For those who appreciate the aesthetic appeal of an original piece of art and who value owning a work for a personal collection, nothing could be more saddening than seeing a commissioned piece left unfinished because of the death of the artist.
However, that is the situation in which Texas residents David and Cindy Lee found themselves.
Several years ago, the Lees purchased a Naples condominium once owned by Cindy Lee's parents, Evelyn and Robert Moffet, who had moved to Naples from the Detroit area in 1984.
Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo
Charming in its neighborhood east of the city docks, the condo was on a canal. After a recent renovation to tropical Florida décor, the Lees wanted to complement their furnishings with something extraordinary. After seeing artwork by celebrated Naples painter Jerry Vallez displayed at the Bay House, the Lees knew they wanted him to paint it for them.
Enjoying the serene sunset view of docks jutting into the mangrove-lined waters, the couple decided the scene should be memorialized. Last June, Vallez was commissioned to produce a 72- by 40-inch gallery-wrapped canvas painting.
Vallez, a Naples resident for 41 years, was best known for his realistic depictions of Naples' water, boat and marina themes. His subjects also included depictions in oil of historical buildings, a collection of which are owned by the Everglades Society for Historic Preservation; Ann Scott, wife of Gov. Rick Scott commissioned Vallez to paint a singular orange blossom for gifts of notecards that were given at a luncheon held in her honor. Vallez also was commissioned by Billy Ray, then owner of the Port of the Islands hotel and condominiums to construct 10-by-8-foot dioramas, a project to which he devoted two years but which was unfinished after Ray's death.
Over the years, The artist, familiar for his well-worn fedora, snowy hair and beard, could be found painting in the lobby of the Cove Inn in Naples, an ideal space for his oversized canvasses. At easel until he had a stroke in mid-August, the attack hit him hard.
"Jerry's daughter Michelle told us that the first question her father asked when he awoke was 'Will I be OK?' and 'Will I be able to paint again?'" Cindy Lee recalled.
However, the painter died on Sept. 15. The commissioned work was unfinished.
Enter fellow artist and Vallez's good friend Jeff Fessenden.
Knowing of the work in progress and that his style was similar to that of Vallez, Fessenden contacted Michelle Vallez with an offer to complete the commission for the Lees — out of respect for his friend and without remuneration.
Michelle Vallez contacted the couple, who were delighted at the prospect of having Fessenden pick up where Vallez left off, about 50 to 60 percent toward completion. (The two art patrons also insisted on paying him for his work.)
Fessenden, a Rhode Island School of Design-trained artist, works in a variety of mediums, as an illustrator in the style of Norman Rockwell, a caricaturist and a painter of fine art and murals and trompe l'oeil.
He said he is usually retained "for his eye and his ability to bring an often complex image into a special setting, which involves making adjustments to the artwork as it is being painted."
However, for this project, Fessenden had to rely on yet another sense: because the original photos Vallez worked from were missing.
"At first, I looked at the piece and tried to get a feel for the imagery. As I picked up my brush, I looked up — as if looking at an angel — and asked Jerry what to do," Fessenden recalled. "As I painted, I continued to 'talk' to Jerry and inform him about things like adding orange to the water or color to a cloud."
After two weeks, he said, he could see that he could effectively take over the work.
He painstakingly depicted the mangroves that border the canal and carefully painted the image to the sides of the wrapped canvas.
He called the work "a magical ride as I continued to channel Jerry's energy to produce the original vision. The work was truly inspired and unfolded in a way that I have never experienced. It was a joy."
Although the painting is not formally titled, Fessenden refers to it as "Naples Sunset — Chesapeake Docks." It bears a dual signature.
For information: Fessenden Studios Inc.239-793-0405 or fezzart.com