Achievers & Believers
Southwest residents use their talents to leave their marks on the community — and the world.
by Adina Fleeger
For MetroWest resident Josh Garrick, his career as a world-renowned fine arts photographer has truly been an odyssey. He recently made history as the first American and non-Greek to receive the honor of an exhibition at the celebrated National Archaeological Museum of Greece. His exhibit, “Seeking the Ancient Kallos,” opened in Athens this past September and was twice extended before moving on to the Sismanoglio Palace in Istanbul. The popular exhibit, hosted by the Consulate General of Greece, also opened in New York City last month.
For Josh, the honor is the culmination of a lifelong passion for Greek culture and truly a dream fulfilled. Josh said that his love and appreciation of all things Greek is due to the fact that the most important features of Western civilization — art, philosophy, government — can be traced to that time in history. As a professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Josh supervised 15 student trips to Greece. On these journeys, he visited landmark sites of ancient Greece, such as Sparta, Corinth, Olympia and — most notably — Athens.
He has taken thousands of photographs of Greek monuments and sculptures. With his vision and skill, he captures the treasures from unique angles and uses dramatic composition. His photographic works have appeared in numerous publications, including Where magazine, Popular Photography and The New York Post, and they have been featured in Olympics Airways publications. Locally, his photographs can be found in the permanent collections of the Orlando Museum of Art, Eustis Museum of Art, and Art & History Museums — Maitland.
Although Josh is not of Greek ancestry, his passion for Greek culture began at a young age, when he created a model of a Greek temple for a school project and received a ribbon for it at the county fair. In college, his performance in the play Oedipus Rex further sparked his enthusiasm for the Greek arts. Josh went on to receive a master’s degree from Columbia University with a concentration in ancient Greece. Many summer trips to Greece, both with student groups and independently, eventually led to the opportunity of a lifetime. Josh was able to photograph from the roof and scaffolding of the Parthenon Temple, atop the Acropolis, as it was being renovated.
Josh’s history-making exhibit features more than 90 black-and-white photographs, including many large-scale pieces, some up to 9 feet tall. The photographs are printed on brushed aluminum using laser technology. This process gives added depth, dimension and texture to them, almost like an etching. By using contrast between light and dark, and highlighting details of sculptures and monuments, Josh’s photography helps bring statues to life and reflects his admiration for the work of ancient Greek artists.
Josh is currently working on a set of photographs focusing on the hands of artisans and workers who are involved in the renovation of the Parthenon. Another project in the works is a series depicting Greek gods and goddesses in a contemporary fashion. For Josh, it is important to continue to try new things and evolve as an artist.
The advice that Josh offers to those who are pursuing their dreams is succinct: “say yes.” He believes you must overcome any initial reluctance or hesitation when approaching a new endeavor, as you should not be afraid to try new things. When he was first offered the opportunity to exhibit his works in Greece, he was somewhat daunted by the responsibility of representing America. However, he recognized that he could not refuse such an extraordinary invitation, and the experience was rewarding beyond all expectations.
A Pillar of Strength
For Sand Lake Hills resident Apryle Nickson, teaching and coaching local students provides rewards and challenges on a daily basis. Apryle is an adaptive physical education teacher with Orange County Public Schools; she coaches the Dr. Phillips High School swim team, and is a certified Special Olympics coach. In 2012, she was selected as the Special Olympics North America Coach of the Year, and she has influenced countless students with her commitment to helping them improve as athletes and individuals.
Apryle grew up in Central Florida and was an All-American swimmer during high school. While attending the University of Central Florida, she began her coaching career at Trinity Preparatory School and the Winter Park YMCA. She then went on to coach at DPHS, guiding many swimmers to state championships and recognition as All-Americans. This year, the men’s team took eighth place at state, capping its outstanding season as metro, district and regional champions. The women’s team earned fourth place at state, the highest finish by any team in Central Florida.
“I’ve swam with coach Apryle for four years and volunteered with the Special Olympics as well,” said DPHS swim team captain Allie Magrino, who will be swimming next year at the University of Idaho. “All the swimmers on the Dr. Phillips team and all the Special Olympians are held to her expectations to succeed, and we all do. She is one of the greatest coaches anyone could have.”
As a teacher specializing in adaptive physical education, Apryle is responsible for eight area schools and travels the county instructing students who have mental or physical challenges. Each student presents unique challenges, and Apryle works hard to make individualized plans that will lead her students to success. She focuses on teaching her students lifetime skills, such as cooperation and teamwork.
