Happy anniversary, Ocala Art Group!

The upbeat arts nonprofit is getting busy with new projects as it celebrates more than seven decades of creative support in the region.

Home » Arts & Entertainment
Posted June 2, 2023 | By Julie Garisto
Photos by Bruce Ackerman

Mary Tougas, the president of the Colored Pencil Guild in The Villages, front, gives a demonstration of how to create a shaded pencil drawing of a strawberry to, back, from left: Deborah Horvath, Cathy Burnside, Abigail Langer, Linda DeLuca and Morganne Langer, during a meeting of the Ocala Art Group at the Brick City Center For The Arts in Ocala on Monday, May 8, 2023. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.

A nonprofit educational and culturally supportive organization, the Ocala Art Group (OAG) turns 73 this month. Formed in 1950, OAG is among the oldest of its type in Florida.

Members support each other in achieving a constantly evolving quality of work, and they foster enthusiasm by socializing and engaging in enriching experiences. The group is inclusive of all artists of all experience levels as well as art enthusiasts, and is open to all who share an interest in developing and promoting fine art. 

Mary Tougas, the president of the Colored Pencil Guild in The Villages gives a demonstration of how to create a shaded pencil drawing of a strawberry.

Every month, members participate in a variety of activities, from book clubs on art-centric novels and histories, to excursions to workshops that appeal to enthusiasts of various media. The group presents at least four art shows a year with all-member participation.

Leona “Lee” Asta, an Italian American retired special education teacher from Queens, is OAG’s president, and this year marks her 20th year with the group.

“We have a lovely mix of people,” Asta said with an accent that gives her away as a former New Yorker, “and, amazingly, the members come from as far away as Leesburg, The Villages, Belleview, Ocala, and an hour north of Ocala. So, its a very widespread group.” 

When she retired and moved to Marion County a little more than two decades ago, Asta decided to start taking painting lessons in a library in The Villages, where she still lives. Seeing her first painting hanging on a wall gave her “the tingles.” She said she found tons of support and the occasional snub, an occupational hazard in the art world. 

But, fortunately for Asta, the Ocala Art Group has shown her unending support.

A mixed media artwork titled “Esmeralda” by Ocala Art Group artist Marge McQueston is shown on display in the new gallery at Molly Maguire’s in Ocala on Monday, May 8, 2023.

“This is my third year as president,” Asta shared, “and we’re going to start working on our 75th-anniversary celebration in two years. I don’t know what that even means right now,” she said with a laugh, “but I’m hoping that since we are up to 78 members now, that it’s a good sign that we have such a robust membership. And we have roots now in Ocala, and we have a new permanent gallery space at Molly Maguire’s, downtown, and we are in the process of doing the same at Mesa di Notte Restaurant, one of my favorites.”

Upcoming events include an anniversary celebration luncheon from noon to 2 p.m. June 14 at the Braised Onion restaurant at 754 NE 25th Ave, Ocala. The group will install new officers at the event. (Note: You must already be a member to attend OAG events or fill out and bring an application, downloadable at ocalaartgroup.org/membership; the fee is $35 annually. RSVP to Susan Fink via email to vertepurple7/@gmail.com.)

Asta said the group will be opening a new exhibition in July with a reception on Thursday, July 13, from 5 to 7 p.m., in the upstairs art gallery of South State Bank on Silver Springs Boulevard. For this show, OAG will donate 30 percent of art sales to the Ocala Blue Star Mothers and their veteran affiliates. The show will be up through September.

Group members also are working on “mini workshops” for homeschooled students and others at Chelsea Square, an effort championed by OAG member artist Barbara Fife, and they’re discussing a potential third gallery space for members’ exhibitions. 

Community support has enriched the group’s experiences. Around six years ago, the Marion Cultural Alliance endorsed the group and invited them to conduct their meetings at the MCA’s Brick City Center for the Arts. 

George Carrasco, owner of the downtown restaurant-bar Molly Maguire’s, offered a gallery space to the OAG, providing a new satellite home base for members’ works. One-fifth of the sales at the restaurant exhibit will go to Ocala Blue Star Mothers. 

The idea to support the organization of moms of active-duty military personnel came from OAG member Debbie Ceres, whose daughter is in the U.S. Air Force. 

OAG held an opening reception at Molly Maguire’s during the May 5 First Friday Art Walk. Ceres said the “place was filled with members, old friends and new … the atmosphere was wonderful, filled with a great DJ (Joe) playing music, drinks and yummy food, and an outstanding staff to welcome all of us.”

For more information on the Ocala Art Group, visit ocalaartgroup.org.

Artwork by the Ocala Art Group.

Debbie Ceres, with the Ocala Art Group, in front of her acrylic painting titled “Journey.”

Lucy Pinkstaff, an artist with the Ocala Art Group, by her oil on canvas painting titled “Yellow Iris.”

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