Monday, March 2, 2015

"Repurposed" at The Ringling -- Part 1 -- Jill Sigman

I love being an arts correspondent for Florida Weekly.  It gives me the opportunity to meet all sorts of interesting people and get the inside scoop on terrific cultural events going on in our area. Recently, my editor and friend Kathy Grey asked if I would be interested in going to the press briefing for the "Repurposed" exhibit at the Ringling.  Hmm, let me think. YES!!!!  It was an amazing morning of art and conversation.

Curator Matthew McLendon gave us a quick overview of the exhibit, which is an extension of Marcel Duchamp's concept of using every day items to create art. Here, though, the artists have deliberately used materials destined for (or already in) the waste stream. When I first read about the exhibit, I was afraid it would be similar to shows I've seen where a literal pile of trash is put into a bag and declared to be art.  (I try and be open-minded and view modern art as a progression, etc., etc., but this is stretching it for me.)  The art in "Repurposed," though, is beautiful and thought-provoking and, in some cases, downright fun.

There are three "entry points" into the exhibit:  Identity (how we construct what we want people to think of us through objects), Index (narrative associations of objects) and Environment (you've got this one). With this background in mind, we then had the chance to meet two participating artists in the exhibit -- Jill Sigman and Emily Noelle Lambert.

Jill Sigman and Hut #10
Jill Sigman's work involves the creation of site-specific huts, and she was still hard at work on the structure being installed in the final room of the exhibit.  The hut is the tenth in her series, with previous locations including Troy, New York to Oslo, Norway. 

The process of creating the huts is fascinating. All the materials come from the community in which the hut is being created.  The final product is a reflection of both how the community lives and what it casts off. For Hut #10, Sigman collected materials on site from the Ringling, the Asolo and the Sarasota Ballet that were destined for the trash bin. And so the floor of the hut is a platform from the icons of fashion exhibit while the sides and roof contain pieces of old circus tents and exhibit banners and toe shoes adorn the entrance. 

Sigman also gathered materials from other organizations in the area (like the bromeliad from Selby Botanical Gardens). And, of course, she trolled the streets on trash day and hit the local recycling facility for items that could be put to use.  (In case the mere thought of this makes you start scratching, all materials incorporated into the hut are treated to ensure they are hygienic.  Each item--including plant products--was vacuumed, quarantined for a week and then frozen to -20 degrees celsius before being brought into the museum. McLendon commented that this was part of the "fun adventure of contemporary art.")  

While Hut #10 is fascinating to study on its own, it is also being put to use during the show.  One day Jill served tea to visitors to the museum. On Saturday, March 28, she will participate in a study day about the Repurposed exhibit with a "movement performance that connects her site-specific installation of her Hut #10 to our private archaeologies of things thrown away. her own personal history and The Ringling Grounds."  (Sigman is a multi-disciplinary artist whose primary work is as a choreographer.)  Click here for more info about the study day. 

In case you're wondering, once the show closes, Hut #10 will be broken down and disposed of.  To Sigman, this is as much a part of the project as the collection. To the extent possible, the materials will be recycled rather than put into the waste stream.   To learn more about Sigman's Hut Project, click here.  

Next up is a post about chatting with artist Emily Noelle Lambert about her contribution to "Repurposed." Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"Fly" at Florida Studio Theatre

In May 1939, then-Senator Harry S. Truman helped sponsor a bill allowing African-American pilots to serve in the Civilian Pilot Training Program.  This bill led to the establishment of an all black fighter squadron known as the Tuskegee Airmen.  (The pilots trained near Tuskegee, Alabama.)  "Fly" tells the story of four fictional men who participated in this program. It is a vivid portrayal, and a show well worth seeing.

I was captivated from the moment I entered FST's Gomertz Theater.The set was fabulous, with six cloud-filled screens representing the sky. World War II-era music helped set the mood.

As the play opens, Chet, now an old-timer, is thinking back to his years as an airman. Within moments we are introduced to his fellow trainees. There's Oscar, a "race man" who signed up to show the world that African Americans are as good as anyone else. WW is the consummate ladies' man who joined to impress a particularly hard-to-get woman. J. Allen is from the British West Indies and grew up with a father who ran to the airfield whenever a plane came in. And Chet is a wet-behind-the-ears 18 year old who is the only trained pilot in the group.

