Every once in a while, Nancy Goodheart Matthews will look out from her home or her adjoining studio and see groups of people milling around her property. She’ll usually go out and talk to them.
“This is our seventh year,” one recent visitor told her. The visitor was part of a group of people who make a point of visiting Matthew’s Bradenton home regularly, to take a fresh look at the colorful clay creations that festoon her outer walls, and to see what new work Matthews has added since last time.
Matthews has been living and working in Bradenton for 40 years, keeping busy and even making a living from her art all that time. She may not have the name recognition of some other local artists, but her work is in homes all over the Bradenton-Sarasota area, especially in Siesta Key and other beach communities. Her ceramics enliven countless walls, doorways and swimming pools around town.
Her most visible work is in Sarasota. It’s that Mermaid Fountain in Paul Thorpe Park (which until recently was called Pineapple Park at the intersection of Pineapple and Lemon avenues).
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The fountain, a large and elaborate work that Matthews built and installed piece by piece more than 20 years ago, has been undergoing a facelift. Colors had faded, some of the ceramic pieces she had created for the fountain were pried off and stolen, and she had to re-create a huge crustacean from scratch when the original was damaged during the re-surfacing of the pool.
The renovation has taken several months, and on Friday the fountain will be re-dedicated in a ceremony that is expected to include Sarasota’s mayor and several city commission members.
I took a ceramics class in my last year, and I was hooked. I fell in love with three dimensions.
Nancy Goodheart Matthews
Matthews lived in some fascinating places in her younger years. She was born out West but grew up in the Virgin Islands, where her parents ran a restaurant. As a teenager she attended boarding school in Switzerland (“In the French part,” she said. “I had one year of French and then I was immersed in it”), then lived in Mexico for a while and later went to art school in San Francisco and New York.
Until her last year in art school, she had planned to be a print maker.
“I took a ceramics class in my last year and I was hooked,” she said. “I fell in love with three dimensions. I never made another print again.”
Moving to Bradenton, she said, was “a total fluke.”
“My brother was a lawyer,” she said. “He literally stuck a pin in a map and moved to Bradenton because of that.”
She came to visit her brother and met his best friend, a lawyer named Turner Matthews.
“We married 10 days after we met,” she said. “And we were married for 40 years.”
We married 10 days after we met. And we were married for 40 years.
Nancy Goodheart Matthews
Her husband passed away four years ago.
She still lives in the house they shared, at 2601 Riverview Blvd. (You can call her at 941-705-0279 if you’re interested in commissioning some art.) The house wasn’t much when they first moved in, but now it’s surrounded by a wall sated with her fanciful clay artwork, which she has to replace from time to time. She points out a missing feature on a column that she made as an anniversary gift to her husband, and says someone stole it. She’s going to have to make a new one, she says. Inside, meandering brick walkways are also flanked by her art, and a massive studio where she spends much of her time.
The studio is now bigger than the house itself, which is also full of her artwork. In one area of the studio are dozens, maybe hundreds, of small clay pieces in various stages of completion. In another are her large human-like figures that she has created, with moveable limbs and their own custom-made chairs. In another is her sewing area, where she makes purses that sell in a local boutique.
She has never advertised in all the time she’s worked as an artist, she said. She works only on commission, but she has a steady stream of commissions just through word-of-mouth.
It’s not unusual for her to spend more time in her studio than in her home.
“Sometimes I’m in the studio 12 to 14 hours a day for days at a time,” she said. “It’s hard work but I love doing it.”
Details: Mermaid Fountain dedication, 10 a.m. July 21, Paul Thorpe Park, 135 S. Pineapple Ave, Sarasota. Free. 941-954-4105.