O’Lyn Callahan didn’t start out with a paintbrush.
His artistic career began on a bench in front of an organ.
But now Callahan has his own solo art show at All Angels by the Sea Episcopal Church. His oil paintings will hang in the church gallery until the end of November.
It was Callahan’s mother who first placed it in front of an organ.
“If you’re left alone, I want you to have a skill that you can support yourself,” her mother told her when she was a young girl.
“If you get good at any of these instruments, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be successful,” Callahan explained.
The other instrument is a harp. Both tend to be overlooked or avoided altogether because they’re so hard to master, but people love to hear them at weddings.
Playing the organ requires hands and feet. There are also several keyboards and sound settings to learn.
“She has 450 perfectly synthesized orchestral instruments at her fingertips.” Callahan’s husband, Byron Coleman, said. “I put the CD and the Boston Pops or the London Symphony plays. Then she knows when to come in, and I turn her off. People can’t tell the difference.
Callahan began playing the organ at age 14 and went on to earn a Master of Arts in Classical Pipe Organ Performance from Fresno State University. She worked her way through college playing in a trio five nights a week.
As a professional, Callahan toured with Yamaha and Panasonic, demonstrating the quality of their organs through live demonstrations. She also owned the Yamaha Piano and Organ dealership on Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota for 15 years.
These days, Callahan’s dedication to craftsmanship is directed to canvas. Her paintings are mainly inspired by travel, a passion shared with her husband. The couple have spent 750 days over the past eight years traveling the world.
Coincidentally, eight of his paintings hang in the gallery. She has more, but the rest decorates her house. Prices range from $300 to $1,200, and while priced by size and time spent, Callahan seems to have a hard time letting go of some pieces.
The first seascape for sale took him about 60 hours. With a little practice, the second took about 50 hours.
“Well, that’s probably the one I want to sell the least,” Callahan said, pointing to a painting inspired by a trip to Morocco. “I would like to sell the handbags only because the colors don’t go in our house.”
The Warhol-esque painting of pop art handbags is a departure from other travel portraits. Callahan said it was a study to make something look like it was going off the page. Each handbag is true to size and shows dimension through shading as if it could be peeled off the canvas.
Callahan didn’t go to art school, but she’s not self-taught either. She studied with Carlo DiNapoli, a world renowned painter who trained with masters in Italy and Japan.
But she had a more humble start when caring for an elderly woman. A German couple bought her an organ and became like a second set of parents. When the husband died, Callahan began caring for his widow as dementia set in.
“The doctor said she had to get back to painting, so I took her to a class,” Callahan said, “And she wouldn’t paint unless I sat next to her and I comb too.”
Callahan had never colored so much before, but says something clicked the second the brush touched the canvas. It’s been 12 years since the experience with the woman and the art course launched her on another creative journey.
Coleman, a former rocket scientist, traded in his safety glasses for a retired camera lens. They took 30,000 photos on their last trip. He gestured to the wall.
“I see my zebra,” he said proudly.
Travel is the inspiration; the photographs become the visual guide. The paintings are not always copies of the original, but serve as a reference.
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