Look closely at the base of the foundation of the building that houses El Melvin Cocina Mexicana or the one that’s home to Caragiulos, and you’ll spy a tiny, tucked-away secret—an intricately decorated door that’s the perfect size for a fairy.
Once you’ve seen one of these fairy doors, you’ll start seeing them everywhere. You can find them on buildings all over downtown Sarasota, as well as on St. Armands Circle. But who is responsible for them?
At least some of the fairy doors were painted by Joan Love, a retired schoolteacher who has been placing small doors on the facades of buildings since 2018 after being inspired by a news clip. She saw a story about tiny doors in Atlanta and wanted to bring that creativity to her hometown.
“Sarasota is so artsy,” she says. “I’m retired. It gave me something to do. I enjoy it.”
She’s not the only one who enjoys it. Shop owners have given her permission to create new work, and Love is also in conversation with other business owners across Sarasota about fashioning new doors.
Love’s first doors were clay, imported from Tuscany. She has since switched over to plastic doors from England, but they are no less durable or charming. The doors come pre-made, but blank. Love paints and decorates the doors and the surrounding wall space to match the aesthetic of the area where the door will go. You can find a few of Love’s doors on St. Armands Circle at Starbucks, Apricot Lane Boutique and a dolphin waterfall that stands outside a private home. More of Love’s pixie doors are in downtown Sarasota at St. Martha Catholic Church and the restaurant Clásico. You can also visit virtually, at Love’s Instagram account, @tinydoorssrq.
“It puts a smile on your face, knowing that someone is having fun,” says Love. “It’s another neat avenue for parents to bring kids to our wonderful city.” Love has been pleasantly surprised by reactions to her work; she sometimes sees little mementos and offerings left in front of her doors, and sometimes people stop to tell her how much the art brightens their day.
But there’s a mystery. Most of the tiny doors in downtown Sarasota are not Love’s, and few clues to the other artist’s—or artists’—identity exist.
“I don’t know who that other person is, but obviously they like tiny doors,” says Love.
Perhaps they’re the work of another kind citizen like Joan Love, or maybe the work of a team of creators who appear after dark and disappear before the arrival of daylight. Keep your eyes open, and your head down.