By Gaige Davila
Though life has slowed or stopped for some, art continues to survive, and thrive, on South Padre Island.
The Art Business Incubator (ABISPI) hosted their first annual art fest and artisan market on Nov. 14, celebrating their one-year anniversary after opening last November before the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to the U.S.
Artists from Laguna Vista, Port Isabel, South Padre Island, Brownsville, Kingsville, Harlingen and McAllen lined the courtyard of 2500 Padre Blvd, adjacent to ABISPI, selling arts and crafts in a variety of mediums. For these artists, the COVID-19 pandemic allowed an unexpected and almost-uninterrupted period to create, using ABISPI Art Fest to share their work.
ABISPI’s Art Fest was Sara Ortiz’s second pop-up, the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley English major told the PRESS, doing her first in Harlingen on Halloween. Most of her work, varying from Texas-centric, floral or architecture designs, can be found for sale on Etsy and Instagram. The COVID-19 pandemic has made plans to physically present art harder, but it hasn’t stopped Ortiz from creating.
“A lot of these are actually cathartic designs for me,” Ortiz said of her artwork. “I have to vent sometimes, so I just put it all on paper.”
Ortiz started drawing in high school for clubs, accepting “coffee currency” in exchange for commissioned works. The artwork, all done on Procreate, helps cover auxiliary costs as she attends university, soon to be attending law school which, according to Ortiz, goes hand in hand with her art.
“Just like how I like bringing peace with art, I like defending people,” Ortiz said. “I have a really strong sense of justice, whether it be with writing or whether it be with art, reminding us of our worth, it’s very important to remind us that we have humanity inside ourselves.”
Across the courtyard, Nancy Watson-Fiorini displayed individually painted oyster shells, with mermaids, Frida Kahlo, seagulls and even the South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary tower on them.
“They all come from the restaurants here,” Watson-Fiorini said of the oyster shells. “I don’t go to the beach, because I don’t like sand.”
Watson-Fiorini cleans the oysters with Clorox, then boils them, cleans them again, then seals them with a water-proof protectant, painting over the primed oysters.
She taught art classes at high schools and middle schools for 30 years all over the state, the last school being in Edinburg before moving to the South Padre Island Golf Course in Laguna Vista. Watson-Fiorini has painted the oysters for the last year or so,
“I was looking for something that was small,” Watson-Fiorini said. “I was doing bigger stuff, and people would say, ‘well, I love it, but I don’t have room in my car to take it home.’
The oyster shells, packaged in gold-colored boxes, are curated specifically for easy transport and gifting.
Behind Watson-Fiorini was Abel Gonzalez, or “Abel Gonzo,” an English teacher at a Kingsville, Texas, high school. Originally from Harlingen, Gonzalez returned to the Rio Grande Valley to show his self-published comic, Treebot: Earth’s Last Living Tree. Treebot, the last tree on earth, binds with technology to destroy an over industrialized society and revive organic life.
Gonzalez’s first pop-up was in February, where he initially anticipated regular exhibitions of his artwork, before quarantining and state-issued closures were issued in March. But Gonzalez made use of the quarantine, self-publishing Issue #0 of the Treebot comic, a character he created in 2016.
Gonzalez created the comic from pencil and paper, his preferred artistic style that he refers to as “analog.” Color was added digitally to the Treebot comics by friends of Gonzalez.
“I’m really hoping to make this a full time career eventually,” Gonzalez said. “This whole quarantine sent us a year back.”
Samantha Jo Finney, owner and creator of Across the Causeway, who started her anklet-turned-earring business in 2017, has continued making earrings through the COVID-19 pandemic, launching products on Etsy and Instagram and selling out quickly.
Finney started making earrings in March after initially making anklets, beaded earrings and bracelets. Finney’s earrings are made of polymer clay, which she shaves, cuts, bakes, sands and polishes by hand, making geometric shapes in simple to bold, statement-making designs. Next, Finney wants to make necklaces and bracelets.
The name embodies the feeling of driving across the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway to get to South Padre Island, a nod to the Laguna Madre area at large, Finney said.
“I have some people that have bought every single launch since the month I started,” Finney said. “Almost always when someone buys an earring, they come back, which I really appreciate that they enjoy them.”
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