Over the next 90 minutes, we followed the men from their initial meeting with their training sargeant (who is anything but supportive of the program) through some tough battles. I particularly loved the scene when the flight instructor took the newbie pilots up--one by one--for their first flights. The instructor sat in a chair behind the pilot, and they veered right and left and up and down as the clouds moved on the screens around them. There was a real sense of movement, and you could feel the men's excitement as they took to the sky. (The landings were another thing all together.)

From the opening scene, the action is moved along with the assistance of an incredibly strong tap dancer wearing fatigues. When my friend Paul and I talked about the play later, we both confessed that we were a bit concerned about how the dancing would fit into the production.  Would it overwhelm the play and become distracting?  The device was used judiciously and effectively, though.  (Interestingly, the name of the tap dancing character is Tap Griot.  A "griot" is a member of a West African caste whose function is to keep an oral history of a village or tribe by entertaining through storytelling, music or dance.)

"Fly" was commissioned in 2007 for the Lincoln Center Education program. Each summer, Lincoln Center Institute brings hundreds of educators around the country to New York for "in-depth educational workshops designed to maximize imagination in the classroom."  The Institute gives educators ways in which to use the arts to bring subjects like history and science to life.  I can only imagine how much fun everyone from the LCI instructors to the educators to the students had with "Fly."

I haven't seen many productions at Florida Studio Theatre, but if "Fly" is representative of the caliber of its shows, I will be spending a lot more time there. It's a well-written, well-acted, engaging show that made me laugh and cry and think. In fact, my curiosity has been piqued about the Tuskegee Airmen and the movie of the same name (co-written by Trey Ellis, who co-wrote "Fly") is now in my Amazon watch list.  In my book, that stacks up to a great production.

"Fly" will be playing at Florida Studio Theatre through April 4.   Don't miss it.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Meeting Punta Gorda's Finance Department

My fear
I came prepared for the Citizens' Academy Finance Department session with not one, but two, bottles of Diet Coke in my bag.  What can I say?  I had visions of a sleep-inducing discussion of budgetary line items given by folks with slide rulers tucked into their pockets.  Instead, I found myself fully engaged as Dave Drury and his team talked about the scope of the work they do to keep Punta Gorda in the black.

The reality --Sharon Knippenberg, Dave Drury and Kristin Simeon

Dave started off with a discussion of the City's investment policy that brought me back to my days as a lawyer. They take a SLY approach to investing (with SLY standing for safety, liquidity and yield, in that order).  The State sets basic parameters for permissible investments which the City then tweaks.  In general, the "prudent man" standard is used (i.e., the level of care that men of "prudence, discretion and intelligence" exercise with respect to their own affairs).  Orange County, California's bankruptcy continues to serve as a cautionary tale for governmental investment authorities everywhere, and you will be happy to learn that Punta Gorda's own investment policy is very plain vanilla.

We learned how the City matches debt issuances with revenue streams (hence the importance of the 1% sales tax) and that the City never issues debt for non-capital items.  I didn't realize that Punta Gorda has a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) whose focus is projects that rebuild public spaces.  The Herald Court parking garage is the largest of these projects (and accounts for most of the outstanding $18MM in CRA debt).

We talked about fund accounting, which means that each City activity is accounted for like a discrete business. Services such as fire, police code enforcement and city administration are funded through the General Fund whose monies come from taxes, intergovernmental revenues, etc.

There are several other types of funds, but it was the Special Revenue Funds that caught my attention.  These Funds are run with monies received from special taxes or other earmarked revenues sources and include the Canal Management Fund, Community Redevelopment Block Grant, and the 1% Local Sales Tax Fund. The newest Special Revenue Fund relates to the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program for which the City of Punta Gorda is the "host entity."  The National Estuary Program develops conservation and management plans for estuaries of national significance, including Charlotte Harbor.  CHNEP's oyster reef restoration project launched last year with the assistance of many volunteers in our community.  (I had the pleasure of reporting on the project for Florida Weekly and putting together a few oyster mats myself.  To read more about the project, click here.)

Our morning sped by, with Controller Sharon Knippenberg keeping a close track of time.  You can tell that she runs a tight ship!  Other areas covered included budgeting and procurement.  As always, emphasis was put on the volume of information available through the City's website (which you can get to by clicking here).  And, as always, we were encouraged to spread the word that citizen participation in the financial planning process is encouraged.

