Rick Kelly in His Nature

The award-winning artist partners with the Land Trust to support preservation efforts

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Roseate Spoonbills, 20 x 30 inches, Oyster Bar Marsh
Roseate Spoonbills, 20 x 30 inches, Oyster Bar Marsh

Meet Rick Kelly, an award-winning artist whose paintings celebrate the glorious gifts nature has bestowed on us. With each stroke of his brush, images of lush landscapes and native vegetation come alive, forming visual stories of the beauty that surrounds us—beauty we all too often take for granted. 

Award-winning artist Rick Kelly
Award-winning artist Rick Kelly

That’s what prompted Kelly to partner with the Indian River Land Trust on a fundraising project that showcases Land Trust properties along the Indian River Lagoon where preservation won out over development, among them Bee Gum Point Preserve, Oyster Bar Marsh, the Lagoon Greenway, and the Toni Robinson Waterfront Trail. 

“I absolutely love nature, and I’ve always liked what the Land Trust does, so I asked Melissa [DePriest, director of philanthropy and marketing] and Ken [Grudens, executive director] if there was something I could do to help raise funds. A few years ago I donated a painting to one of their auctions, and I thought maybe I could do something similar,” says Kelly, going back to the beginning. 

“The three of us had a number of conversations, and it was decided I would do 12 paintings. They gave me free license to roam their properties alone or with one of their staff. I did a tremendous number of sketches to make sure everything was correct—which way the light was coming from, that sort of thing. There’s a lot of editing involved. It basically took me a year and a half to get all of the sketches and paintings done. As it turned out, I ended up with 18 paintings. I showed them to Ken and Melissa and they chose them all for the annual benefit at Rock City Gardens.”

Great Blue, 20 x 30 inches, Toni Robinson Waterfront Trail
Great Blue, 20 x 30 inches, Toni Robinson Waterfront Trail

When DePriest saw Kelly’s paintings, her immediate reaction was “Wow!”

“They’re amazing,” she says. “Rick’s a creative genius, and his paintings are another way for people to see our properties. Three of them are part of a triptych, so when viewed together they create one scene of the Toni Robinson Waterfront Trail, a mile-long path through scrub habitat and oak forest to the mangroves.”

Kelly with Ken Grudens
Kelly with Ken Grudens

If Kelly has a favorite, it’s probably those three, due in part to his admiration for Robinson, IRLT director emeritus and passionate preservation advocate. 

He explains: “As you walk through the trail, especially the mangrove swamps, you get these little openings and see a beautiful bird or fish jumping. It just takes your breath away! Kudos to Miss Toni Robinson and many, many people like her who are protecting places for us, plus the birds, to enjoy.”

Paradise of Birds, 20 x 30 inches, Bee Gum Point Preserve
Paradise of Birds, 20 x 30 inches, Bee Gum Point Preserve

Kelly’s love of nature began early, when, as a young boy, he traveled around his home state of Florida with his father and brother, savoring the sights, sounds, and times spent fishing for snook. 

A retired Fort Pierce firefighter, Kelly was a student of well-known landscape artist A.E. “Beanie” Backus. He learned well.

Butterfly Orchids, 18 x 36 inches, Coastal Oaks Preserve
Butterfly Orchids, 18 x 36 inches, Coastal Oaks Preserve

In 2007 Kelly received the Florida Senate Medallion of Excellence commemorating his artistic visions of Florida’s natural beauty. A year later, he and ecologist Camille Yates authored Treasured Waters, a book that combines art with the history and biology of Florida. 

Kelly continues to use his art to inspire others to appreciate the natural environment and help preserve it for future generations. On every painting, above his signature, he paints a Jesus fish. “I have a talent I never learned or earned; it’s a gift from God. That’s what I’m about, end of story.” 

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