A ?World-Win? Career

Wickey at World Six, her gallery and studio space in Rosemary Beach. Photo by Brandan Babineaux
A ‘World-Win’ CareerArtist Allison Wickey emerges to be one of the coast’s most sought after artistsBy Lilly Rockwell

Allison Wickey moved to the idyllic seaside community of Santa Rosa Beach four years ago to pursue her dream of becoming an artist. She wanted to stop painting murals for other people and start painting for herself, selling her finished products in local galleries.

She wasn’t the only one.

The communities along Highway 30A have developed a reputation as a haven for artists, and Wickey faced stiff competition in the push to sell paintings to some of the well-heeled clientele that vacation or live in picturesque south Walton County.

“There’s a million artists here,” Wickey said. “You wonder how you are going to survive.” She didn’t have to wonder long.

Wickey has not just survived but thrived in the four years since she moved to the Emerald Coast. By almost every measure, her instant success has been astonishing.

Her paintings regularly sell between $500 and $4,000, she is the exclusive artist for Rosemary Beach’s upscale World Six gallery and was selected as the 2011 Beaches of South Walton Artist of the Year by the Walton County Tourist Development Council.

And she has developed a loyal fan club of homeowners throughout the country that now includes famous chef and television personality Emeril Lagasse. His wife bought an Allison Wickey painting that will hang in the kitchen area of their New York home.

Those who know Wickey say it’s a testament to her talent.

“Allison’s language is art and she is tapping into deeper truths and feelings that the rest of us don’t always see,” said Anne Hunter, who owns World Six gallery. “That is what makes art something people want to buy.”

Though she grew up in an Illinois suburb of St. Louis, Wickey looks as if she were raised on the white sand beaches of the Emerald Coast with her wavy blonde hair and blue eyes.

Wickey comes by her talent naturally. Her father was a teacher and her mother a nurse. Though her grandmother, also an artist, thought she had talent, Wickey shrugged it off.

She never took art classes in high school, at most just doodling in the margins of her notebook. Wickey took her first art class at the University of Missouri, a drawing class in which she had to sketch nude models.

“It was funny, but it wasn’t uncomfortable,” she said. “It was more interesting to me than drawing a vase of flowers.”

Her talent was noticed by the teacher, who took her aside and encouraged her to focus on art. Wickey scoffed at the idea. “All I knew was the ‘starving artist’ stereotype,” Wickey said. “I never at that point knew that was a dream of mine and never thought I would do it.” At the time, she wanted to be a photographer or graphic designer.

After a stop at Florida Atlantic University, she transferred to Columbia College, a fine arts school in Chicago. She took more art classes and teachers again encouraged her to consider art as a career. After graduation, Wickey went back to her hometown of Belleville, Ill., and began picking up jobs painting murals in people’s homes. She would paint a safari in a baby’s room or a Tuscan countryside on a living room wall.

Soon, those odd jobs grew into a full-fledged business. She also met and married her husband, a software consultant. They had a child together, a son, and by the time Wickey was pregnant with their second child she was eager to move outside of the St. Louis area.

Her sister had a vacation home along Highway 30A in Northwest Florida. After a Christmas holiday visit, Wickey and her husband decided to relocate there.

Wickey was thrilled because this gave her the chance to break out from painting murals, which she had grown tired of. “I knew I could do something else but I also knew I would not go back to murals and from now on I would be painting pictures,” she said.

After giving birth to her daughter, Wickey had a few months to figure out what she wanted to paint. She gravitated toward using wood frames and mixing plaster and paint, playing around with colors and textures. “I started doing landscapes and animals,” she said. “It was either landscapes or something totally abstract.”

She finally settled on a 13-step, four-day process that involves using Venetian plaster, acrylic paints and glazes and a wood frame. The result is an antique look, as if the painting could have been stashed in grandmother’s attic for decades.

Wickey took her first paintings to Hunter, who agreed to try and sell three of them. They sold quickly. Hunter was so taken with Wickey that she decided to open a new store just for her in Rosemary Beach that is a combination gallery and studio called World Six.

World Six isn’t the only spot to find an Allison Wickey painting. She also sells at Grayton Beach’s Lily Pads, a market store in which artists show off their work in booths, and at Lovelace Interiors in Destin. But at World Six, patrons can watch Wickey make art and converse with her while she is doing it. “She is a very sensitive person to her clientele,” Hunter explained. “There are a lot of artists who aren’t able to bridge the gap between the world of art and the world of commerce. Allison has all of those aspects.”

This is no idle hobby for Wickey, who is now divorced and relies on her art for income. Hunter said Wickey dutifully spends hours each day in the studio working on her art.

Wickey has a knack for making paintings that people want to buy. On her website, she sells dreamy landscapes depicting what most people see when they live off 30A — glimpses of dune lakes between tall pine trees or the crisp blue Gulf of Mexico. She also has abstract art, such as a painting with bold, textured splashes of red against a creamy white background. It’s clear that Wickey is in tune with the fact that she is selling a lifestyle, one of lazy, carefree beach days and beautifully furnished cottages.

“I’m just following my heart and intuition,” Wickey said, reflecting on her success. “If it’s something you are really good at and it’s what you love to do, then do it."


Former Artists of the Year

The Walton County Tourist Development Council has selected one local artist for special recognition for each of the past nine years. Each year, the council receives several entries and must narrow them down to one winner. Here is a glimpse at past winners:

2010, Michael Granberry
This fine art photographer takes environmental portraits that capture the beauty of South Walton County. His work can be seen in Art of Simple gallery in Seaside.

2009, Michael McCarty
This acrylic painter produces contemporary art and experiments with mixed media. McCarty has also done artwork for dozens of major recording artists, such as James Brown and Willie Nelson.

2008, Donna Burgess
With a focus on watercolors, Burgess is inspired by her surroundings, depicting scenes of coastal life and marine creatures. Her gallery is located in Grand Boulevard at Sandestin.
2007, Bill Stephenson
Using a unique medium of salvaged wood, Stephenson is known for his talent in “woodturning,” which uses a stationary tool to carve and shape wood. Stephenson has a permanent exhibit at the Coastal Branch Library in Santa Rosa Beach.

2006, Phil Kiser
This artist is known for glass mosaics. He creates art from mason jars, glass, recycled mirrors and antique plates, stitched together to make one image. His work is available at Big Mama’s Hula Gallery.

2005, Justin Gaffrey
This painter is known for laying thick layers of “impasto acrylics” on top of painted canvas. He has studios in Blue Mountain Beach, Rosemary Beach and Seaside.

2004, Susan Lucas
This Santa Rosa Beach artist is inspired by nature and is known for acrylic landscape paintings. Her work can be seen at Signature Studios in Destin or by appointment at her Santa Rosa Beach gallery.

2003, Dorothy Starbuck
This Miami-born artist paints landscapes so realistic they look like photographs. She is most inspired by nature and Florida’s tropical landscapes. Her work is shown in Judy Shillingburg’s Special Touch Gallery in Destin’s HarborWalk Village.