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Sarasota artist talks about dad, works in PBS documentary

“Art is long and life is short."

That's how Gale Fulton Ross, 68, an acclaimed African-American artist in Sarasota, begins Baby Artist, a PBS documentary about her life. Baby Artist is the nickname her father, Herman Fulton Jr., who was an artist and designer himself, gave her when she was growing up.

In the film, she talks about her dad and the depression that led to his suicide. She said he was the original designer of fins, popular on the back of cars in the 1950s, and it is her mission to see that he gets credit for it.

Baby Artist, which aired earlier this month as part of WEDU's Diamonds Along the Highway series, was named Best Documentary by the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists in 2013. You can watch it online at http://bit.ly/1nQ2LRm.

She said she was chosen as a subject for the series because of her activist work in the arts community. Her dad's story came out in the conversations she had with the producers.

In addition to her paintings — "Art is my master and mistress; it tells me what I'm going to do every day" — she creates works for cityscapes, parks and other public venues. One of her sculptures, Many Voices, One Story, is to be erected in Opa-locka later this year.

We asked her some questions about her life and her work:

1 How did Baby Artist come to be made?

Two friends, Mark Reese and Gus Mollasis, wanted to produce a PBS-WEDU series, Diamonds Along the Highway, that celebrated Florida's stories about its people, places and history, and I was happy to be included. I consider Sarasota my permanent home. I have lived and worked here for 23 years.

2 How do you want to be remembered?

I consider it my job to document the history of people of color who are living today. Years from now — if I'm fortunate enough to have work in public places where people can view, debate and study what I have done — perhaps they will learn something about who we were.

3 Tell us about Many Voices, One Story, your sculpture that will be erected in Opa-locka.

For years I wanted to do a large signature landmark sculpture and really wanted it to be something that involved the residents of the area where it would live. After being awarded a National Endowment for the Arts — Our Town grant by Opa-locka (about 10 miles northwest of Miami) and representatives of the Miami art scene, I visited and chatted with the people there. Most were women and the heads of their households. They were concerned about the future of their children. I decided that the sculpture had to be the head of a strong, nurturing woman who could represent Mother — Mother Love, Mother Wit, Mother Earth, Mother Mary. Then I decided to place a time capsule in the top of the head to hold letters and notes written by the community, especially the children. They'll be placed there when the sculpture is installed and opened in 25 years.

4 Do you have a favorite piece of your work?

I have no favorites because it is still in my creative spirit, I've not let it out as yet. In the meantime, my favorite creation is my son, Craig Ross Jr., and all the joy and wonder he and his family — especially my granddaughter, Caris Marie, who I hope will represent me in 25 years when they open that time capsule — bring to my life.

5 Please tell us about your dad . . . and the fins.

My father worked as a body and fender man for a small Cadillac and Oldsmobile dealership in Malden, Mass. His job was to knock the dents out of people's vehicles and repair the damage. He was not a designer for the company but he was a frustrated artist. I was 7 when he brought home a beat-up Oldsmobile and an equally beat-up Cadillac. He combined them into one car, a white Cadillac convertible with the grille from the Oldsmobile and fitted it with outrageously deliberate pointed fins in the back. Jordan Patkins, one of the ownership dealer owners, came to claim the car and all the drawings. He said the car design belonged to the dealership because Dad worked for them.

Several years ago, after my father had been dead more than 30 years, I found Jordan Patkins, who was 87, and asked for an explanation. He said he commissioned my father to do the car for him but couldn't prove it because all of the paperwork was lost in a fire.

He also said my dad was a genius and he deserved credit as a "dream car builder." I was just glad to hear him recognize my father. After that, he sent me photos of Dad and him and the car. He died two months later.

Contact Patti Ewald at pewald@tampabay.com.

Watch online

The documentary Baby Artist can be found online at http://bit.ly/1nQ2LRm.

Sarasota artist talks about dad, works in PBS documentary 07/21/14 [Last modified: Monday, July 21, 2014 7:56pm]
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