Gulfport's gecko artist Eric Folsom on GeckoFest, art and life

Seven questions with Eric Folsom.

click to enlarge When your wife is an artist, too, your "snapshots" tend to be more elaborate. - Janet Folsom
Janet Folsom
When your wife is an artist, too, your "snapshots" tend to be more elaborate.

Gecko Season — the span of July, August and part of September when Gulfport goes all-in for geckos — is upon us. Part of the fun includes Gulfport artists making geckos and displaying them at local venues. Gecko supporters (that's "locals and people who really love Gulfport" to you and I) will bid on the geckos, and after Gecko Season ends (with GeckoFest, an all-day and most-of-the-night street party), they get to take their geckos to their new home (think of it as an "adopt a gecko" program). This year, we're asking each of the gecko artists (gartists? geckotists?) seven questions. Next up, Eric Folsom. 

click to enlarge The gecko Eric Folsom made for GeckoFest 2017. The Gulfport Welcome Center had it on display and it ultimately sold for $550. - Eric Folsom
Eric Folsom
The gecko Eric Folsom made for GeckoFest 2017. The Gulfport Welcome Center had it on display and it ultimately sold for $550.

How did you start making art?

As a child I often sketched landscapes and birds. I pored over art books and was particularly drawn to the art of indigenous peoples portrayed in National Geographic magazines. I moved to Washington, D.C. in 1974 because I knew that the city had many museums, galleries and libraries, and that I could make a living as a bicycle messenger. I grew up here and spent a lot of time on the Gulf of Mexico and I always wondered what it was like on the other side. So, in 1976, I made the decision to ride my bicycle down through Mexico from California to Guatemala. I observed a lot of ancient and modern art that was set in a beautiful culture. When I returned to the U.S., I was riding my bicycle back to D.C., but made a detour to an artist commune in the mountains of Sperryville, Virginia. There I was offered a job polishing jewelry for metalsmith George Anderson. This became an apprenticeship and I have not stopped making objects from bronze and copper since that day in 1977.

Your wife, Janet, is also an artist. Do either of you have "day" jobs or can you support yourselves on your art (and if so, how)?

For most of our lives we have both had to have day jobs. But neither of us has ever abandoned our desire to make, display and sell our artwork.

Why do you live in Gulfport?

I came to Gulfport during my first week of life. I moved away when I was 20 years old to travel and study. I always returned to Gulfport to visit my family and moved back here with Janet in1995 to be near my aging father. 

After several years of making geckos for Gecko Season, how do you challenge yourself and keep it new?

I am always observing the anoles, geckos and skinks that inhabit our peninsula. I am always delighted and amazed at how they wrap their bodies around objects in the environment; they are like tiny dancers. I am always finding inspiration [in] their agility and speed. 

What's your favorite piece of art that you've ever made, and why?

In 2000, I received a grant to make a bench for St. Petersburg’s First Night event. I enjoyed making this piece because I needed to use all of the skills that I had acquired as an artist, woodworker, carver, furniture builder, metalworker and painter. I like any project that stretches my brain and abilities. 

How could the Gulfport art community best grow?

Affordable studio spaces in the Arts District. There are buildings in the area that have been vacant for years: Gateway Plaza at Beach and Gulfport Boulevards, the Bank of America building at 58th St. S. and 23rd Ave., and LaFogata/Boca Grille on Beach Blvd. 

Just for fun: You are mayor of Gulfport for a day. What three things do you do?

I would lower the speed limit to 20 miles per hour citywide, paint crosswalks at the intersections of all the thoroughfares, and permanently close Beach Blvd. from the library to the Casino to all but pedestrian and human-powered vehicles (this might start a cottage industry of people-movers like pedicabs).

About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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