in Gautier. I took three paintings and sold them all. One was supposed to have been a Mother's Day gift, but it was okay, my mother was excited for me that I sold it."
Art education- Bachelor's degree in fine art from the University of South Florida in Tampa; then the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts, where he trained under Auseklis Ozols. Currently pursuing a master's degree in fine art at Tulane University in New Orleans.
Style of work- "Realistic, slightly impressionistic, slightly romantic but not too much so."
Favorite subject to paint- Nature, figures, cityscapes with dramatic compositions, and island scenes from the Gulf of Mexico.
Favorite artists- Velazquez, and Edward Hopper for his compositions.
Favorite artwork- AN ENGLISH COD by William Merritt Chase.
Creative spark- "To notice little beautiful surprises in nature that rearrange your day."
Second-choice career- Marine biology or zoology, or maybe history.
Other passions- Fishing, camping out, and sailing.
Fantasy art trip- "To rent a large RV with a group of painter friends and travel all around the United States and paint, paint, paint, paint, paint."
Favorite studio music- "Classical, in my studio. If I'm outside, surf in the background and the sound of redwing blackbirds."
Best advice received- "Kurt Vonnegut calls life a peephole and says we only get a little wink at life, so we need to really take advantage of what we've got and enjoy as much as we can while we're here."
Pet peeve- "Getting alizarin crimson on a white t-shirt. It's hard to get out."
Next big goal- "A museum acquisition. It's not really a goal, but if it ever happened it would be nice."



Shifting Sands of Time


Times Picayune, Lagniappe
By Doug MacCash

In an art world focused on heady contemporary styles such as Neo-Conceptualism, Neo-Expressionism, Pop-Revivalism and Post-Modern appropriation, it's easy to forget the power and appeal of plain old-fashioned realistic painting. But Billy Solitario's landscapes at Sylvia Schmidt Gallery helps us remember.
Solitario's subject is the snowy shifting sands of the sunny Gulf coast. He captures the peaked dunes, cottony clouds and slate-gray water with such skill that you can almost smell the salt and feel the breeze tussle your hair.
Solitario is a master of artistic frugality and restraint. He gives you just enough of everything, never a bit more. If a set of quick, feathery brushstrokes define a pine tree in the distance, then that's enough; he doesn't redefine the trunk or limbs with more paint. If a thick smear of ivory-colored paint establishes the wind-scoured edge of a dune, there's no need to brush the ridges of paint smooth. If a dozen small ripple marks will suffice to define the entire shifting surf, the enough is enough; how could paint every wave in the ocean anyway?
Solitario is also a master colorist. Look closely at the shadows. They're not gray - a darkened version of the white sand - as you might predict. Instead, Solitario has reproduced the rich purples, bright blues and cold green tones that our eyes find in shadows created by the bright orange-yellow sunlight. Look at "Winter Trees." He's managed to capture the actual caf au lait-hue of the slow-moving brackish water, but he's also subtly super-imposed the reflected blue sheen of the sky. He makes it all look so easy - believe me, it isn't.
But his main skill is his ability to create compelling compositions. Solitario is as good an abstractionist as he is a realist, but instead of inventing abstract designs, he discovers logical geometric designs in nature. Above all, Solitario is in love with the triangle. Find the central sweeping tidal bank in "Storm Shadow." Find the dominant dark backsides of the dunes in "Overlooking the Dune" or "Sweeping Shadows." Notice how the highway diminishes into the distance in "I-10 at Dusk." Look at the way the rows of sea oats emanate from a single point on the horizon in "The Lee Side of the Dune." Triangles, triangles, triangles. And why not? The triangle is one of the most solid, most versatile compositional forms, and in his hands it never becomes stale or formulaic.
The quality of his paintings, form the largest, most complicated compositions to the smallest, sketchiest pieces, is uniformly excellent; so good that it was hard to pick a favorite from the 24-piece show.
I was drawn to "Banks of the Mississippi," which depicts a trio of fishers casting their bait into the still water behind a moored barge on the river batture. Two small men, made up of a mere half-dozen brush strokes, could have easily become over-detailed and fussy - but Solitario held back all but the most necessary visual information. And the gray-on-gray sky is so deceptively simple that you almost think it's unfinished. One more mark, however, might have ruined "Banks of the Mississippi" is a awfully good painting.
If I had to pick my favorite, though, it would be "Lee Side the Dune II," an arch-shaped sand pile topped with a crest of sage. The remarkable thing about this painting is the way Solitario depicted the shallow wind ripples in the sand. He uses a classical painting technique called simultaneous contrast which works like think; When he wanted to put the ripples inside one of the dark violet shadows he cut through the shadow with a pattern of stripes in the crease color of the surrounding sand. Then, to put the ripples in the sunlit sand outside of the shadows, he reversed the technique by putting the violet, shadow colored stripes over the painted cream sand tone. Cream on violet, then violet on cream. Simple. The trouble is, almost every time you see the technique used it sticks out like a sore thumb. Billy Solitario manages to weave it into the painting with understated aplomb. And he's just 28 years old. Color me impressed.


