Sebring, Florida
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Deep in the Art of Florida

30 miles of art: Tour Sebring's most colorful attractions

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An inside view of the Artists' Group Art Studio and Gallery in Sebring, Florida
Step into the world of artists at TAG
A chronicle of Florida history, each painting includes a guide pointing out hidden images and symbolism contained in the work.
'In My Eyes the Sound of Color' by Peter Powell Roberts on display at the Peter Powell Roberts Museum of Art & Cultural Center in Sebring, Florida
See the world through the eyes of Peter Powell Roberts

By Gary McKechnie

When I explore Florida, I discover more than one state. There’s the rural Panhandle, the tranquil southern Gulf Coast, cosmopolitan Miami and the theme-park capital of Orlando.

And then there’s Sebring and the surrounding cities of Avon Park and Lake Placid, a place that reminds me why I love Florida. Its rolling hills, citrus groves, placid lakes and small towns take me back. And there is art. Miles and miles of art.

Avon calling

In the heart of Avon Park, is the classic Hotel Jacaranda. Opened in 1926, it retains an Old Florida atmosphere with a hotel dining room, a pianist serenading guests, a vintage elevator that requires an operator’s assistance and even five Highwaymen paintings displayed the lobby. And in an arcade filled with shops and galleries, you’ll find [1] The Artists’ Group (TAG) Art Studio and Gallery.

Paintings by local artists hang four and five high; colorful canvases filled with a range of subjects: birds, beaches and landscapes along with cowboys, barns and wide-open wilderness. There are watercolors and pottery and prints and limited-edition postcards.

But here you can do more than look. You can participate. TAG offers classes in clay, gourds, oil, acrylic and watercolor. It’s wonderful to find people who are compelled to create. In a small town like Avon Park, it’s even more pleasing that they inspire others to explore their creativity. TAG… you’re it!

The Artists’ Group (TAG) Art Studio and Gallery

19 E. Main St.
Open Tues.–Fri., 10am–3pm; closed Saturday; open Sun., 11am–2pm
(863) 784-7346

A couple of blocks west, there’s the [2] Peter Powell Roberts Museum.

While any artist would welcome fame and fortune, most are motivated by something more important; a need to create. That was the case of Roberts, once an instructor at Sarasota’s Ringling College of Art. But when he lost his wife in 2010, Roberts also lost his desire to paint. For two years Roberts and his art went missing until a local artist found Roberts had moved into a nursing home. Recognizing his still-untapped potential, he encouraged Roberts to pick up his brushes again. What the master artist created in the last two years of his life added to 136 original oil on wood paintings and eight sculptures.

Roberts’ paintings of the palm fronds, bromeliads, lilies and ponds of nearby Highlands Hammocks State Park resonate with locals who see their environment reflected in the paintings. In this museum, lectures, classes, a gift shop, a short bio and books on his life are paired with works by local artists, which enhance the world’s largest collection of Roberts’ works.

Peter Powell Roberts Museum

310 W. Main St.
Open Wed.–Fri., 10am–6pm, and by appointment
(863) 453-4531

A couple of miles south, on the campus of South Florida State College, in Avon Park, is the [3] Museum of Florida Art and Culture. Step inside to discover the story of Florida, told from its origins 25 million years ago to the first people who arrived here in 12,000 BC and the tribes that followed. Art created by and about these people fill a section of the museum. Other pieces celebrate Florida’s incredibly diverse culture and history through archaeological treasures, paintings, ceramics, etchings and quilts. Then there are the works of Christopher Still.

Inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2010, Still’s original pieces are paired with giclee prints of a series that hangs in the Florida House of Representatives. A chronicle of Florida history, each painting includes a guide pointing out hidden images and symbolism contained in the work.

Museum of Florida Art and Culture

600 W College Dr.
Open Wed.–Fri., 12:30–4:30pm
(863) 784-7240

Making the most of the campus, the [4] Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts is adjacent to the museum. More than 30 performances are staged each year in the swank 1,460-seat theatre. Check out the calendar, which includes 30 acts each year—among them, notable performers such as Jay Leno, Crystal Gayle, Kenny Rogers, Vienna Boys Choir, Three Dog Night and Broadway tours.

Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts

600 W. College Dr.
(863) 784-7178

A display of two paintings and a mounted wall sculpture at the Highlands Museum of the Arts in Sebring, Florida
Unexpected perspectives at the Highlands Museum of the Arts

On the waterfront

Get lost in the heart of Sebring, a waterfront cultural village that offers a triple play of artistic expression. The opening act is the [5] Highlands Little Theatre.

Community theater is pure in its intent, and since 1974 the intention here has been to give local performers a chance to share their gifts with their neighbors. A wall filled with decades of memories shows casts posing proudly on the set of plays ranging from Hairspray to Les Misérables to Thoroughly Modern Millie.

And neighbors show up: 227 newly added theater seats face a stage that’s often being prepared for a big show—there are more than a dozen planned for the season. The Highlands Little Theatre is a testament to the dedication of actors who donate the most priceless gift of all—their time—to help make their community a better place to live.

Highlands Little Theatre

356 W. Center Ave.
(863) 385-2175

Next door, the galleries of the [6] Highlands Museum of the Arts aim to connect people to creativity, knowledge and ideas through permanent and rotating exhibits that cover contemporary art on a range of mediums: photographs, paintings, prints, sculptures, digital images and textiles.

Highlands Museum of the Arts

351 W. Center Ave.
Open Mon.–Fri., 10am–4pm; also by appointment
(863) 385-6682

At [7] Highlands Art League’s Village, three lakefront homes clustered in a group have been renovated to a greater purpose: to serve as ‘The Village Where Art Lives.” It’s mission statement: “To encourage emerging and evolving artists of all ages and to positively impact our community through the celebration and exploration of the arts.”

Peek into the Visual Arts Center, home of one of the best sunset views in Sebring, that hosts art classes and workshops for mediums such as watercolor, acrylic, photography, culinary and more. The village also includes the Yellow House, which is home to Grateful Hearts, a do-it yourself art studio, and the Clovelly House where you will find the Members' Gallery full of unique art by local artists, which is complemented by an Artist in Residence program.

Mission (statement) accomplished.

Highlands Art League’s Village

1971, 1985 & 1989 Lakeview Dr.
Clovelly House open December-March only; Thursday-Saturday (times vary by month; please check website)
Visual Art Center—class times vary; schedule posted on website
Yellow House/Grateful Hearts open Mon.-Tues. & Thurs. & Fri.., 10am-6pm; Wed. & Sat., 10am-2pm
(863) 385-6682

A group photo of seven clowns at the American Clown Museum & School in Sebring, Florida
Always clowning around at the American Clown School

Painting the town

Not only is Lake Placid the “Caladium Capital of the World” (that’s an attractive plant), it’s also filled with nearly 50 wonderful [8] murals that tell the history of the town and what visitors will find here. Drive around to see murals as large as 175 by 30 feet filling dozens of walls. There are murals on the side of drug stores and on walls of schools. You’ll see murals on businesses and boutiques and restaurants. These are fine art pieces that speak a thousand words each. Through them you’ll learn about Native Americans, wildlife, groves of citrus, cattle ranchers and… clowns.

Yes, clowns hold an esteemed position in Lake Placid. A row of brightly-colored clown cutouts (Sonny, Shortee, Slo Poke, Whiz Bang, et. al.) at the Lake Placid Child Development Center hint at their role in the community; a role that reaches star billing at the [9] American Clown Museum & School.

American Clown Museum & School

109 W. Interlake Blvd.
Open Tues.–Fri., noon–4pm; Saturday, 10am–4pm
(863) 465-2920

Wrapped by two of the town’s most popular murals (Toby's First Clown Class and The Art of Clowning), the school was launched in 1993 by Keith “Toby” Stokes with a mission to “spread smiles, love and laughter.” Inside, more than 1,500 clowns have graduated from a 24-hour course having learned the finer points of clown make-up, balloon animals, skits, magic and one-liners.

Overhead, portraits painted on ceiling tiles by local artist Monica Turner show graduates including Dr. Icky Nicky (a Lake Placid ob-gyn who’s delivered 12,000 babies) and “Mumbles,” the former chief of police who’s the current city administrator. Circus art and clown pictures, including several of and by famed clowns Emmett Kelly and Red Skelton, are among more than 700 circus collectibles. Graduates brighten the days of others by visiting hospices, hospitals and nursing homes.

An art form that grows and evolves into a heartwarming gesture.

And a perfect finish to an exploration of the art of Florida.