I came away once again impressed with the caliber of the people working for our city and their enthusiasm for and commitment to their work.  With each session, I feel more appreciative of what a special place Punta Gorda is to live (and I was pretty darn appreciative to begin with).  Our next session will introduce us to the world of utilities, complete with a tour of the water treatment plant.  Stay tuned for my report.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Introducing Southwest Florida

Although I moved to Punta Gorda almost five years ago, my friend Ellen had never made it for a visit.  So I was thrilled when she finally booked a 48 hour get away.  She would have been happy just sitting on my lanai looking at the water and enjoying the warm breeze on her face.  (She did, after all, leave a foot of snow behind in New Jersey.)  I had other ideas, though, on how to introduce her to life in Southwest Florida.

We eased into the visit with some time at the Tiki Bar on Friday afternoon.  (A selfie to be sent to her kids and husbands was a must.)  It's hard to look at this picture without thinking of the expression, "The future's so bright, we've gotta wear shades!"

After a quick dinner, we were off for our evening's entertainment -- a concert by Valerie Sneade.  The venue was a bit odd -- the Kings Gate retirement community clubhouse (complete with, well, lots of very retired people).  I have to admit that if I had actually understood where we were going, I would have chosen something else -- and we would have missed a fun show.  Sneade has a great voice and she definitely knows how to work the audience.  Her band -- led by musical director Michelle Kasnofsky -- was fabulous.  Sneade and her Turning Leaf Productions are definitely worth putting on your radar screen.

Saturday found us off to one of my favorite destinations -- Asolo Repertory Theatre -- to see the Tony-nominated "Good People" by David Lindsay-Abaire.  (If Lindsay-Abaire's name sounds familiar, he also wrote "Rabbit Hole," a play that was made into a movie starring Nicole Kidman.)  I had heard great things about the show in general and the Asolo's production specifically, and we weren't disappointed. The play deals with issues of class and relationships through the lens of a group of "Southies" who grew up together outside Boston. There's lots of humor, but lots to think about as well.  The cast was terrific, with Denise Cormier debuting at the Asolo in the role of Margie and Tim Grimm (who wrote the music for last year's production of "Grapes of Wrath") as Mike. If you're in the area, the show runs through March 1. I highly recommend it.

After a quick dinner at Owen's Fish Camp, we were off to a screening of "The Good Lie" at the Ringling School of Art and Design followed by a discussion with Aaron Osborne, production designer for the film.  The movie follows the journey of a group of "Lost Boys of Sudan" who travel from the Sudan to Kansas City via the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.  Although the story is fictitious, it is representative of the experiences of the estimated 20,000 boys who were displaced or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War.  Some of the children walked more than 1,000 miles to reach safety.  The Kakuma Refugee Camp still houses more than 150,000 refugees.

While Reese Witherspoon got top billing in the movie, it is actually the four "lost boys" (one of whom is a girl) who are the stars.  I didn't learn until the credits rolled that all four were Sudanese refugees in real life and that two had been child soldiers.

Set design in progress
It was fascinating to hear Aaron Osborne speak about his work. The production designer is responsible for the overall visual look of the film, including setting, props, costume and location.  We learned that, amazingly, the original budget for the film did not include funds for even a visit to Kakuma Refugee Camp, much less any filming abroad.  Although Osborne is known for working on a shoestring budget, he convinced the money guys that it would be virtually impossible to recreate African savannahs and sunsets on a lot in Atlanta. Osborne talked about the painstaking detail that goes into creating an authentic portrayal of a place and time.  For this film, one of the most challenging tasks was obtaining rights to use the United Nations' logo on the tents in the camp.

As we headed home from Sarasota, Ellen commented that it was going to be hard to go back to New York.  She wasn't referring to the weather, but to the number of fun and interesting cultural events in our area.  Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Citizens Academy Visits the Fire Department

Photo by Bruce Tompkins
The Citizens Academy students had been promised lots of toys during their visit to the Punta Gorda Fire Department, and Chief Ray Briggs and his team did not disappoint.  But before we got to show and tell, we learned a lot about how the PG Fire Department operates and what sets it apart from its counterparts.  Here are some of the highlights:

