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Image: Barbara Banks

It’s been a couple of high-profile years for Jerry Sparkman and his colleagues at Sweet Sparkman Architects. They’ve done the acclaimed reimagining of the Siesta Public Beach concession pavilions and the sea-oat themed pavilions at Caspersen Beach and other Sarasota County beaches, the design of county fire stations and the new visual art center at Ringling College of Art and Design, and received invitations to exhibit at the world-renowned Venice, Italy, Architecture Biennale twice, in both 2012 and 2016. “We’re having fun,” says Sparkman, “and fortunately we have great clients.”

To decompress, Sparkman taps into his other creative outlet, playing the dobro, a type of acoustic guitar. He performs with professional musician Michael Miller at places like Café in the Park, the Tea House and Slim’s Place on Anna Maria Island, and performs occasionally with the Schmitz Brothers Band. He also played for 10 years with the folk-rock troupe Radio Free Carmela and The Transmitters.

 “Music is a nice complement to architecture because it’s such a different mental experience,” he says.

Sparkman grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, playing the guitar in rock ‘n’ roll bands. He took up the dobro and folk-rock music 20 years ago after a roommate at the University of Tennessee introduced him to a recording of dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas. “I went nuts,” he says. 

His upbringing in the heart of Appalachia, first in Tennessee, and later in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he got his master’s degree at the University of Virginia, enhanced his love of this folk music. “The connection coming out of Appalachian towns and the connection between Irish music, the rhythm and cadence, the way they built their songs and told stories, I love all that,” he says.

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