If you’ve ever been to Ivo’s, Filipo’s, Mama Onesti’s or another of Sarasota’s numerous Italian restaurants, you may have dined under a mural depicting an idyllic Tuscany hillside town. Chances are, the mural was created by mother-daughter team Caroline and Sara Harnish. The duo specializes in antique, custom Italian murals (although they have painted many different subjects), and while much of their public work is in restaurants, they have also built up a thriving base of residential clients.
They know the Italian countryside, having lived there for eight years during an unusual life spent steeped in art and travel. Caroline grew up in Eureka, Ill., influenced by her grandmother and mother, both artists, and various art teachers. After she married her first husband, a musician, they headed to Europe, and for the next 22 years, Caroline and her growing family-she had six children in all-traveled all over Europe, painting and absorbing the art of the classical masters. They moved from Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Italy, sometimes trekking by trailer, camping during the summers and taking houses in different towns for winters. They made their money selling art at fairs, markets and streets, and spent their days in museums, studying the masters and copying them.
Sara, the second-born and oldest girl, was born in Switzerland, but best remembers the eight years she spent in Italy, studying Renaissance and Baroque art while also helping her mother feed the younger kids and teach them English. The family lived in Torre del Lago in Tuscany, and during the summers would stand outside the opera hall and listen to the works of Puccini floating over the town.
But then Caroline began to dream of coming back to America and starting her own business. She moved her family to Sarasota six years ago, where they are now comfortably ensconced in a pleasant wooden house on Iola Road. The garden is filled with tropical plants and the house with their artwork. On the walls hang Caroline’s dreamy landscapes and startling, life-like portraits by Sara, a recent Ringling grad whose goal is to become a portrait artist. The home is the family’s refuge and reflection of their personalities, and that sense of beauty and belonging is what Caroline tries to create in other people’s homes with her murals.
"People want a refuge, a place where they can relax," she says. "Each person is different, and each house should be a reflection of that person, their castle. I like to see my art as a way of touching people’s lives and inspiring people. to being peace to their homes."
Murals and Portraits by Caroline and Sara Harnish can be reached at (941) 923-8716. The price of a mural varies according to size and complexity, but is usually about $30 a square foot.