1. Hernando

Spring Hill art gallery aims to help community discover art and artists

SPRING HILL — Fresh from art school, Ricardo Rivera didn't relish life as a "starving artist." So for the next 30 years, he customized high-end automobiles, designing not just their artwork, but auto parts and panels. He earned more than 200 patents, established his own $2 million company and provided jobs for 20 employees.

Yet, Rivera acknowledged recently, "I always wanted to become a gallery owner."

Now at age 60, he's done just that.

Ricardo Design, his own name in swaggering red script, headlines a glass-fronted, 3000-square-foot gallery and studio that draws drivers to 13112 Spring Hill Drive, near the Linden Drive intersection.

"This is a fine art and print gallery," Rivera said. Yet, the gallery seemingly is much more. Multiple media are represented, eclectic and bedazzling.

Rivera's own specialty is etchings on glass and acrylic, some with unexpected, built-in LED illumination. But his offerings don't overpower other artists' works, from wall art to blown glass, resin and fiberglass sculptures and castings, metal works, furniture and more.

"Some of it's nice and expensive, and some of it's nice and cheap," Rivera said. "I'm not looking to get rich here." For the gallery's May 1 opening, wall art pieces were priced $50 to $500. Most are from Rivera's personal collection. Works range from an authentic Tuscan oil village scene to acrylic florals, water-color geometrics, textured modernity and painted-over prints.

Blown glass by former Spring Hill resident Melanie Clark, now of St. Petersburg, is featured. Pieces range from the elegant to the whimsical, flowing with color infusions, many representing undersea creatures. They are priced from $25 to $1,000.

A cluster of tabletop resin figurines from the "Summit Collection" recreate mermaids in detailed refinement, a nod to the nationwide fame of local attraction, the Weeki Wachee mermaids. Limited-edition cast resin dragons from the Franklin Mint also are offered.

Rivera didn't intend to include wearable art in his collection. But like his changing careers, "I wanted to change my persona." At a recent tour of the gallery, he wore a striking black T-shirt imprinted with stark white tree scaffolds.

"I discovered, wow, there's a lot of cool stuff out there, wearable art." Thus, a few Museum-of-Art-like Tees and hoodies are available in the $40 range.

Rivera doesn't offer works by famous artists. His gallery aims to showcase "undiscovered art and artists." He intends to add a website with the same thrust.

"I'm sure we are ready for a gallery," said Paul Shaskan, a leader on the Hernando County arts scene for 20 years. No "real" gallery has opened during his decade-long tenure with the fine arts council and its annual Art in the Park festival, he said.

Rivera's future agenda includes opening a "make-art area" for classes.

"That seems like a good approach," Shaskan said.

Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and Sunday by appointment, with occasional "discovery time-outs" for Rivera's art tours. Phone (352)563-5500 or (352)263-4841.

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