Guests to Florida’s Panhandle visit for a lot of reasons. The sugar-white sands and crystal clear waters at the beach are at the top of any list. The relaxing lifestyle promised — whether for a few days or even longer — is also an obvious choice. Add in the best in Gulf Coast dining, shopping and entertainment and it’s a sure-fire recipe for vacation success.
Jason Lindblad is hoping tourists and locals alike will add one more thing to that list: Art.
The namesake behind the new J.Leon Gallery + Studio, located at 13370 U.S. Highway 98 in Miramar Beach, Lindblad has finally realized a dream that began when he was just a toddler.
“We were born with a vision to make fine art attainable for everybody,” said Lindblad, himself an artist who focuses on traditional drawings and digital illustration. “We wanted to create a unique experience that wasn’t available in the Destin area so far.”
Situated on U.S. 98 beside McCaskill & Company in the former Bontemps Interiors building, the gallery houses nearly 5,000 square feet of exhibit space, with an additional 600 square feet of studio space in the rear of the building. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., visitors to the gallery can see work from local artists including Lindblad himself as well as Marian Pacsuta, Skip Deems, Mary Redmann, Jenna Varney, Kathy Schumacher and Donnelle Clark. The artists added for the new fall exhibit, which runs October 2 until January 5, are Sereen Gualtieri, Estelle Grengs, Joan Vienot and Susan Lucas.
“We’re going to continue to have the artists that were here previously. They’ll continue to show, but they’ll be in different areas with new work,” Lindblad said. “As a new gallery, we wanted to give them an opportunity to continue to show to the public while adding in new work.”
Lindblad had been living and working in Atlanta, where it became more about the “daily grind” and less about his art. He said he began to feel unsettled there and missed his family, Shawn and Richard Tomasello, who lives full-time in Sandestin.
“I was like, ‘OK, what’s going on. Why don’t I like Atlanta anymore? I never see my family,'” Lindblad remembered. “So, I realized that I needed to sort of adjust and rearrange what was important for me. Work had been ‘plan A’ and art had been ‘plan B.’ Art needed to be ‘plan A.'”
Lindblad, 35, admitted the thought of that adjustment brought a bit of trepidation.
“It was a little bit scary. You know, this is going to be a complete life adjustment, but it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I got involved with the Cultural Arts Alliance and it’s just been such a blessing to work privately as an artist and work with my family and be with my family down here. It’s just been awesome.”
Lindblad’s mother, Shawn Tomasello, has even given herself a title in the new gallery: “Happiest Mom in America.”
“Jason has been focused on his passion for art since probably four years old. He was very small when we realized he had an incredible, God-given talent. He was drawing Belle from ‘Beauty and the Beast’ with all of her details,” Tomasello recalled. “This has been a career dream of his and it’s really just a blessing, as a mom, to see one of your adult children realize their dream.
“I also think we’re really lucky to be able to support other artists in the community and help make their art available. It helps the artists, it helps the community, and we all profit from cultural and emotional satisfaction.”
The property that now houses the J.Leon Gallery was introduced to the family by agents at Scenic Sotheby’s International Realty.
“It was just fun to listen to their vision and help them find the perfect spot,” Jo Stewart said. “The excitement of bringing this to the community and what a generous gift it is for all of us was great to be a part of.”
One of the artists Lindblad met through the Cultural Arts Alliance was Megan Patterson, who serves as the gallery’s studio director and ceramics instructor. Patterson, who holds a bachelor’s degree in ceramics from Oklahoma State University, leads a variety of classes and manages the open studio for beginners to advanced ceramic artists. The reception for the classes has been amazing, Lindblad added, and has prompted them to expand class sizes and even build a waitlist.
“Clay is such a therapeutic medium to work with and I think it’s important to give people access to that,” she said. “Our classes occupy a small space, which I think gives a more individualized, very intimate feel.”
Lindblad’s formal education came by way of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. The mission of the gallery, now on its second exhibit, is to create a space that offers a broad, eclectic appeal.
“What we wanted to do with the fall show was continue that mix of traditional and contemporary and bring in even more contemporary styles and add more art for art’s sake into the mix,” Lindblad said. “I’m pretty excited about showcasing not just painters, but an additional illustrator. Her work is very contemporary. And, we have Estelle Grengs, who has done the poster work for the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation. Her work is a little bit more funky and fun.”
J.Leon Gallery + Studio’s third show will begin in early 2021. Artists interested in submitting their work are encouraged to visit the gallery’s website prior to the next review process by the visual committee in early December. Lindblad said the gallery will continue to host public events and artist workshops in the coming months.
Discover more about the gallery, including its current show, calendar of events and latest class schedule by visiting jleongallery.com.