South Walton wood artist and legend Joe Elmore passed away March 11, leaving behind thousands of pieces of his wood carvings, creations, paintings and artwork at his iconic Elmore's Landing.
Elmore's Landing has stood as a point of welcome for visitors to the area for decades at its prime location just south of the 331 Bridge, and it has set quietly in place since Joe's passing. But that is about to change.
Mike Madriaga and partner Sam Douangdara purchased the property in July and have been busy cleaning and sorting through all the artwork Joe left behind.
"When we purchased, we promised Joe's son that we would keep it as Elmore's Landing and an art gallery," said Madriaga.
When the gallery opens in mid-September, only Elmore's pieces will be onsite and for sale, but in time, the work of more artists will be added, said Madriaga.
"I am a closet artist. Maybe one day I will put mine out," he said.
Elmore grew up in Hanford, California, and was always drawn to art.
After a stint in the Navy, he worked as a butcher, owned a bar, and a flooring business.
Elmore liked to tell the story of how one day he was cutting down a tree in his father's yard and saw a face in the wood.
That was the beginning of his life's work that spanned more than 40 years.
Elmore traveled the country selling his work before finding his way to Santa Rosa Beach in the late 1980s.
Grayton Beach resident David Bludworth remembers his first meeting with Elmore.
"He was asleep in his truck in front of my house," said Bludworth. "I woke him up and gave him a cup of coffee. He had a large piece of redwood on a trailer and told me he was a woodcarver from California.
"I asked the late Gene Florence to let him stay at his place on DeFuniak Street," Bludworth added. "Eventually he moved on to his location on 331 and I always visited. Joe was a bear of a man, rough, gruff, but gentle underneath. He was an artist and his many works and pieces are all around."
It was 1993 when Elmore purchased the acre on U.S. Highway 331S, according to documents.
"This gallery is one of the last authentic things around here," said Madriaga, who has lived in the area since 1997 working in the home remodeling business. He has never run an art gallery, but was intrigued by Elmore's Landing.
"We just loved the place. I met Joe a few times and saw him in a bar occasionally and had a few beers. I admired his work. I have a fish he carved. He used to have art shows at Christmastime and I went a couple of times. Authentic is the only way I can think of to describe it," he added.
Madriaga and Douangdara took all the artwork in the purchase, which Madriaga estimates the numbers of pieces to be in the thousands.
"He was very prolific," said Madriaga.
The plans are to pull in an old Airstream trailer to be their office, open the back area and have events with music, food, and wine.