Palm Coast People: “Father” of art leaves legacy all over Palm Coast

The sudden death of Tom Gargiulo in mid-February 2022 has left the local art community stunned and without its longtime, dedicated leader and perhaps most vocal cheerleader constantly encouraging artists to create and display.
Gargiulo died of a heart attack on Feb. 13. He was 83.
“He helped a lot of local artists,” said Trish Vevera. She was the 2018 recipient of the Flagler County Artist of the Year Award from the Gargiulo Foundation started by Tom and his longtime partner, Arlene Volpe. “He was a great guy.”
It would be a challenge to spend even just a brief period of time in the City of Palm Coast and not see a piece of art that he either created or facilitated the creation of by financially supporting the artist that created it.
Examples include sculpted birds at Waterfront Park, a burro in the Town Center, the panther near the Hammock Dunes Bridge and paintings inside the Flagler County Public Library and the windsails sculpture located outside of it.
Go beyond Palm Coast itself and Garguilo’s art footprint is evident in other parts of Flagler and Volusia Counties. He made numerous donations to the art collection at Daytona State College in Daytona Beach: Close to equal amounts of art pieces that he created, and art pieces created by area artists that were purchased by the foundation and donated to the school.
Palm Coast Magazine had the opportunity to speak with him several times since our beginning in August 2021. He was more than willing to tell us his story of art in Palm Coast. Those conversations involved him only in that he was busy promoting the work of others. What he wanted to talk about where the accomplishments of the artist the foundation supported.
“There was nothing here when Arlene and I first moved here. It was a blank canvas,” he said. “We knew that had to change and so we worked hard to help other artists pursue their dreams.”
Thus, shortly after moving to Palm Coast in 1994, he and Volpe started the foundation. Six years later in 2000, they began selecting an artist of the year. They have done so each year since including the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic when announcement of the year 2000 selection was delayed, but still occurred.
He was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1938. He told Palm Coast Magazine he was always interested in art, earning a bachelor’s degree and then his master’s in fine art education. He taught middle and high school art for years, all the while working on his own creations.
He began his art career in oils but later transitioned to printmaking because of the flexibility it offered him.
Gargiulo presented in many solo art shows throughout the New England states, New York City, Florida and in Europe.
When asked last summer just how many shows he has been in, his answer was a humble, “Probably too many to count. But that doesn’t matter.”
Beyond buying the work of other artists, Gargiulo took a hands-on approach to developing the local art scene. He led workshops including bringing printmaking to the Flagler County Art League. He encouraged thinking beyond the canvas by showing workshop attendees how to use materials outside of the regular art spectrum to create.
He and Volpe regularly invited fellow artists and well, anyone with an interest in art, to their home.
Jan Jackson, the curator of the art gallery at Grand Realty in Palm Coast and winner of the 2020 artist award, qualified on both fronts. She said her jaw must have dropped wide open the first time she visited.
“I really didn’t know the extent of his devotion to his cause (art) and his support of artists until I visited his home. Art, art, art from floor to ceiling. Not an open space anywhere,” Jackson told Palm Coast Magazine. “Art filled the closets and the corners, and I’ll bet under all the beds.”
Jackson said she saw what those who knew Gargiulo well remember most about him.
“He actively supported and promoted local artists and had a close connection with several of those artists for many years,” she said.
As of press time, arrangements for a celebration of life have not been announced.
— Amy Armstrong