Wildlife artist Ernest C. Simmons' seemingly effortless depictions of birds transport you to the shore, to the Everglades, out into the wild scrublands and finally catapult you into the heavens.
Simmons was fascinated by birds as a child and spent his free time sketching them. He is one of those rare people who knew what he wanted to do from a young age, and so he concentrated on advancing his knowledge of art and birds. Growing up in Clearwater, he started volunteering at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, the largest wild bird hospital in the U.S. In his 19 years as a volunteer, and later as an employee, he worked with thousands of birds each year from the smallest dove to the largest eagle.
This knowledge of the bone structure, the personality, and the movements of the birds he paints gives his work a pulse that would not exist if he was simply copying a photograph. The birds’ souls seem to tremble just under the surface of the paintings, so much so, that as you walk away from one you might question whether you heard the sound of rustling feathers.
The artist is as intriguing as his paintings. Tall and personable, Simmons projects the affable and good-humored character of Tom Selleck. You can imagine he would be comfortable with a cigar in his hands.
His studio is woodsy and inviting, canoes hang on the ceiling and it is accented with functional bamboo pieces by Don Eichar of Bamboo Tropical.
A hand painted sign on his work easel says "shut-up and paint."
“Artists sometimes get lost in talking about what they want to accomplish rather than doing the work,” Simmons says. “I keep it there as a reminder.”
Of his many accomplishments, Simmons won the Florida Duck Stamp competition in 1980 with his portrait "Pintail Duck in Flight." He was the youngest winner in the country at the time. And more recently, he has been a finalist in the Federal Duck Stamp competition six times in the last 10 years. His work has been commissioned by the Florida National Parks and Monuments Associations and has helped to raise awareness and money for wildlife conservation.
The studio is open to the public by appointment or on select days. The next studio opening is May 5 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Along with original art, the studio sells T-shirts, $50 framed prints and unframed numbered prints.
Want to go?
- Where: Ernest C. Simmons Art Studio, 602 Douglas Ave.
- Contact: 727-738-0161, www.ernestsimmons.com
- Hours: By appointment only, except on select dates.