Local News

Artist lives, breathes art

—If you’re walking around the Sebring Circle and want to be amazed, stroll over to the Sadie Kahn Memorial Park.

Located next to the Nan-Ces-O-Wee Hotel at 139 N. Ridgewood Drive near the Circle, the park is a beautiful respite in the midst of bustle and traffic.

One of the first things you’ll notice are the tile benches, custom-crafted, hand-laid mosaic masterpieces.

The artist, Ronnie Fuertes, takes on each new project with a passion for creating the unique.

Fuertes has had artistic tendencies since he was young, drawing something or the other as a young boy.

As an adult, he has explored many media to express his artistic visions, and he isn’t stopping anytime soon. Fuertes strongly believes that “art has to do something to you…it has to give you thought –either motivate you, upset you, really make you feel something.”

His energy is contagious and his personality is refreshingly honest and down-to-earth. When talking about new projects, Fuertes is a fountain of energy. He attests. “Art gives me a lightning bolt of energy,” he said.

As a licensed general contractor and state-certified pool contractor, Fuertes has also installed custom creations for area homeowners.

“Everything that I do has to do with art. I’ll draw out sketches, even if the project is a pool – it helps me figure things out and to visualize the project,” he said.

He also operates a local pool maintenance service and chose the name for his company, 2 Elements Construction, to symbolize the work he does with stone or paver blocks and water.

“Everything that I work on, art is a part of it,” he said. “I try to be really creative and do quality work. That’s what’s important to me. I’m always going to go the extra mile to make sure the details are there and it looks really nice.”

Daniel O’Neil, a Sebring resident, is a frequent visitor to the park.

“A lot of people come here, sit down,” he said. “It’s nice how they fixed it up with the murals and the benches. I come out here at lunch with my mom, sometimes we meet people from Australia and all over the world. They’re out here just enjoying the area and they ask us all kinds of questions. It’s fun seeing all the new people visit – it’s really enjoyable sitting here.”

Betty Ford-Smith, owner of Miss Ruby’s Den, remembers when the Fuertes family first walked into her store.

Featuring antiques, art and collectibles, the store is close to the Kahn Memorial Park, and Ford-Smith loves visiting the park.

“From a distance, you can see how well the design fits the area – it’s a beautiful place to relax,” she said.

“Ronnie really did a great job on the benches,” she said. “I remember the first time I met them… they walked in my shop downtown as a family and there was just such energy among them that you could feel it. They’re just a wonderful family: their daughter is an excellent dancer, the son is a talented artist, and Laura (his wife) is a wonderful jewelry and clothing designer.”

Fuertes moved here approximately four years ago with his wife, Laura Auge Fuertes. Also an artist, Laura enjoys making her own jewelry and exploring art. They enjoy going to beach shows and traveling when they are able to get away.

Each year, they travel to Argentina, spending about a month with her family, often purchasing unique pieces to bring back with them to Florida.

Growing up in Miami Beach, Fuertes was surrounded by public art.

When he was old enough to consider college, Fuertes said: “I wanted to go to art school but never followed through on some scholarships that were offered because I’ve always believed that I need to support myself. To be an artist isn’t an easy thing – to really live it, eat and drink art every day. Art is sweat…and tears.”

Raising two children from his first marriage, Fuertes encouraged both of them to explore their creative side.

“The walls at my house are covered in art from when my kids were two and three years old,” he said. “It’s all framed and covers every inch of space.”

Fuertes’ son is currently studying art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y.; his daughter loves photography and creative writing, and will soon attend at the University of North Carolina in Asheville.

His ultimate goal is to open a large art warehouse and be working on projects – destined for local display as well as outside of this area.

“I have so many projects that I want to do, I just don’t have the time or space right now to do it. I’d like to hire a bunch of young kids with fresh ideas to work with me. I like it here. It’s so relaxed, it lets me think,” he said.