Ron Winarski brings to life Florida’s marine animals in his sustainable, environmentally friendly driftwood sculptures

“Ten years ago, I was fishing off one of the spoil islands (in the Indian River Lagoon) and noticed a tangled pile of driftwood on the shore that resembled a dolphin that was swimming around my boat and scaring the fish away,” recalls Ron Winarski. “That’s when I got the idea to collect some of the driftwood and create something unique with it.”

At the Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD) in Ohio where Winarski studied, he took conventional sculpture courses and learned about working with three-dimensional shapes, as well as positive and negative space. And while he had never worked with driftwood specifically, nor had he ever heard of anyone else sculpting this material for that matter, he knew that standard design principles and work-working techniques would translate.

“The driftwood itself is very hard and provides a sturdy medium for any technique that I apply,” explains Winarski who shapes, joins and finishes his larger pieces with standard wood-working tools on a large deck at his Malabar home. He tends to work on smaller pieces on his home’s patio using a Dremel rotary tool and its various attachments.

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AN ART FORM ALL ITS OWN

“What intrigues me about this form of art is the organic nature of driftwood,” says Winarski. “The curving lines and textures of the wood give energy and movement to the finished pieces … I also love the unique aspect of the sculptures. I had never seen anything like them done before.”

Winarski draws inspiration from his Space Coast surroundings and creates pieces that tend to portray life-sized Florida marine animals. He describes his style as impressionistic, with the goal of not exactly replicating his subject, but instead giving an “impression” of it.

Like the dolphin that originally helped inspire Winarski, the artist’s sculptures underscore the natural beauty of Florida, especially as it pertains to wildlife, as well as reinforce the connection of these animals to their environment.

“I love the variety of wildlife to choose from,” explains Winarski. “The sleek and flexible shapes of many fish species are especially fun to work with.”

Perhaps that’s why the artist names a piece depicting a marlin jumping out of water as one of his favorites. A tabletop sculpture measuring 21-inches high and 32-inches long, it reminds Winarski of “all the fantastic ocean creatures that few of us ever see in the wild.”

Winarski was commissioned to create three sea turtle sculptures for the Brevard Zoo in Viera. The sculptures are on permanent display at the Whale’s Tail sundry store in the Paws On exhibit.

“Ron specifically designed the sculptures to hang in a particular area of the store, so it isn’t just that he created beautiful sculptures, but he also did a magnificent job in displaying each sculpture, sort of bringing out the gracefulness of sea turtles moving,” says Andrea Hill, marketing director of the Brevard Zoo.

“(I was drawn to) his use of natural elements to create life-sized, wildlife artwork,” she adds. “Ron creates extremely impressive, beautiful and lifelike pieces.”

ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY ART

Given the subject matter of his art, it’s no surprise that he is a big proponent of environmental protection. He takes pleasure in the fact that his sculptures are “green” with a “miniscule carbon footprint” as driftwood does not require high-energy furnaces or kilns like glass, copper and certain other materials.

Furthermore, driftwood is plentiful in the environment. While out fishing, Winarski will scour the Indian River Lagoon and collect pieces from islands or shorelines. “The overturned trees that have their root systems exposed are a good source,” he says.

Locally, Winarski is a member of the Brevard Cultural Alliance (BCA) and Strawbridge Art League. He’s also a member of the Florida Wildlife Conservation Fund. His pieces have been displayed at the state capitol in Tallahassee during the annual Florida Oceans Day event, as well as locally at the Government Center in Viera, Melbourne International Airport and the Henegar Center for the Arts in Downtown Melbourne. This month, a few of his pieces, including the marlin sculpture, will be installed at the Economic Development Commission office in Rockledge.

“The various shapes and sizes of the driftwood are assembled with the precision of a surgeon,” says Lynne Brezina, art services coordinator of the BCA, of Winarski’s work.

“It has been a pleasure working with Ron over the years and having the opportunity to install his artwork in various venues,” she adds. “Viewers comment that his sculptures are incredible.”

Winarski’s acumen also involves graphic design. With nearly 30 years as a graphic designer under his belt, he’s created fundraising materials for many nonprofits across the country, helping to raise millions of dollars for these organizations.

Recently, he’s been working on a series of Florida wildlife paintings done in a “loose, impressionistic style with bright, vibrant colors,” as he puts it.

Winarski’s pieces are always on display at the Sebastian dental practice of his wife, Roxanne Malone D.D.S., where Winarski works as the office manager. He and his wife, along with son Brian, who will be attending the University of Miami in the fall, and daughter Kimberly, a soon-to-be senior at Bayside High School in Palm Bay, have resided on the Space Coast since 1996.