A retiree who has never taken a single photography class is now an award-winning photographer whose work has been featured in an iPad apps and displayed at the Tampa Museum of Art. And throughout August, Sherry Williamson's photos will be showcased in the debut Artist of the Month exhibit at Beck Gallery in Lutz.
"I always find myself stopping to get a picture," she said. "Wherever I go, I see the potential for a photo."
A resident of Florida for more than 30 years, Williamson, 65, finds her primary inspiration in the beauty and novelty of tropical landscapes. She has shot everything from the beaches of the Bahamas to the Dade City Steeplechase, from a roadside watermelon stand in Zephyrhills to the natural settings of Lake Park in Lutz.
"Taking photos out on the landscape of nature is like meditation to me," she said.
A retired executive who worked with companies that ranged from Kmart to JPMorgan Chase, Williamson originally considered photography to be a casual hobby, one that she shared early in life with her father, Lester.
"He was big on nature," said the Ohio native, "and when we visited Florida he got amazing shots of hibiscus and other flowers."
When Williamson retired five years ago, she found that she was able to devote much more time to her lifelong interest. She posted some of her work online, where it caught the attention of noted Clearwater photographer Frank Planes.
"He told me that I had the eye for photography," she said. "And I said, 'No, I don't.' "
Nonetheless, Williamson took Planes' advice to join the local Photographic Art Society, and contributed her work to the society's judged exhibits at the Summit Office Complex in Clearwater.
"I started setting goals for my photos," she said. "I wanted to get a People's Choice Award and a Judge's Award. And I wanted to make my first sale."
Williamson accomplished all of these goals at Summit shows; in addition her work has won an honorable mention in the documentary category at the Tampa Museum of Art's "open call," and she received first place and honorable mention honors in the 2010 Kelby Photo Walk in Palm Harbor. Her work has been displayed at several Jewish community centers, Oldsmar City Hall and the West Tampa Center for the Arts. And several of her photos are incorporated in the interactive iPad/iPhone app "Puzzle Falls" and the iPad app ArtBook Tampa Bay.
As Williamson's work appears in more and more places, she continues to seek different sources of artistic inspiration. From the classically designed shops of downtown Dade City to the boat docks of Tarpon Springs, she seeks to capture Florida life through her lens.
"She's got that talent," said Tana Brackins, owner of Beck Gallery in Lutz. "She's got great composition, and you can really tell the feelings behind her work. Her images stick in your mind."
Brackins chose Williamson to be her debut Artist of the Month at Beck Gallery, which has been in business since 1969 and is now an art gallery, portrait studio and picture framing center. She hopes that the Artist of the Month program will introduce more community members both to her gallery and to the vast pool of artistic talent in this area.
"We want to put out an open call for emerging artists," she said. "This will get them exposure."