and the muse for the art of Walter anderson displayed in the F smithsonian. mississippi’s Gulf islands were the rallying point for 60 British frigates prior to their failed invasion of new Orleans and, like then, seeds and tropical driftwoods still push north from the Caribbean and south america onto their sugar-sand beaches. With Cuba the nearest landfall to the south, they string the entire coast of Mississippi, long and narrow islands – Cat, Ship, Horn, Sand, and Petit Bois – an important first line of defense for the coast from hurricanes. Visited mainly by locals looking for good fishing or overnight beach camping, these sandy spits of dunes and lagoons are wholly protected as a National Seashore and Wildlife Preserve and stunning in their beauty and history. Forming the boundary between the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi Sound, they’re located between seven- and 12-miles offshore from quaint, historic coastal towns offering everything from antiquing to casinos, and are an unheralded and forgotten cruising ground. Due east lie Alabama’s developed barrier islands and the heavily trafficked waters of the panhandle of Florida, but cruisers rarely take the time to travel the few extra miles to these empty islands. Except for pleasure boats on daytrips from the coast, or transiting back to New Orleans, only shrimp boats and oystermen plying the sound skirt their shores. A GAtherinG Of friendS Chef Matthew Mayfield and coastal artist, Billy Solitario, needle each other as they’ve done since childhood as they lug 40-pound bags of ice from the pink bait shop in Ocean Springs onto the 48-foot Hatteras owned by the Mayfield family, and the 21-foot Boston Whaler we planned to use as scat boat. “So Matthew, are you a fisherman?” “Well I don’t know, Billy. What constitutes a fisherman?” “I don’t know. Do you consider yourself one?” “Well I fish. What constitutes an artist?” These two grew up together on the Mississippi coast running the barrier islands, a childhood playground and now their professional inspiration. Mayfield is a classically trained chef from the Culinary Institute of America, and Solitario a renowned artist with a studio in nearby New Orleans. Next, Dr. Bob Thomas, director of the Environmental Program at Loyola University, and James Beard-nominated filmmaker Kevin McCaffrey, arrive from New Orleans. They unpack their cameras and gear and pass it to us along piers rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina. The new arrivals secure bunks in the Hatteras while the hometown guys joke on the dock left: Artist Billy Solitario has focused on the Mississippi Gulf islands through.out his career such as in this painting of a pine tree on horn island. BoatU.S. Magazine | 2 with the shrimpers who’ve already finished their early morning trawling. You could fig.ure the age of these men and women, like coastal oaks with their roots deep in the salt and dusted by white sand, by the big storms they’d weathered. This marina is a small world in a small town on a coast that has endured everything. The historic downtown of Ocean Springs, rising on a slight bluff, was more-or-less spared from the cataclysmic destruction of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Today it’s qui.etly booming, with the hipster feel of Austin, Texas, in its infancy. Only blocks from the marina, Government Street is growing into a music and restaurant scene. Home to legacy of the famous painter Walter Anderson, and Shearwater Pottery, Ocean Springs has always been an arts town. Casting off the Hatteras, McCaffrey films footage of the big boat as he follows in the whaler helmed by Nate, a local man-about.town and friend of the guys from the coast. Across the entrance to the back bay as we convoy southeast, high-rise hotels and their 3 | BoatU.S. Magazine casinos command the coast in Biloxi, a dif.ferent world from genteel Ocean Springs with her beachfront dotted with private homes and the Ocean Springs Yacht Club. Horn Island doesn’t appear to be much on the approach – only 14 miles long and a quarter mile wide with several outcroppings of dunes, pines, and periodic oak trees. We slide in at the “fat” west end of Horn. Almost pure beach on three sides, giant sandy swaths that reach out 25 yards in each direc.tion, lee coves populated by brown pelicans, ospreys, and a myriad of other sea birds star.tled only by periodic redfish in the shallows. The southern shore pounds with surf, while the north can be as quiet as a Pennsylvania pond, but with water temperatures averaging above 80 degrees in the summer, 60 degrees in deep winter. Solitario’s career as a painter was made when he started painting these island scenes, and he’s obviously ready to dig his toes in the sand. He wants to paint, but mostly talks of redfish and wading for oysters at the mouth of the inner lagoons. Mayfield wants to boat, and he’s the skipper, so we round Horn Island to the south. At the eastern point there’s a secluded shoreline and no one is concerned that anyone will be there. There’s an unwritten rule that each island is claimed by the coastal town that lies due north. Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian get Cat Island; Gulfport gets Ship Island; Biloxi gets the western side of Horn Island, and Ocean Springs gets eastern Horn. With the prevailing winds and currents tending to be from the east, the western cove of Horn can be filled with locals on weekends using it as a lee shore in strong easterlies. But today we have light winds. The eastern shore of Horn is magical. The Gulf of Mexico crashing a stone’s throw to the south is a solid white noise behind dunes that rise 20 feet. The perfect crystalline quartz sand that thousands of years ago washed down from the Appalachians rests here now awaiting rabbit and ghost crab footprints – and ours. Solitario sets up his easel almost immediately in the pine straw and sand beneath a run of pine trees that are home to massive osprey June | July 2014 nests. The chef and biologist walk down the beach discussing foraging on the island, while McCaffrey sets up his camera and starts film.ing. I explore the dunes for sun-bleached driftwood for tonight’s campfire. Walking a few steps inland, everything is left behind and you’re alone and solitary. A distant squall throws off lightning and my feet dig deep into the white sand. There are no human footprints. Up a small rise, I find a quiet lagoon fed by springs and rainfall. I follow rabbit footprints until the dunes and light scrub give way to the pink and black sand of the flats, peppered with thousands of seashell shards. When I find the beach, the Gulf of Mexico is rolling as the tropical breeze freshens from the south. It’s entirely likely that we’re the only people on this island. With years of childhood experience that make them fearless, Mayfield and Solitario break out a paddleboard and fish one of the inner lagoons known to house redfish and a stray alligator or two. Standing on the dunes, watching and waiting, the rest of us discuss the unbelievable ability of the island’s rab.bits, deer, and raccoons to have survived the 30-feet of storm surge that covered this island only eight years ago. It’s mystifying even to the biologist. By campfire, the shadows play on the dunes and the Mississippi coast is quiet in her distant lights while Mayfield cooks a sim.ple dish of redfish in the coals. The Sound washes on the shore and a few periodic shrimp boats slide past. The discussion turns to the single lone park ranger who’s lived on Horn Island for the last 30 years and how his world reminded us of the late author and environmental advocate Edward Abbey, and his experience in the deserts of Utah. frOM hOrn, On tO Ship, CAt & BAy St. lOUiS On the Gulf-side beach in the morning, the surf is salty and warm, and we prepare to move on. Only a few miles to the west lies Ship Island with her massive Civil War for.tress that still guards the coast. Ship Island was quickly conquered by the North in 1862 and the fort was turned into a prison camp for Confederate prisoners. The island’s natu.ral harbor was then used again as a staging point for the capture of New Orleans – the Yankee Navy succeeding where the British Navy failed some 50 years earlier. The fort and beaches make Ship Island of interest to tourists who arrive daily via charters from June | July 2014 found in evidence in Bay St. louis. nearby Gulfport, and while excellent anchor.ages abound, Ship doesn’t have the remote, quiet feel of the other islands, until after dusk. Cat Island is another quick run from the coast – originally named “Isle Aux Chats” for the multitude of raccoons on the island that were mistakenly identified as cats by French explorers. Cat Island is “T” shaped and the only one in the chain that breaks from the narrow and long shape of the rest of the bar.rier islands. White sand beaches, palmettos, pines, and oaks abound, but the southwestern cove of the island is pure marsh and swamp. Overnight camping is allowed, although a small interior portion is still privately owned and posted. From the beaches of Cat, the transformation to the marshy coastline of Louisiana begins. The water turns darker with the influx of the muddy water from the mouth of the Mississippi. Continue a few miles further. The Louisiana barrier islands of the Chandeleurs await, while to the northwest, the deepwater rigolets Pass opens up and leads into Lake Pontchartrain and then the New Orleans marina district of West End. Only eight miles north of Cat Island is Bay St. Louis and her namesake town. The perfect bookend for any Gulf Island expedition with its quiet oak-lined streets, waterfront seafood to our cars. It’s one thing to look on a map or read a newspaper story and distantly under.stand the importance of these islands, Mayfield explains, “It is another thing to dig your feet into the sand and hear those nesting seabirds, and really get that these islands are not only here to protect us, my family, the casinos, or an oil and gas refinery, but that there’s an important relationship here. We have to help these islands protect us.” In one of those thick southern skies where you can truly feel the height of the atmosphere above, the sun sets and their shores sparkle in crazy blues. After only a mile of heading back north, the islands again become quiet and plain. They are real magic hidden in plain sight, waiting to be explored and experienced. June | July 2014

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