Jonathan Schork works out of a nifty little gallery-slash-studio in the burgeoning Artists Alley just off Beach Boulevard. Walk in on a Friday night ArtWalk, stop and ponder some of the paintings he has on the wall, and you can’t help but feel peace and happiness wash over you. You can’t call him a painter, though, because he makes films. You can’t call him a filmmaker, because he writes. He has photos printed on canvas. He creates steel sculpture. He works in wood. You name it, he creates it. If you had to label him, you’d simply call him an artist, because he has a wealth of creativity burbling inside him that he can’t seem to contain.
“I tend to get pigeonholed as ‘that steel guy’,” he says. He used steel to create the windchimes at the corner of Artists Alley and a birdbath outside his gallery. “There's some steel around here. I probably do more work in plaster than steel, but you're never going to hear anybody say ‘that plaster guy’."
“I call myself a polymath artist; there aren't too many media I don't work in. I work in steel, stone, wood, fabric... I work in painting, photography, I write. One of my favorite things, actually, is filmmaking, because it's a synthesis of everything I do.”
But that’s not what’s unusual about him. Not in a town like Gulfport, anyway. He creates almost compulsively (everywhere you turn in Schork-Munsell Studios you find something different, intricate in detail that showcases this man’s artistic soul) and prolifically (for a small, uncluttered space, he’s managed to put a lot of his creative life on display). No, what’s unusual about Jonathan is his love story and how art brought him to love and how love brought him to art.
“This is a romantic story, and it’s a peculiar story,” he says at the start.
He married his high school sweetheart. Well, that’s the easiest way to describe it: she was his high school English teacher.
“We turned the community upside down,” he said. He married her when he was 20. They moved to the Florida Keys, where no one would blink an eye at their age difference and no one cared that their love caused a scandal in another town. They carved out a life together and took their try at happiness.
All was not perfect in paradise, and over time he realized that his wife had a jealous streak. One day he met a woman visiting the Keys. He was working on a sculpture and chatted with her about sitting for him. He did not cheat; it wasn’t that sort of thing. Nevertheless, his wife grew jealous of the woman.
"She's just your type," she told him. He did nothing and never saw the woman again.
That was 1995. He remained true to his wife, but the woman captivated him. She showed up, over and over again, in his work. His wife died. He kept creating. All that time, this mystery woman remained.
“She kept turning up, in various guises, in fiction I was writing,” he remembers. An artist friend, Cynthia Wynn, read some of his work and told Jonathan, "I think I know her." The woman stayed with him.
Two years ago, Cynthia had a show in Mainsail. Jonathan traveled to the area with her, where they stayed at her friend’s house.
After 15 years, the woman of his dreams stood before him. The house he planned to call home for a few days? She lived there. It belonged to her.
The woman was Ciara Carinci, head of Gulfport's Three Muses and a Fool theatre company.
“After 15 years to have come back together like that, I think there's something that's beautifully circular,” he says.
Gulfport can certainly thank Ciara for bringing Jonathan to the artist colony that remains, the steel-willed group of creatives who insist the Gulfport arts community will not fade away. He left the Keys for Gulfport almost two years ago. He almost lived in the Ukraine, but decided that Gulfport offered him more.
“The thing that attracts me to places is the people, and that's why I stay. I had no community there. I'm here for a month and I had more community in Gulfport than I did in the Keys after 22 years,” he says.
Gulfport, and Ciara, are his muses.
“I'm very prolific in Gulfport. More so,” he says, “than in the Keys.”
He opened the Schork-Munsell Studios for the Saturday Art Walk in December of last year. The “Munsell” comes from his former wife, as it was her stepfather’s name. The painter Richard Munsell “was the only other man my wife felt ever loved her."
Without divulging too much of his personal suffering, suffice to say his wife lived tragically. Jonathan honors her memory, but he has not stopped living.
He continues to create, and the studio co-named in her honor serves not as a mausoleum but a celebration of life: not just hers, not just his, but anyone who creates. In April, Ciara’s theatre company, Three Muses and a Fool, mounted their production On My Mind in the space.
Even without the story of his muse and how she drew him to Gulfport, Jonathan’s studio has plenty to see – something many Gulfportians already know. During any ArtWalk, the studio buzzes with people and art and life.
“The reception in the community has been overwhelming,” Jonathan says. “I try to make sure we have some new stuff every Art Walk.”
“I want them to be surprised; I want them to see something they haven't seen before,” he says.
Look for Jonathan next to Owen Pach’s studio (Click here to read our feature on Owen) on Artist Alley at this Friday’s ArtWalk.