--The Department gets approximately 4,000 calls/year, 70% of which are for medical emergencies. The average response time for anywhere within PG's city limits is 4 1/2 minutes.
Photo by Bruce Tompkins
--Each truck out on call has a firefighter who has been certified in advanced life support (i.e., an EMT).
--Every firefighter has to pass a swim test to join the department and will eventually become certified as a rescue diver.  All trucks have dive equipment on board.  (This capability isn't called on very frequently.)
--Land lines are better for calling 911 because your location can be tracked more accurately.
--The Fire Department operates a Red Dot program.  Citizens who register receive a magnetic pouch in which to put medical info, DNR instructions, etc. (The pouch then goes on your refrigerator.) Participants place a red dot on their front door that firefighters look for when they enter your home.  As Chief Briggs said, "It can talk if you can't."
--The Fire Department's Operation Medicine Cabinet has taken off.  Residents can drop unwanted medication in a box at the Fire Department that is almost as secure as a missile silo.  The program ensures that the medication does not get into either the water system or the wrong hands.  In the program's first year, more than a ton of drugs were dropped off for incineration.
--The Department also operates a Home-Generated Sharps Recovery Program for the safe disposal of used needles.  Both Operation Medicine Cabinet and the Sharps Recovery Program are run out of the Public Safety Building located at 1410 Tamiami Trail.
--The Fire Department's bike medic program facilitates quick response times at community events like the upcoming Wine & Jazz Festival.  (Click here to read the article I wrote last year about the program for Florida Weekly.)
--Fire Department personnel hold a CPR training course on the fourth Wednesday of each month. They will also take their show on the road to your condo association or business.
--The PG Fire Department has an Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating of three (with one being the best and ten the worst). Make sure your insurance company knows this as it might reduce your premiums!

Operations Chief Gibbs
and Chief Briggs
When we headed out to the garage, we broke into two groups.  Chief Briggs and Operations Chief Holden Gibbs showed us some of the equipment that's maintained on the fire trucks (including an automated cardiopulmonary resuscitation device and the air packs they wear when going into burning buildings). I took advantage of the opportunity to don the Chief's jacket and helmet.  The complete gear (with air pack) weighs approximately 70 pounds.
Modeling firefighter gear
(Note that I am holding the helmet here not to tip it to say hello, but to keep it on my head.  Chief Briggs' old-fashioned leather helmet weights close to 18 pounds on its own and I could barely hold up my head. Lighter weight versions are used by the rest of the team.)

Our last activity of the class was learning how to use a fire extinguisher.  Fire Marshall Jennifer Malnar taught us the acronym PASS (point, aim, squeeze and spray). A propane fire was lit in a fire pit equivalent and anyone who wanted to could use an extinguisher to put it out.  With a bit of coaching, my first -- and hopefully only -- attempt at fire fighting was successful.  I have to admit that I would have had no idea how to actually use one of the fire extinguishers in my home -- and that when I checked them later that night I can't tell if they have expired.  The Fire Department's outreach program will make a house call to check out your equipment (and change batteries in your smoke detectors), and a visit to my home is obviously in order.

It was an interesting evening that gave me a better appreciation of the scope of services provided by our Fire Department.  Chief Briggs and his team encouraged us to get the word out, particularly about their community outreach programs.  I plan to speak with my condo association about scheduling a time for Fire Department personnel to come out to Harbor Landing.  There's nothing to lose -- and potentially everything to gain.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Meeting "The Ladies of Punta Gorda"

I first met Libby Schaefer last fall when Dorrit, Bruce and I took one of her free walking tours around Punta Gorda.  Her enthusiasm for Punta Gorda's history (and life in general) was infectious.

Wrobbel (second from L), Schaefer (fourth from L) & friends

Libby mentioned she was interviewing women for a book about Punta Gorda.  She told me it was Helen Wrobbel who pushed her to write the book.  I knew Helen in passing from various symphony events.  Despite her advanced age (95+) and reliance on a walker, she was one of the CSO's most ardent fans.  Libby shared that Helen had wanted to be buried wearing a red bustier, but that a family member vetoed her wishes. What???!!!  This was just one of the many things I didn't know about Helen when she was alive.  She was a businesswoman who quietly fought segregation. She was an active volunteer firefighter for whom a local fire station is named. I regret not taking the chance to get to know her.

Libby's book was published in January, and it is a gem.  The transcribed interviews draw a picture of what life in Punta Gorda was like in years past and the many ways in which these women shaped our community.  It is a reminder that we can all make a difference.  (If you want to get a feel for the stories in "The Ladies of Punta Gorda," the article I wrote about the book for Florida Weekly is set out below.)

