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Richard Kenneth Turney

May 29, 2009

Well-known local watercolor artist Ken Turney died peacefully at home on the morning of May 21, 2009. He was 97 and had just completed his memoir, The Life & Times of Watercolor Artist Ken Turney.

Born in Greensburg, Penn., on June 22, 1911 to Marcellus R. and Jennie E. Turney, he first studied art at Greensburg High School, then pursued a course of art and architecture at Carnegie Mellon Institute and the University of Pittsburgh. He married Dorothy V. Smith, now deceased, on Jan. 1, 1940 and served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 until he was honorably discharged in 1945 as a Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class.

The child of two creative and talented parents, Ken then went on to a 27-year career in fashion display in Youngstown, Ohio., 20 of those years with C. Livingston & Sons. But his love of sailing led to a second career in sailboat design and sales – Ken T. Sailboats, Inc. of Boardman, Ohio – from 1973 to 1979. He was an active member of Pymatuning Yacht Club and founded Pymatuning Sailing Club in Jamestown, Penn.

After wintering on Sanibel in 1978, he moved to Southwest Florida – Tropicana Park in Fort Myers – where he began his third career as a watercolor artist. He had many one-man shows locally as well as being part of numerous exhibitions at the Cape Coral Art Studio, the Merrick Fine Art Gallery in New Brighton, Penn., the Fort Myers Beach Art Association and BIG Arts on Sanibel. He was a member of the Florida Watercolor Society, BIG Arts, Lee County Alliance of the Arts, the Naples Art Association, the Sanibel-Captiva Art League, and the Fort Myers Beach Art Association which, in 2007, honored Ken with a retrospective of his work for his 95th birthday.

As president of the Art Council of Southwest Florida, Ken founded the Winners’ Circle, a biennial exhibit of award-winning artwork by members of the Art Council. This past December, at age 97, Ken was honored at the 13th Winners’ Circle exhibit in Phillips Gallery on Sanibel.

While maintaining his independence in many ways and his enthusiasm as an artist, he remained active, astute to current events, sharp, smart, articulate and kind to the end. Over the years he contributed often to the News-Press Opinion page and could be quite outspoken on politics and other matters that concerned him.

Sanibel artist Carol Rosenberg knew Ken for more than 20 years. “Ken was a wonderful asset to the local art community,” she said. “After he relocated here, he jumped right in to participate – not only in shows but, more importantly, in the workings of both the San-Cap Art League and the Beach Art Association. For many, many years Ken always pitched in and helped the Art League in several ways. He made signs, racks for matted paintings and even parked his van on McGregor and San Carlos so that off-island artists entering our past shows on Captiva could drop off their paintings which Ken would then transport to the exhibit. His paintings, which he always numbered, were on view in the Jacaranda Restaurant on Sanibel for more than 25 years.

“He was a wonderful model for any artist – always very positive, always creating, never getting ‘lazy.’ And he was very orderly – unlike many of us; he always documented his work, the price, where it was sold and to whom, etc.”

“I am sorry to hear about Ken Turney,” former San-Cap Art League president Naomi Campbell wrote from New York, her base of operations and where she is now teaching at the Art Students League. “He was always such an integral part of the League when I was president – ever so effervescent about life and his work. He forged a business out of his skills and vision that always fed from his strong association with the area and his involvement with the art organizations around – in particular, the Sanibel-Captiva Art League. While I was on the island and serving as president in the early ’90s, I remember he used to like to address me as ‘Madame La Presidente.’

“It was always a pleasure to see Ken show up at the group paint-outs,” she continued, “and his feistiness and warmth in his work and his life is something I have taken away with me to New York in my life and work here. He will be missed. I am sorry to hear he has passed away, but very pleased to have known this man who exemplified the classic artist that history recounts – feisty and working until the very end!”

“I had only been with the Islander a short time,” writer Anne Bellew said, “when I wrote a column dealing with seasonal traffic on Sanibel. Ken liked it and sent me the first ‘fan’ letter I’d ever received! We’ve been acquaintances/friends ever since, and I was honored when he asked me to help him with the first draft of his memoir.”

In describing his life as an artist Ken said, “…it released a lifelong need to make beautiful, durable works and share my enjoyment with others. Happily this has been the case with many folks who now own one or more of my over 2,200 original watercolor paintings.”

Survivors include his daughters – Pamela Richards of Bedford, Mass. and Marda Jan Gracey and her husband, Doug, of Palm Coast, Fla.; four grandsons – David Richards of Vermont and his wife, Katie, Scott Dyer of Palm Coast and his wife, Kristina, Eric Dyer of Colorado, and Kyle Dyer of Palm Coast; two great grand-daughters – Madeline Richards of Vermont and Evey Dyer of Palm Coast; a nephew – Ron Turney of Alabaster, Ala.; and a sister-in-law – Georgia Turney of Jeannette, Penn.

A private service will be held in Greensburg with interment at St. Clair Cemetery. A celebration of Ken’s life in Southwest Florida will be scheduled for a later date. Memorial donations may be made to the Fort Myers Beach Art Association Scholarship Fund, Post Office Box 2359, Fort Myers Beach 33932, or to the The Hunger Relief Fund – Southwest Florida Community Foundation, 8260 College Parkway-Suite 101, Fort Myers 33919.

For information on available artwork or Ken’s memoir, contact ptrichards@aol.com