Recently, 28 Florida artists came together to preserve the 133-year-old heart of a town.
That town is Evinston, Florida – which sits between Micanopy and McIntosh. Its heart is the Wood and Swink Old Store and Post Office, one of the state’s oldest post offices.
The artists gathered Monday for the 2015 Evinston Plein Air Paintout to raise money to preserve the store through producing paintings to be sold to benefit it.
“It’s the heart of the community. It’s the identity of the town,” said Fred Wood III, owner of the store and post office. The post office, which was built in 1882, has been in the Wood family since the early 1900s, passed down through generations starting with Fred’s great-great-grandfather, H.D. Wood.
Ashley Wood, Fred’s uncle and a volunteer at the event, said artists from as far as Stuart, Florida, will be painting works throughout the week inspired by the Evinston landscape.
This art will be sold in a gallery next to the store, where anyone can view and purchase a piece, he said. Half the cost of a painting will go to the artist, and the other half will be put toward the preservation of the store.
The post office has shared the building with the store since the early 1900s. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Julie Warmke-Robitaille, one of the artists participating in this year’s paintout, said she has felt connected to the area since she moved to Gainesville for high school. She said she’s inspired by the water and the trees that make up Evinston’s skyline.
“It’s just a beautiful, beautiful area, and it really grows on you,” she said. “It’s a joy to be able to paint here.”
Wood and Swink is more than just an Evinston landmark. People from all over North Central Florida visit the store for its nostalgic feel.
“It’s a treat to bring visiting people from out of town to this hidden treasure out here in Evinston,” said Katherine Cheshire, a Gainesville resident of 36 years. Cheshire visits the paintout almost every year with her mother, an artist from Charleston, South Carolina.
“It’s something we look forward to,” Cheshire said. “It’s like our special time.”
The event will continue through Saturday night, when the Patron’s Gala will start at 5 p.m. in the gallery. Guests will be able to interact with the artists over refreshments and live music.
Tickets to the event start at $20. The money spent on a ticket counts toward the purchase of a painting.
But preserving Wood and Swink hasn’t been easy.
In 2011, the United States Postal Service tried to include the Wood and Swink Post Office in its list of offices to close down due to budget cuts.
To prevent closing, Fred Wood III said members of the Evinston community gathered petitions and got the attention of politicians, like Florida Senator Bill Nelson. About 1,500 petitions were collected, and only 150 people live in the town of Evinston, Fred Wood III said.
The post office is still open, but Ashley Wood said its hours have been reduced. Instead of staying open all day, Wood and Swink Post Office has half-day hours from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 to 10 a.m. on Saturdays.
“We really see the community thrive because of the post office,” he said.