Libby is working on a new book entitled "Memories of War."  Thoughts of "The Ladies of Punta Gorda, Volume II" also occupy her.  And she's lobbying for a new mural in town honoring the contributions of the women she's helped us get to know.  I have high hopes that all of these endeavors will come to fruition.

Introducing “The Ladies of Punta Gorda”
By Nanette Crist, Florida Weekly Correspondent

Author Libby Schaefer
With a twinkle in her eye, Libby Schaefer calls herself a “streetwalker.” Not in the traditional sense, of course. The streets she’s been walking are frequented by the memories of the women who made Punta Gorda the community it is today. Ms. Schaefer tells their stories in “The Ladies of Punta Gorda: A Memory Book.”

Real history

It was Punta Gorda “Grand Dame” Helen Wrobbel who pushed Ms. Schaefer to write her book. Over the course of more than 50 years, Ms. Wrobbel wore many hats in our community, including volunteer fire fighter, businesswoman, clown and president of the Punta Gorda Women’s Club. 

In Ms. Wrobbel’s view, “Real history is the memories people have of the lives they’ve lived.” And she firmly believed the women of Punta Gorda had stories that needed to be told and preserved. 

Backbone of our community

Ms. Schaefer originally intended to satisfy Ms. Wrobbel by interviewing a few women and chronicling their stories. But as she began talking with the ladies, Ms. Schaefer became captivated by the lives they led. “These women were the backbone of our community,” she said. As her enthusiasm mushroomed, so did the project. 

With her tape recorder at the ready, Ms. Schaefer sat down with women who contributed to Punta Gorda’s history in ways large and small. Each chapter recounts the words of the women themselves rather than Ms. Schaefer’s spin on their lives.

Faye Whitehurst Mobley Austin
And so readers learn from Faye Whitehurst Mobley Austin what it was like to be the first nurse in Punta Gorda. Edna Earl Smith Poppell shares her memories of growing up as the daughter of the “Smiling Iceman of Punta Gorda.” And June Tang relates her journey from Bangkok to Punta Gorda, where she owns and operates the Royal Thai restaurant with her daughter Christina.

Generations of women

In many instances, Ms. Schaefer gathered stories about women no longer living. She talked with daughters and granddaughters and nieces. 

Frances Joyce Cleveland Lenz recalls both her life and that of her grandmother, Jean Paul Whiteaker Cleveland. Ms. Lenz was raised by Ms. Cleveland and has lived in the same house on Gill Street since she was a child. 

Ms. Lenz recounts tales from her grandmother’s work in City Hall as deputy clerk and, later, town clerk. (A woman serving as town clerk in the 1950s was a rarity.) She recalls being at work with her grandmother when a resident came in who didn’t have the money to pay his water bill. He did have vegetables, though, and offered to sell some to Ms. Cleveland. She carefully made her selections, purchasing enough to enable the gentleman to pay his bill. Ms. Lenz says there was always fresh produce in their home.

Cornelia Ponder with her daughter and granddaughter
Alfreda Weathersbee Mobley similarly shares her own story and remembrances of her great aunt Cornelia Ponder. Ms. Ponder was a nurse and midwife whose patients spanned the color divide. Ms. Mobley remembers “Auntie” working with the local doctor to nurse Ms. Mobley’s mother back to health. The doctor said, “Cornelia, me and you got her better.” Ms. Ponder responded, “You, me and God.” 

A time of segregation

Segregation was a reality of life for many women whose stories are told in “The Ladies of Punta Gorda.” Women like Martha Bireda remember well attending Baker Academy, Punta Gorda’s African-American school. The school taught students from kindergarten through grade six to nine, depending upon the era. Once the students graduated, they were bused to Fort Myers to continue their education.   

Segregation permeated our community in a multitude of ways. The Punta Gorda train station had a separate waiting room and water fountain for African-American travelers. The hospital had a two bed ward for African-American patients. If the beds were filled, the patient was sent home unless a nearby hospital had a vacancy in its colored ward. Even tasks as seemingly simple as shopping for a new dress were difficult because African-American shoppers were not permitted to use the stores’ dressing rooms. 

Martha Bireda with Helen Wrobbel
Taking a stance

Ms. Bireda tells of one way in which her mother, Bernice Andrews Russell, rebelled against the mores of segregation. Then, as now, Punta Gorda had many intersections with four way stops signs. It was the custom for African-Americans drivers at these intersections to allow white drivers to pass through, regardless of who had arrived first. Ms. Russell would just “turn her head…and drive right through.”  

