The Plein Aire Cottage artists at work along Gulf Boulevard are, from left, Mary Rose Holmes, Helen Tilston and Violetta Chandler.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – The sight of the Plein Aire Cottage Artists on the streets of the city is fairly common. The three women have been painting scenes of the old Florida cottages that have lined Indian Rocks Beach’s shores for years.
However, their presence isn’t that well known outside the city.
That may well soon change, especially if a Tampa filmmaker has her way.
Lynn Marvin Dingfelder, a career journalist and now documentarian, is making a documentary of the artists, hoping that they and their cause will become well known all over the country.
The artists – Mary Rose Holmes, Helen Tilston and Violetta Chandler – met nearly 20 years ago in an art class. Holmes and Tilston were students, Chandler the teacher. They clicked as artists, became friends and the Plein Aire Cottage Artists were born.
The women paint scenes along Gulf Boulevard, particularly those of the old cottages. Their efforts have saved some of those cottages from destruction; they want to save them all.
That is what drew Dingfelder into wanting to do the documentary.
“I want to tell the story of three talented women who through their art empowered a movement,” she said. “A mutual friend told me about them and I was intrigued by the story of how art can create change, how art can motivate. I came over to meet them, they are wonderful beautiful characters and each is as different as their style.”
Dingfelder said she was fascinated by the development of the artists and how their fame came about.
“They didn’t go into painting the cottages or trying to save them with any sense of anger or rage,” she said. “They wanted to save the beauty of it, and then people saw them on the street and bought paintings off the easel. They then realized they had something going here. It was a ballooning of positive energy to save what was unique about IRB, not just the history but the uniqueness.”
When Dingfelder approached the woman about making the documentary, Mary Rose Holmes said they were surprised. It wasn’t the first time they had been approached.
“About four years ago a Hollywood producer was here visiting a friend and visited us. He wanted to do a story. Then he said, ‘can you raise $100,000?’” she said. “We said no and that was the end of that.”
Dingfelder was different; she didn’t want any money, she just wanted to tell the story.
“Lynn saw paintings that we had done in the museum and wanted to do the story, we were surprised,” said Holmes. “This is why people come to Indian Rocks Beach, our businesses and our small cottages, they are important to us.”
Holmes and her colleagues want to keep things the way they are in IRB. They don’t want what she calls the Great Wall of Florida in the city.
“Go to Sand Key and you will see the great wall of Florida,” she said. “We’re not against condos but we think we have enough of them in IRB as it is. You have to have them in the right places.”
For her and the others, the cottages in the right places and through their paintings, they want to keep them. They hope the documentary will help with that.
“We want to raise awareness about how important it is around the coast of Florida to have the cottages and if there are any in small communities they should keep them,” she said. “The public owns the beaches and they should be able to walk or ride along and see some of the beach.”
Dingfelder wants to spread the word throughout Florida and if she can throughout the United States. She has gained notoriety with some of the work she has already produced.
“My first PBS documentary was Post Cards of Tampa Bay,” she said. “I seem to have a gravitational pull to the history and the story corps concept. Then there was the JFK documentary. I feel I am drawn to these stories about easier times, nostalgic times that touch the heart.”
Now comes the story of the Plein Aire Cottage Artists, which Dingfelder hopes could be aired statewide or even nationally on PBS. She said they have shown an interest.
When asked what the star of the documentary is, the artists or the cottages, Dingfelder paused and then answered;
“I don’t know if I could say which the star is,” she said. “The cottages are what it is about; the women are the vessels to tell the story. They tell the story of the cottages that can’t speak.”
“The other point I want to make is that I see this documentary conveying the message that one, two or three people can make a difference. The documentary tells the story of a love affair, this is a love story.”
The documentary is still in production and because of that it isn’t too late for people to participate. Dingfelder is looking for old film or still pictures from the early days on Indian Rocks Beach.
“We have an opportunity to broaden it so if people have stories to tell we’d love to hear them,” she said.