PHOTO BY ELENA JARVIS SHARING A COMMON INTEREST — Sandra Cassady, right, talks to an art lover during the recent second annual Wild Florida Under the Hammock show at Highland Park Fish Camp.

As development continues its ceaseless march, eco-warriors are combining forces to preserve nature, promote conservation, and put a spotlight on area wildlife artists.

Gallery@102, now open at 102 S. Woodland Blvd. in Downtown DeLand, is the brainchild of Sandra Cassady, who moved back to her hometown three years ago.

“I am so into, ‘Please, dear God, keep Florida wild,’” Cassady said, “‘and don’t destroy the habitat of our precious birds and wildlife.’”

For now, the gallery is a temporary installation. Cassady said she is taking a wait-and-see approach to assess the viability of making the gallery a permanent fixture.

“It started because I was driving Downtown and I saw paper over the windows. It breaks my heart to see that. I got in touch with management, and told them I wanted to put in a pop-up gallery,” she said.

Gallery@102 will be open until at least Valentine’s Day 2022, Cassady said. To make an appointment to see the gallery, call 302-448-0780.

Her creative partner is photographer Wayne Bennett, a retired dentist who — before the pandemic — taught photography at the Disney Institute, the professional development and training arm of The Walt Disney Company.

“Our vision is to use the front of the building for photography and fine art that would feature a local artist monthly. In the back, Wayne could teach photography, and we would have a lecture series — all related to wildlife,” Cassady said.

Like Cassady, Bennett is a devout naturalist alarmed at the diminishing habitat for local wildlife.

“Wayne’s also been all over the world to give nature tours. He’s been to China; he’s been everywhere. His focus for this gallery is Central Florida photography, because this is where he lives,” Cassady said.

Cassady’s day job is equally impressive. For 40 years, she’s worked in the veterinary field, caring for domestic and exotic animals.

ART OF THE WILD — Florida-themed wildlife and landscape photographs grace the display window at the new Gallery@102, 102 S. Woodland Blvd. in Downtown DeLand.

She is currently an ophthalmology specialist with ICare, a Finnish company specializing in medical equipment used to restore the eyesight of large and small animals, from dogs to harbor seals, raptors, big cats and elephants.

A fifth-generation Floridian, Cassady’s main port since the 1980s was Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, best known these days as Joe Biden’s presidential retreat. She loves the laid-back town, and had many opportunities to meet and mingle with 46 and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, along the city’s famed boardwalk.

Still, DeLand was never far from her heart. As a native, she’s excited to have the opportunity to run a gallery focusing on DeLand art.

“There are lovely galleries, but a lot of the art isn’t about Florida or from Florida artists,” she said.

At one time, however, there were several thriving galleries in and about Downtown DeLand.

“Back in the early 2000s, a monthly gallery stroll was part of the regular events on the Boulevard,” recalled Sherrill Schoening, a local painter and board member for the DeLand Fall Festival of the Arts. “I was the manager of Gallery 142, a co-operative gallery owned by seven local artists, including Harry Messersmith, John Margerum, Sandra Koop, Don Nedobeck, Betty Press, Debbie Lowe and myself. Nedobeck used to call us the lucky seven!”

For various reasons, the galleries folded. But Gallery@102 may be laying the ground for a more fertile future.

“We have been without a place for artists to show in Downtown for quite a while,” Schoening said. “We also need studio space, where artists can work, as well as exhibit. That would add to the ambiance of our town. We have so many artists here in DeLand. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next!”


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