By Kelly Baughman

When it comes to art on the Gulf Coast, talent is abundant but there isn’t always an outlet for up and coming artists to show their work. Judith and Robert Sasser wanted to change that, so they opened Perdido Artist Gallery & Gifts, located at 5600 Segura Avenue, just over the bridge from Perdido Key.
“We wanted to open a facility where we could feature many local artists, but work something out that makes showing their work in a gallery affordable,” Judith said.
The couple found a way that was reasonable for any artist to get their work in a brick and mortar gallery by offering up space in return for working shifts in the gallery to promote their art and greet customers who come in to browse the amazing variety of art housed within. “Our response has been overwhelming,” she said.
The gallery, which now hosts the work of 48 artists all of which but six are local,
Robert was born and raised in the Innerarity Point area, and Judith calls herself a “telephone brat”, having moved once a year until she went to high school and her family finally settled in Atlanta. She moved to the Perdido Key area in 1983, and said it’s the only place she’ll ever call home.
Robert carves beautiful pieces of various subject matter out of cypress wood that can be seen featured in the gallery. An army man who worked at NAS in classified printing for the Department of Defense, Robert loves to tell people that he, “didn’t know he was an artist until he met Judith”.
Judith said she has always loved art, but it wasn’t until she started taking art classes in Pensacola about 25 years ago that she was truly bitten by the art bug. “I took classes at PJC for painting, pottery, and jewelry, then little by little built my own studio as I found my niche,” Judith said.
Now a silversmith by trade, Judith’s home studio allows her to create one of a kind jewelry handcrafted using a torch, lost wax casting, and a technique called cloisonné enamel where she cuts each cloisonné wire individually and arranges them in a design then fills each section with fine powdered glass enamel to bring the piece to life. She cuts her own stones for her pieces and makes each design from scratch.
Upon retiring, the couple both took their hobby and made it their life’s passion by opening Perdido Artist Gallery & Gifts.
The Sasser’s have also been heavily involved in the popular Palafox Market, a Saturday downtown art, local homemade goods, and farmer’s market, for the last 8 years. They participate in 3 or 4 art festivals per year to show their own work and take in the talent of other artists from all over the country.
The Sasser’s want people to know that their shop is so much more than a stuffy art gallery. “Some people may not set foot in an art gallery because they think they can’t afford anything inside. We have pieces that start at $5 and go up. If someone is looking for a unique and affordable gift, we have plenty to choose from in any price range that come with a beautiful hand painted gift bag. You don’t have to spend a lot to make a gift personal and special. That’s what we are trying to provide,” she said.
Gift items include handmade art, jewelry, ornaments, bath and body items, pet grooming items, clothing, and much more.
The Perdido Artist Gallery & Gifts has artists that hold limited space lessons out on the patio (weather permitting), and the first Sunday of every month, they hold a ‘Meet the Artists’ event where they feature two artists from the gallery with an open house complete with refreshments. The featured artists will do demos of their techniques for the guests, and will be available for questions throughout the day.
The next ‘Meet the Artists’ open house will be held on May 5th from 2 to 4 pm and will feature artists April Delatte and Dina Mascarella.
The Sasser’s have a strict rule that every piece in their gallery must be at least 75% handmade, allowing artists to use 25% manufactured materials. For instance, a jewelry maker may use a store bought chain for a pendant completely made by hand, or a glass artist may purchase the glass, but must use it in an original and organic way in order to be featured in the gallery.
“We try to keep a good variety of artists and we try not to feature artists who do the same type of work. We pride ourselves on originality and creativity, and we want that to be reflected in our gallery,” Judith said.
For more information on the Perdido Artist Gallery & Gifts, stop by 5660 Segura Avenue or call 850-332-6221. Gallery hours of operation are Monday through Saturday 10 am to 6 pm and Sunday from 1 pm to 5 pm.