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Firefly Gallery

As the sun shines bright at just the right angle over Long Beach Island, there is an extraordinary little building that both literally and figuratively sparkles so brilliantly, passersby can’t help but speculate about the origins of its enchantment. Up high on the South-facing wall they spot a giant shimmering mermaid reaching up, with a watchful eye over an ocean of twinkling glass fish and a beautiful dragonfly garden, the opposite side hosting abstracted sea creatures including dolphins and octopuses facing North, then a parade of ocean waves soldiering under a rising sun above a dozen more hypnotizingly intricate scenes Eastward—even a handsome Picasso-esque reference on the “back” West-facing wall. The glistening of the mirrored and colorful glass tiles can be seen from miles away, and everyone from tourists to natives, young and old, families, couples—even newlyweds about to take their vows— flock to the corner of Long Beach Boulevard and North 1st Street in Surf City to pose or take a selfie in front of the enthralling public work of mosaic art known as the Firefly Gallery.

Firefly Gallery is a space like no other, in the sense that it is not your average, traditional retail store. Upon walking into Firefly, you are immediately immersed in a curated collection of owner Joanne Dozor’s whimsical world of art and Zen. Everything from mosaics, handmade ceramics, paintings—some original watercolor pieces by Dozor, others by local artists she admires—ubiquitously take up every available square inch of space along the windows and walls, together with clothing, home goods and unique jewelry are all inspired by her obvious fondness of mermaid folklore, original artwork, the beauty of nature, and the teachings of yoga. The building itself is arguably the largest piece of public mosaic community-collaborated art outside of Philadelphia, embodying a sort of intangible energy that is most definitely powered by Dozor’s talent, passion and dedication.

Classically educated as a Registered Nurse and Certified Professional Midwife, Joanne Dozor ran a thriving practice, The Art of Midwifery, in her hometown of Media, Pennsylvania for nearly three decades. There she not only delivered babies with a passion for low intervention, holistic birth methods, but she also had a training seminar program for educating and certifying new midwives as well as teaching both prenatal and children’s yoga regularly. However, although a celebrated and respected member of the community with a seemingly picture-perfect family life, Joanne was not immune to the darkest of rain clouds of the world. The tragic nightmare of any parent came to fruition with the sudden suicide of her beloved son after a heartbreaking battle of drug addiction and mental illness. Joanne simply could not go on any longer with life as it was.

After therapeutically partaking art classes and workshops, and consequentially discovering a newfound zest for life through her work (as well as unlocking the natural-born talent that she never knew she had), Joanne decided that she, indeed, needed a fresh start. So, in the Spring of 2006, Dozor conceptualized her magnum opus and bought the present-day Firefly Gallery building in Surf City. That same year she commissioned Isaiah Zagar, a prominent mosaic artist from Philadelphia who is the creative mastermind behind Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens and façade of The Painted Bride Art Center, to come to Long Beach Island and host a one-day public workshop in which community members would be able to create a mural of mosaics on the exterior of the Firefly Gallery building while learning the craft from a legendary mosaic artist. (Coincidentally, she had delivered Zagar’s cousin’s baby years prior and was able to make the connection easily!) The North and West sides of the building were effectively directed (and installed) by Zagar personally, whose work is influenced by both his travels and personal connections with folk artists (which can be observed in detail on the side/North-facing wall). In his nod to a Picasso painting on the South side of the building, Joanne interprets this to be a self-portrait of himself—perhaps one of the first in his acclaimed series of self-portraits that were later featured in the gallery exhibit “77” at the Paradigm Gallery + Studio years later. Other renowned local artists whose work is often displayed at the LBIF (Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences) such as sculptor Billy Geller and his wife Elle, were also involved in the first-ever workshop and mural efforts in partnership with Isaiah Zagar.

Subsequent summers brought many additions to the mosaic mural including the iconic 12-foot mermaid on the South wall by Sammie Dozor (under which Joanne planted a beautiful milkweed and Monarch-friendly butterfly garden to compliment), and repairs as well as additions unifying all of the contributing concepts were provided by acclaimed local visual artist, Joan Gantz. But store-owner Joanne Dozor took it upon herself to not only source materials by means of scouring vintage markets and garage sales (searching for interesting glass, ceramic, mirrors, tiles etc. that would bring each scene to life) but to also conceive, construct, direct and implement the waves and the arches over the front entrances/East-facing side of the building, window borders, dedicated Memorial Wall to loved ones lost, and infamous sunrise at the top of the front of the building. “With the hands and hearts of many volunteers,” she is quick to recognize the faithful contributions by her daughter Emily Dozor, in addition to Noah Gress, owner of Raindance Apiary, and Professional Wildlife Conservationist and National Park Service Interpretive Ranger, Chrissy Cochran. The box around the front window was completed by the gifted Karin Deschere, the smaller arch was constructed by Iris Wolfson, a renowned Philadelphia-based Healing Arts Practitioner, and the grouting of the original waves at the top of the building was completed by another equally-talented friend of Dozor’s, Ed Navitsky.

Aside from a boutique and art gallery, Firefly Gallery is also the home of Island Teak, an established retail business carrying high quality teak furniture (crafted from the finest plantation-grown, kiln-dried Indonesian and Costa Rican teak) on Long Beach Island since 2001. On display both indoors and outdoors, along with various trinkets, beach-themed décor, witty signs and home accessories, the furniture speaks for itself in terms of attractiveness and durability (an outstanding feature of teak outdoor furniture is the ability to withstand all types of weather, even the harsh coastal elements of LBI).

Additionally, Dozor offers watercolor art classes as well as mosaic art lessons for those looking to experience the transformative power of artistic expression through her favorite modalities. Recently she has partnered with Yoga Bohemia to open a Surf City location that is adjacent to her building where yoga and mediation are offered both in the brand-new studio as well as directly on the beach, maximizing the benefits of both yoga and the ocean’s ability to simultaneously quell students’ stress response, enhance mood and improve their health at max capacity.

Let’s not forget the mermaid motif that can be found throughout the gallery—on the exterior mosaic façade, in the decorative accessories, clever references and in Dozor’s own watercolor artwork (her iconic Blue Mermaid watercolor silhouette is wildly popular as a print as well as a lovely graphic on tank tops and t-shirts). Something tells me that the mermaid near the front entrance is in a way Dozor’s own self portrait— a mermaid hailing from the lost land of Atlantis, living in a sea of intuitive energies, surrounded by the healing crystals and gemstones of Mother Nature, beautiful gardens with mythical creatures of wonder, connecting to the sea for a recharge. And in the spirit of mermaids healing hearts, Ms. Dozor truly seems to have that innate ability to effortlessly connect others to their own sacred callings, gifts and blessings. She reminds us to find beauty and peace, despite the hardships in life.

Piece by piece, year after year, with dozens of local contributing artists cutting, cementing, tiling and grouting bits and pieces of their own stories into the building’s façade, the Firefly Gallery has metamorphosed into the most frequently photographed wall on Long Beach Island that it is today. Keep an eye on the West wall, as next up is Dozor’s sunset motif to be commissioned overlooking the sun setting on the bay. Next time you pop in, be sure to take a selfie with the glass mermaid, and share with Joanne a little namaste.

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