Watching the beauty and force of ocean waves, billowing from blackness into rolling blues and greens and rushing into white breakers and bubbles, so captivated artist David Collins that he spent much of his life's work recreating them on canvas.

"He would dash out to the ocean whenever there was a storm," said his wife, Irene Collins. "He loved the ocean and never wanted to live far from it."

Another one of Collins' loves was being involved in the local arts community, especially the Petaluma Arts Association. He was looking forward to the group's Christmas party and spring Library Show when he died unexpectedly from a heart problem on Nov. 23, 2012. He was 75.

"The doctors were as shocked as we were," said Collins. "He was so enthusiastic and had so much he wanted to do. I still can't quite believe he's gone."

In his memory, the Petaluma Art Association is highlighting Collins' work during this year's Library Show opening on Feb. 22.

A Petaluma native, Collins was a lifelong swimmer and body surfer. He and his wife met at a beach party when they were both attending school at San Francisco State University.

In addition to ocean waves, his work in both oils and watercolors included portraits and wildlife — particularly horses.

Coming from technical training at SFSU and a Westport, Conn., course in commercial art, as well as courses at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University, he utilized a variety of styles, depending on the subject, from realistic portraiture to an impressionistic style capturing the fluidity of waves.

Collins' work was selected among those from Society of Western Artists for two shows in the de Young Museum San Francisco. In 2011, he had a display as the featured artist for a month in the meeting chambers at Santa Rosa City Hall.

Collins belonged to several arts groups, but the Petaluma Arts Association and its shows held a special place in his heart.

"He enjoyed that group a great deal," said Collins. "He was looking forward to the Library Show, which was always one of his favorites."

While Collins always participated in the show, his wife remembers with laughter how he often had a hard time parting with his work.

"He would set the prices high on his paintings because he didn't want to sell them," said Collins. "And if someone called about them, he wouldn't call them back for weeks. He got attached to his paintings. Needless to say, we have a home full of art. I'm always trying to decide where to put things."

The Petaluma Arts Association's Library Show, which is co-hosted by the Friends of the Petaluma Library, opens Feb. 22, with an opening reception being held from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Petaluma Library, 100 Fairgrounds Drive. The show features the work of Collins' and other artists who are members of the association. Much of the artwork is for sale, with proceeds going to help support arts programs in Petaluma schools.The work will be on display through March 7.

"I'm really just delighted they are honoring him," said Collins. "He loved doing that show and I know he would have been very touched."

For more information on the show, visit www.petalumaarts.org.

(Contact Yovanna Bieberich at Yovanna.bieberich@arguscourier.com)