We recently had the opportunity to interview Fairgrounds St. Pete FLORIDARAMA Artist Eric Folsom. His diorama Family Reunion at the Mermaids’ Lair was inspired by a St. Pete Times article from the 60s and depicts a vignette of an otherworldly reunion!
Eric Folsom left St. Pete in 1973 to pursue his self education with his travels leading him to Washington, DC and Sperryville, VA. In DC, his time off from working as a bike messenger was spent in the city’s museums, galleries, concert halls, theaters and libraries. In Sperryville, he lived on a 150 acre commune alongside artists working in leather, textiles, metal and other media. Eric was drawn to the metalworkers and accepted an apprenticeship with bronze and copper metalworker George Anderson to hone his own metal skills. He started exhibiting his work at art and craft shows in 1979 and, to this day, is still making work and accepting public and private commissions using torches, pliers, cutters, grinders and shaping tools to fabricate art from bronze, copper and found objects. His most recent projects have involved recycling bicycle parts to make gates and other sculptural objects.
Read on to learn more about what the experience of being part of our inaugural exhibit is like for him!
What do you want the public to take away from experiencing the FLORIDARAMA diorama you have created for Fairgrounds St. Pete?
ERIC FOLSOM: Flora and fauna have been living on and visiting Florida for a very long time. Many of these are extinct. Some migrated from far away (possibly from other worlds). We are surrounded by their presence and in my FLORIDARAMA I want to honor their mystery and memory.
What about being a part of Fairgrounds St. Pete’s inaugural exhibition is most exciting to you?
EF: It is an honor to be selected and to be among such talented artists. I really appreciate the respect for artists and the artistic freedom that Fairgrounds St. Pete offers.
Who/What inspired your Fairgrounds St. Pete FLORIDARAMA?
EF: A newspaper article from 1966 in the St. Petersburg Times had a story about a UFO landing in Pasco County. The Gulf of Mexico; I grew up looking across the water and wondered what it looked like. I knew that there were ancient buildings on the other side; Olmec heads are over there! In 1976, and again in 1979, I rode my bicycle over 6000 miles through Mexico to check it out. I have been paddling the Weeki Wachee river for over 50 years and it is near the Crystal River Archaeological State Park, where there is evidence that Crystal River was a major trading center. There were visitors from as far away as the Great Lakes and Mayan glyphs have been found there.
A tour of Eric’s FLORIDARAMA, Family Reunion at the Mermaids’ Lair
Who is the most significant influence in your art practice?
EF: My wife Janet; she paints from her heart. Yoko Ono; a fearless artist. My mentor George Anderson, the music of JS Bach, the art of ancient cultures, and the Apollo astronauts; they left from Florida and twelve of them walked on the moon!
Besides Fairgrounds St. Pete, do you have an upcoming project you’d like to share?
EF: From March 26 – May 8, 2021 I have bronze and copper flatware exhibited at the “Epicurean Delights” show at Florida CraftArt. In May, 2021 I will have a piece in the “The Art of All Things Florida” show at Mize Gallery. I have also been making garden gates from salvaged bicycle parts.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
EF: Being an artist is not an easy life. But stick with it and be true to yourself. You will meet interesting people and gain experiences that give your soul joy and satisfaction. And guess what? You were right. So far everything HAS been okay.
What is your favorite FL destination or landmark?
EF: Juniper Creek in the Ocala National Forest. Did you know that when Hernando DeSoto was marching inland across the peninsula, he came to a settlement near present day Ocala which was called “Ocale”? It was possibly a Mayan colony.