Unfortunately, she cannot spend as much time with each student as she would like. Apryle points out that sometimes it requires years of reinforcement for her students to learn new skills; however, she feels that the most rewarding experience for a teacher is when something finally “clicks” with a student. Once, a student took five years to learn how to put down a bat and then run to first base while playing T-ball.
As a supporter of adaptive physical education, Apryle has also been very involved in Special Olympics. First as a volunteer, then as a certified coach, Apryle has worked tirelessly to support Special Olympics athletes in both swimming and cycling. In addition to training the athletes in the pool, her program emphasizes home fitness programs, stretching and nutrition.
Her passion and commitment to the Special Olympics program was recognized when she was selected as Special Olympics North America Coach of the Year in 2012. This honor is truly remarkable when one considers that she was chosen from 120,000 coaches nationwide in more than 32 sports.
Apryle has also twice been selected to coach at the Special Olympics World Games. At these games, more than 5,000 athletes from around the world participate in different sports. Apryle had the opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela and Arnold Schwarzenegger. This summer, she will accompany the Florida delegation to the USA National Games, which will be held in Princeton, New Jersey.
Apryle’s philosophy for coaching and teaching is to begin each lesson or training session with something positive and then work on everything else. She remarks that she looks forward to going to work every day. For those who are just starting their careers, she feels that it is important to choose something that you enjoy doing.
Next year, Apryle will pass on her head coaching duties at Dr. Phillips High School to her daughter, Natalie. She will continue to guide the team as an assistant coach. When she retires, she would like to travel the United States to explore all of the national parks; up until now, all of her vacations have been centered around swimming pools.
A quote by Maya Angelou suitably describes the impact that Apryle has had on her students and athletes: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Works of Art
Timeless elegance, meticulous craftsmanship and imaginative details are the hallmarks of local sculptor Gregg Ortiz. A self-taught artist, Gregg has spent more than 20 years creating unique handcrafted dolls. He prefers not to rely upon the word “doll” to describe his pieces, as he would rather refer to them as 3-D paintings. You won’t find his creations on the shelves of Toys “R” Us; instead, they are shown in art galleries, boutiques and trade shows. Many of his designs are one of a kind and can sell for up to $15,000.
Gregg grew up in New York City and, following high school, pursued a career in acting, dancing and modeling. He moved to Orlando in order to perform at various shows at Walt Disney World. He also performed on cruise ships and in Japan. His career took a different path after a trip to New York City’s Toy Fair encouraged him to create his first dolls, which were inspired by Las Vegas showgirls.
Gregg views his dolls as a creative outlet that allows him to integrate his love of art, theater and fashion. His dolls were met with immediate acclaim, and he now is internationally recognized. Collectors such as Demi Moore, Rosie O’Donnell and Richard Simmons have purchased his creations. His designs have won numerous awards, including doll of the year.
With no formal training in sculpture, Gregg learned to make his creations through trial and error. The bodies of the dolls are fashioned from paper clay, a material made of volcanic ash shipped from Japan. Hair is sourced from Europe, and eyes come from Germany. Dresses, shoes, hats and accessories are handcrafted, often from antique materials more than 100 years old. He makes several trips each year to New York, Los Angeles and other cities to find vintage fabric and other furnishings, in order to satisfy his exacting standards.
In addition to his one-of-a-kind creations, Gregg also has licensing agreements with The Walt Disney Co. and The Jim Henson Co. For Disney, he created 20 limited-edition Mickey Mouse sculptures that featured elaborate details such as Swarovski crystal buttons. In his collaboration with The Jim Henson Co., he created Red Fraggle dolls for the 30th anniversary of the popular TV show Fraggle Rock.
The labor associated with these pieces is time-consuming. Gregg typically spends 10 to 14 hours each day crafting in his workshop. He multitasks, as he generally works on several dolls at one time, each in a different stage of production. Unlike many other designers, he doesn’t outsource his work. A one-of-a-kind doll can take three to four weeks to complete.
Each year, Gregg also introduces a new series of dolls based upon nostalgic characters, such as Alice in Wonderland or Snow White. This year’s theme is animals, and he has introduced sculptures of bears, pandas and monkeys, each with playful and whimsical touches.
So what’s next for Gregg? He hopes to continue licensing partnerships worldwide and would also like to expand his marketing to celebrities. His artwork is continually evolving, and he constantly finds new sources of inspiration. For others who are starting a business or seeking to pursue a career in the arts, he suggests that you need to start with a clear goal, research your field and speak to others in the industry who can provide you with advice. He feels that in order to be successful, you must be willing to take risks. If you believe in yourself and put in hard work, anything can happen.