By Virginia Hoffman
My New Jersey hometown was so small that when my family moved to Sarasota 47 years ago I thought we had moved to the big city. My mother took me to Sears & Roebuck on Bahia Vista Street to buy my first Spider bike, equipped with a white plastic basket into which I inserted my fox terrier. I liked to ride to the Stickney Point Bridge and watch, fascinated, as the bridge tender opened it manually with a giant crowbar.
Sarasota offered me real art and music education that made me want to be an artist. When Julie Rohr invited us to learn the violin, I was in. As simple farmers, my parents did not understand, but an appropriate temper tantrum got the $3 to rent an instrument. My music and art teachers encouraged me to attend concerts, participate in music festivals and win visual art scholarships. It’s hard to imagine what my life would have been like otherwise.
In the 1970s, I attended Ringling College; it had an intimate quality in those days. Even then, Sarasota was hip. We had gay bars and nude beaches, and no one made an issue out of them. Local artists and well-known writers hung out together, spreading wisdom over Marina Jack cocktails. I miss the art store on Palm Avenue and admit to peeking in that “dirty movie theater” next door.
Not immune to the notion that an artist needed to be in New York City to succeed, I toyed with the idea of leaving, but savvy businesspeople took me under their wing, helping me to make a creative living here. And the solid friendships I’d developed made it clear Sarasota was a place where I could blossom and live a good life, so I stayed. At times I get frustrated, as my hope for a progressive, liberal vision often conflicts with the dominant Sarasota tone—but, hey—it’s what one makes of things.
Artist Virginia Hoffman is currently photographing old Florida towns and landmarks. You can see her work at virginiahoffmanphotography.com.