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Goodbye, Naples ... Hello, Low Country

"Please tell me you haven’t renewed the lease on your studio space, have you?" Richard Weedman asked his partner, Jonathan Green, when he called home to check on things. The two men were living in Chicago at the time, where Jonathan had earlier graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago, a wonderfully exciting city and cultural mecca in so many ways, has one overriding negative: its weather. That day, the weather was miserable. Gale-force winds, overcast, sleeting.

Weedman, then a consultant for a group of psychologists, had been on assignment in Florida and was basking poolside in the warmth of a perfect day in Naples when he called home.

Relieved to hear that the lease had not yet been signed, the two men made an on-the-spot decision: "Pack your canvasses and supplies, Jonathan," Weedman said. "We’re moving to Naples."

That was some 25 years ago. Since then, Jonathan Green has amassed honor after honor here. He’s won an honorary doctorate, had a ballet based upon his imagery, even created hot-selling calendars. The world has been good to this formerly impoverished child, raised in the Gullah Country of South Carolina.

When you’re immersed in the business of art, I must confess, it’s not unusual to become blasé, inured to so much—good, bad, indifferent—that passes for art. You live, literally, on visual overload much of the time. So it was that, very shortly after my husband and I moved to Naples about 11 years ago, we made an excellent sale to new clients and had been invited to their home to inspect where they believed the sculpture should be installed.

The home, filled with enough contemporary art eye candy to cause both Joseph and me to whimper. We literally pulled up short when we came to the top of the stairs. The colors! The patterns! The energy! All threatened to overwhelm us, as a marvelously different painting practically leapt off the wall.

That was the first time either of us had ever seen one of Jonathan Green’s paintings, and I was ready to rip it off the wall and add it to our own collection.

And so, over the years, we became friends with Jonathan and Richard. Thanks to Richard’s careful marketing efforts, Jonathan always sold sufficiently well on his own, so he never was represented by a Naples gallery. His utterly unique home, studio and meticulously maintained gardens just east of C.R. 951, became a spot where the art cognoscenti loved to gather and schmooze.

His paintings have come a long way since he and Richard first moved to Naples. Today, anyone who has ever set eyes on one of Jonathan Green’s paintings can instantly identify his works from across a crowded room. They’re that distinctive.

Jonathan’s been hugely popular among art aficionados and generous to a fault in providing examples of his work to myriad local charities. Green’s contributions to the arts locally are so strong that he has the distinction of having been awarded the key to the city of Naples—not once, but twice.

About four years ago, hoping to draw new collectors into their nest, Jonathan and Richard made what proved to be a serious financial mistake. They moved their gallery to a beautiful space in Bayfront, set up shop, held hugely attended events—and waited—and waited (like the rest of us in the business) for buyers to materialize.

It was all for naught. For the first time in his life, Jonathan was unable to sell a single painting.

Despite all this talent, all the visibility in this community, Jonathan and Richard reluctantly decided the financial pressures that have so negatively affected virtually all of us in the art business made it impossible for them to continue to live here. Closing the gallery in the spring, abandoning their highly distinctive home/studio/gallery/gardens and acreage in late summer, they moved within a stone’s throw of where Jonathan’s artistic visions had first filled his heart as a small child. They moved back to the Low Country, outside Charleston.

Now residing on, and selling from, the top floor of a newly built, otherwise vacant commercial building on Daniel Island in South Carolina, they were overjoyed to report the sale of 15 small paintings, all in the $2,500 range, within the first month of their relocation. That’s 15 more paintings at any price range than they had been able to sell here during the past two years.

Yes, they will be back for visits. They miss Naples. But South Carolina’s gain is our loss. Jonathan is well-known and loved up there, and Charleston is abuzz with the opportunities afforded by having him once again in its midst.

And Jonathan’s memories of his childhood? Of the simple pleasures he found in growing up poor? Once again, you can glimpse them on his canvasses. Sa-Hand’s Land (his nickname for his grandmother) fairly leaps from the small 18-inch by 24-inch canvas, colored sheets and blankets rippling in the late summer breeze.

Viewing the Sea

Turning their backs on everything they loved and had built here, Jonathan Green and Richard Weedman have taken what Kierkegaard called a huge "leap of faith," and I suspect, are already thanking their lucky stars for their promising return to Jonathan’s roots. Once again, they are on a roll.

Peg Longstreth Goldberg, friend and admirer of Jonathan Green, is the owner of Longstreth Goldberg Art Gallery and long-time observer of the art scene here.

, also 18-inch by 24-inch, is an instant reminder of his ancestor’s interconnectedness to the sea—not just for fishing as a means of survival but also for the deep joys derived from being one with the land and the tides. The hat on yet another figure? A staple in that part of the country, it is woven from the sweetgrass, bull rush and pine straw that abound in the Low Country.
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