The First Coast is a Great Place to Spend Eternity
“Skeletons…. We all have them. What I like about them is that they’re fearless. They do whatever they want because the worst thing that could happen to them has clearly already happened to them,” laughs Michigan artist Marie Marfia, creator of the quirky “Greetings from St. Augustine” series. If you’ve spent time in the Ancient City, you’ve likely seen her work. It’s hard to forget.
Marfia, a graphic designer of 30 years, started experimenting with pastels in 2011 when her family was living in Jacksonville. Some of her early pieces—landscapes, buildings, and beach scenes—hung at St. Augustine’s Starving Artist Gallery. A unique opportunity arose when The Addams Family Musical came through town in 2014. The gallery owner also happened to curate for the Limelight Theater and asked if Marfia might be able to create some skeleton art for the lobby to complement the show. “Greetings from St. Augustine” was born.
“I started thinking, “What would a skeleton do if he were on vacation?” Marfia recalls. She created a series of 15 paintings featuring skeletons in and around St. Augustine’s most famous landmarks. Skeletons get married, dance on the beach, hang out at the Castillo de San Marcos, enjoy a ghost tour or cemetery excursion, and lure sailors as mermaids. Amusing titles add to the experience. In “Me and Juan Go Way, Way Back,” a skeleton poses before the statue of Juan Ponce De Leon. A skeleton perches on the wall of the Castillo de San Marcos in “I’ll Sit Where I Like, Thanks.”
Living on the First Coast provided plenty of inspiration. “Orbs” features a skeleton in a cemetery blowing orbs through a bubble wand and “There’s Nothing to Do in this Town” portrays two bored skeletons lounging among the tombstones. These were inspired by the ghost tours Marfia enjoyed with her children in St. Augustine. Hundreds of years of death, pillaging, and war got her wondering, “What would these people do for fun?” They’re dead, so….” The ideas just kept coming. “Ever since I was a kid growing up in a big family, humor has played a huge part in my life. It’s as important to me as breathing and it comes out in my art,” Marfia says, “I think that’s where the skeletons come from. It’s about me making fun of death, because well, why not? You know the saying, No one gets out of here alive? Exactly!”
The Limelight Theater exhibit was a big success. “I think what was most interesting to me about this exhibit was that people either really, really liked them or really, really hated them. They were not indifferent. Everybody had an opinion,” Marfia says, “I saw people that couldn’t make themselves look at them and I also saw people thumbing through the prints and just laughing like crazy.”
Her favorite piece was one of her first. “The photo that I used for reference was an older guy, pretty big with a gut, but surfing with this big grin on his face,” the artist says, “So I turned him into a skeleton and called it, ‘I’ve Still Got It.’ He looked like he was saying, “Oh yeah! I’ve still got it!” I love it. He looks like he’s having a great time.”
Marfia loves the carefree fearlessness her skeletons exhibit. They have nothing to lose. “For me as an artist, I try to carry that with me, that particular lesson,” she says, “I don’t want to die not having done everything I wanted to do. You don’t know how much time you’ve got, so you should do what you want to do.”
Edgy, fun, and downright hilarious, Marfia’s skeleton art is energetic with a distinct Salvador Dali influence. If you’ve spent time in St. Augustine’s shopping district, you’ve likely spotted a Marfia original. Her whimsical work was sold at The Starving Artist Gallery until it closed several years ago. Today, her paintings can be found at The Attic Gallery in Atlantic Beach as well as on her website. She’s expanded her work with a new skeletonized take on classic paintings called “Old Dead Masters.” “They’re not gruesome or anything,” Marfia says, “They’re just having a good time and they don’t care who knows it.”
While many equate skeletons with the creepy and grotesque, Marfia hopes her paintings bring laughter and enjoyment to her patrons. Her style is just as fun, quirky, and joyful as she is. This fall, some locally themed skeleton art may perfectly complement your fall décor and remind us all that the First Coast is a great place to reside… for all eternity.