The Palm Coast Arts Foundation unveiled its 18th turtle sculpture for the Public Art Turtle Trail on Oct. 15. This turtle, installed in front of sponsor Tomoka Eye Associates at 21 Hospital Drive in Palm Coast has a natural name: "The SEE Turtle."
Bill Watson, CEO of Tomoka Eye Associates, asked the Palm Coast Arts Foundation to find a visually impaired artist to paint the turtle. Nancy Crouch, executive director of the Arts Foundation, said while doing an internet search, John Bramblitt's name repeatedly came up.
Bramblitt, who is from Denton, Texas, lost his eyesight 21 years ago, and he's been painting ever since. He has painted murals in New York and Dallas. And, as his SEE Turtle shows, he is known for his bright colors.
"He is one of — if not the — most acclaimed blind artists in the country," Crouch said. "He gladly accepted, and that's what shocked me; we pay the artists only $500. We shipped the turtle to him, and he got it back to us really fast."
Watson said the unveiling was supposed to take place three years ago, but because of delays due to COVID, the unveiling is coinciding with the Tomoka Eye Associates' 50 anniversary.
"To our advantage, the pandemic delayed our unveiling and pushed it into our 50th anniversary year," Watson said. "There is no better way to celebrate than with a community event and to recommit our mission for another 50 years. We believe that sight is the most cherished of the senses. We participate in two local free clinics. We have our own Tomoka Eye Foundation contributing yearly to local sight related charities."
Students from the Conklin Davis Center for the Visually Impaired in Daytona Beach attended the unveiling. After the event, Bramblitt traveled to the Conklin Davis Center to lead two workshops.
Watson has been the Conklin Davis Center's chairman of the board for the past seven years.
Bramblitt lost his eyesight after suffering a series of severe seizures when he was a college student. At the time he thought his world was over. While he always liked to draw, he never painted until he learned how after he became blind.
"The wonderful thing about art is that it's all about what you can do and not what you can't do."
— JOHN BRAMBLITT
"The wonderful thing about art is that it's all about what you can do and not what you can't do," he said.
The SEE Turtle was the Palm Coast Art Foundation's second turtle unveiling since the pandemic, and three more will be coming soon, Crouch said.
The turtles normally have a theme, such as honoring a famous artist. Crouch said the foundation made an exception for Bramblitt's turtle.
"Bill said, 'Do what you feel,' and (Bramblitt) did an ocean theme," Crouch said.
The information on a plaque next to Turtle 18 will be duplicated on a Braille plaque, she said.