Nuts for Art
So, tell me if you think this is nuts: For as long as he can remember, Ashley Gray has been an artist. But in 2015 he ended up opening a gallery in Venice and slinging sweet nuts at farmers’ markets on the side. Ashley first made his way to Florida when he was commissioned to create an art installation piece for a private home in Miami. Knowing he much preferred Florida’s West Coast, it seemed serendipitous that he would make his gallery home on Miami Avenue in Venice.
If you have visited any of the five local markets where Ashley proudly serves up sweet roasted nuts, it is likely you know him already—you just can’t miss this guy. Ashley’s larger-than-life personality draws you in immediately. His tiny booth with his generous samples of sweet and salty artisanally crafted nuts probably enticed you to bring home a bag (or two) for sharing. Hands out, palms up, the energetic good vibes permeate wherever you find Ashley’s Nuts for Art. Sensing he was onto something bigger, Ashley discovered this was a perfect way to interact with the community.
“When you move to a new area you have to find a way to get the word out on the street about what you do.” And that is how Nuts for Art was born.
A sweet blend of almonds, cashews, pecans and pistachios, or pecans only (perfect for pies or salads) completes the lineup Ashley has roasting on-site and he has mastered the art. The process begins by getting the nuts nice and toasty in his roaster, then adding Madagascar-vanilla-bean-infused Jim Beam, a little sugar (barely ¼ of what the recipe originally called for), sweet orange essential oil, a splash of water, and he finishes them off with Himalayan sea salt for the perfect salty and sweet signature Nuts for Art treat. These things are addictive.
He shares his success with local Still Water Studio, where Sister Maureen’s mission is to connect the people through art and the human experience and to appreciate the beauty in our world, much like Ashley. Ashley met Sister Maureen, a nun for more than 50 years, when he sub-leased her studio nearly three years ago. “What she does inspires me,” he says, so he donates a portion of the proceeds from Nuts for Art to SWS.
“I want to make a difference,” he says. “I’m all about giving back. I want to love people.” Ashley has maintained his relationship with Sister Maureen over the years and embraces her passion for teaching art, especially to children.
World Championship Sculptor titles, honors, awards, and a pretty cool resumé in the art realm, Ashley is still one of the most humble people you will ever meet.
“Art is a passion. You are driven by something beyond comprehension so deep down in our hearts and souls. It is a spiritual thing,” he says with complete conviction. “I just started out as a decoy carver and it evolved into much more.” Happily for us it sure did. Nuts, right?
You can find them on Wednesdays at the Phillippi Farmhouse Market
Nuts for Art: 941-301-7173; firstname.lastname@example.org