Fun and Whimsy at the Marietta Museum
The Lakewood Ranch Women Club enjoyed an enchanting tour on Feb. 16, 2018 of the Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy located at 2121 N Tamiami Trail in Sarasota.
Walking through the entrance guarded by two whimsical 1,200-pound metal flamingos, was a magical trip down the rabbit hole to a joyful wonderland. From the amazing, eclectic and contemporary art collection to the beautiful, lush sculpture gardens, this one-of-a-kind oasis of whimsical art, delights the senses and uplifts the spirit.
Upon entering the main gallery, the Women’s Club members encountered a life-like sculpture of an elderly security guard who appeared to be resting in his seat and a huge assortment of humorous art, many featuring an assortment of comical animals before heading to the amazing gardens to await the 1:30 pm guided tour.
A whimsical art museum that evokes smiles and offers a sanctuary from life’s troubles is the embodiment of the vision of the Museum’s founder and curator, Marietta (Mary) Lee. A graduate of the Ringling College of Art + Design (RCAD), Mary is a philanthropic artist and avid art collector, who says that her mission is to provide access to culturally-significant, contemporary artwork that celebrates upbeat themes and whimsical notions.
Members were delighted that Mary Lee, herself, conducted the guided tour and shared her fascinating story.
Mary told the group that the genesis of the Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy began more than thirty years ago when she was a registered nurse and paramedic. She began creating art to cope with tragedy.
She decided to change career paths and relocated to Sarasota in 1984, where she earned a degree from RCAD.
She later moved back to her hometown of Guilford, Connecticut to serve as a caregiver to her aging and infirmed parents. She shared with the group that art museums were her respite from sorrow, but many did not create an environment to uplift her spirits.
After her beloved parents passed, Mary wanted to use her legacy to honor their memory and create a museum with whimsical artwork that would make people smile, and where women artists were well represented.
She began seriously collecting art and started a non-profit, private foundation for Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy in 2006 in her hometown. Unable to find an appropriate location in Guilford, Connecticut, she returned to the artistic city of Sarasota to establish the museum.
Searching for the right property was a challenge. When she first saw the building that became the museum, it was a funky structure with a front door through the restroom and no front windows. The garden is what sold her on the site. Mary told the club that she is an avid gardener, and the existing trees and garden layout convinced her that she could create a tropical paradise behind the museum.
She envisioned the garden she created filled with, lush foliage, whimsical sculptures, beautiful trees (some with pink metal monkeys) and garden paths, with lovely fountains and colorful flowers. The metamorphosis to the building itself was equally astonishing Mary turned a funky drab caterpillar into a beautiful pastel butterfly and populated the colorful galleries with whimsical art and furniture from the humorous to the magnificent! In Oct. 2010, the not-for-profit Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy opened its doors to the public.
During the tour, Mary proudly showed pointed out her treasured Lee Family Arch. She explained that this unique archway is made of actual family mementos and other items including sea shells, gems, beads, crystals, stones, pearls, marbles, her parent’s watches, stick pins, earrings, Lee Company lapel pins, tie tacks, and even a minnow.
This arch was created to honor Mary’s parents, Leighton and Marietta Lee (Mary is named after her mother) and all the generous, hardworking and supportive family members and friends that made Mary’s dream of a Museum of Art & Whimsy a reality.
Beyond the arch is a gallery filled with stunning and valuable works of art such as Michael Gard’s Flying Dancers, an illuminated wire sculpture of three dancers, gracefully suspended from the ceiling.
The next stop on the tour was pure whimsy in a gallery filled with “Pets doing Naughty Things.”
There were surrealistic winged-pigs and detective cats and a host of funny animals in the other galleries. Even the bathrooms proved to be treasure troves of whimsical art. It is customary for tour groups to be videotaped and posted on Instagram in the front men’s restroom. The challenge is to see how many can fit in the small space. The WC group set a temporary record of 21 people along with Mary Lee, another docent and 4 other willing visitors.
Most of the art at the museum was created by living, working artists who can be contacted through their websites. The art on display, however, is not for sale and the museum does not have a gift shop because it is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization. The lack of commercialism makes the Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy a true Sarasota artistic wonderland where the sole purpose is to enjoy whimsical treasures that make you smile. While admission is free, a $5.00 donation per person is appreciated for operating costs. Complimentary refreshments are provided in the delightful museum café, complete with a colorful backsplash featuring cats on a beach and one camouflaged dog. Docent tours are available for groups of 10 to 20 people and need to be scheduled in advance.