Award-Winning Artists Shape the Local Scene
Walton County’s creative culture and laid-back vibes have attracted a wide range of transplant artists to join some of the homegrown talent that’s already here. Certainly, there’s no end to the inspiration generated by the beauty of the pristine natural landscapes.
To celebrate local visionaries, the Walton County Artist of the Year award was established over two decades ago. Winners have showcased an incredible variety of talents, styles and mediums. Today, they still play a pivotal role in shaping the art scene that has grown out of these colorful communities.
At just 25 years old, 2023’s recipient, Bradley Copeland, demonstrated how the local inspiration relates to artists of all ages. Overcoming several obstacles in life, she mined those challenges to discover her unique personal style. Bonding with people throughout this community has helped to further define the emotions portrayed in her work. Now she’s paying it forward by teaching art at the Walton Correctional Institution, while also sharing her work through both group and solo exhibits.
While Bradley is still relatively new to her career in the arts, many of the past Artist of the Year winners have well-established studios and galleries that add yet another layer to the local art scene.
A former flight attendant and certified commercial pilot, Mary Hong found her perfect landing spot here in Walton County. When she won the award in 2014, she had already worked as a professional artist for more than 20 years. She’d also established herself in the community with the Mary Hong Studio and the Shard Shop in Grayton Beach – both of which welcome countless guests every year. In turn, her unique brand of Shardworxâ puts specialty glass crafting products into the hands of artists of all ages.
While Juan Adaro’s process may sometimes have a certain chaotic freestyle to it, the end result is always aesthetically calming. Winning Artist of the Year in 2015 was the culmination of a creative journey that carried him from Buenos Aires to WaterSound and even helped him meet his lovely wife. His Adaro Art gallery is home to everything from original paintings and sculptures to kids’ crafts and home accents. This bright haven is also a great place to peruse works from many other local and international artists.
As an avid surfer, Andy Saczynski understands the deeper meaning of balance in both his work and the world around him. This 2013 winner finds inspiration in the wide-open expanse of the Gulf as well as Walton County’s narrow streets and the many surprises they offer along the way. Working with reclaimed objects, he gives them whole new existences by deconstructing them and merging them with other mediums. His gallery can be found not far from Mary Hong’s in Grayton Beach.
Justin Gaffrey’s family came to South Walton in 1980, before the community as we know it today had even had a chance to arrive. Moving forward, his life experiences have been inextricably entwined with this place. As the former owner and chef of Café Sublime, he channeled his creativity into one-of-a-kind edible works of art. He also worked as a furniture builder, a craft that translated into the handmade wooden canvasses on which he develops his paintings today. Swing by his gallery in Blue Mountain Beach to get an in-person feel for how his paintings are influenced by the beauty of the surrounding environment.
All these award winners and many others are lending their singular talents to a collective movement in Walton County. It’s a thriving scene that’s also bolstered by year-round events, from Digital Graffiti in Alys Beach to the Art Month initiative of the Cultural Arts Alliance. Exploring the galleries and work of both established and aspiring local artists will help support the movement while perhaps offering you a dose of personal inspiration.