Ms. Bireda is proud her mother’s story is included in the book. “My mother was an extraordinary woman,” she says. “She was born a second class citizen, but she became a first class citizen by taking advantage of opportunities when they opened up.”

In her later life, Ms. Russell established the Blanchard House Museum to celebrate the contributions of African-Americans to our community. Somewhat to her surprise, Ms. Bireda now continues her mother’s work as Executive Director of Blanchard House. 

What’s cooking?

Paging through “The Ladies of Punta Gorda” is like perusing a friend’s old scrapbook. Wonderful pictures with cracks and creases attesting to their age accompany each story. 

Ms. Schaefer has also included some family recipes in the book. “The ladies cooked all the time,” she said, “And it came up again and again as I talked with them. Many had special recipes they encouraged me to include.”  

 A serious baker herself, Ms. Schaefer has added specialties like guava cobbler and kumquat cake to her repertoire. 

Bringing her book to life

Like all authors, Ms. Schaefer loves to talk about her book. But there’s no sense of self-promotion in her conversation. Instead, it’s clear she has come to regard the women—even the ones long departed—as friends she really wants you to get to know. Ms. Schaefer will be on hand to introduce her ladies at two upcoming events.

On Thursday, Jan. 29, Copperfish Books will host Ms. Schaefer at a book talk and signing. Reservations are suggested.  

For people who want more in-depth information, Ms. Schaefer will lead a walking tour on Friday, Jan. 30. The tour will feature locations mentioned in the book such as the Ice House and the Blanchard House Museum. Ms. Schaefer will share excerpts from relevant stories at each stop. The tour will be followed by classroom time for questions and trivia. The event is being offered through FGCU’s Renaissance Academy.

Volume 2?

Ms. Schaefer readily acknowledges there are many more women out there whose stories deserve to be told.  And it’s a project she’s contemplating. But for now, she’s content to let people get acquainted with the amazing women featured in “The Ladies of Punta Gorda.” 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How Small Can You Go? Visiting the 40th Annual Miniature Show

When my friend Maggie made her plans to visit, I put on my tour guide hat and searched for fun things to do while she was here.  We had plans to visit the Dali Museum in St. Pete to see the Picasso-Dali, Dali-Picasso show, so a stop at the 40th Annual International Miniature Art Exhibition in Tarpon Springs seemed like a good add-on.  It's a wonderful--and slightly mind boggling--show.

Kathy Pollak at work
Our first stop was a chat with Kathy Pollak, one of the demo artists that day.  Pollak used to do "normal painting," but turned to miniatures when she and and her husband moved to Florida and downsized.  (We heard this from some other artists we spoke with as well.  Everyone can find a space in their home for a miniature!)  In order to qualify as a miniature, the work itself can be no more than 25 square inches; the maximum framed size is 64 square inches.  Also, as a rule of thumb, the miniature should be no larger than 1/6 the size of the actual object. (Just for kicks, I got out a measuring tape and measured my head, which is approximately 9 inches tall.  This means my face in a miniature portrait should be no larger than 1 1/2 inches.)  

Pollak starts her process with a picture of what she wants to paint loaded up on several devices (plus a hard copy).  The version on her iPhone (not the gargantuan iPhone 6 plus) was the actual size of the painting she was working on the day we chatted with her.  She begins either by tracing the picture onto her canvas (which she called the "cheaters' method") or by drawing the image with the use of calipers to measure the distances.  Either way, the artist then has to paint the detail of the miniature, which requires an inordinate amount of skill and patience.

"Cottage at the Cape" by
Polly Berlin (oil)
With this background, we began to explore the lighted cases filled with miniatures.  A magnifying glass hangs by each case so visitors can take a closer look at the detail of works that catch their eyes.  Maggie almost immediately gravitated to this painting by Polly Berlin entitled "Cottage at the Cape."  The texture and detail of the flowers are incredible. In a happy coincidence, Maggie's mother collected miniatures that are housed in a family home on Cape Cod.  It was an easy decision for her to add this work to the collection.

"The Colors of Robin Williams"
by Rebecca Kessel (acrylic)
The exhibit contains a wide variety of styles and mediums. Essentially, any type of work done in "regular" size can be done in miniature.  There were watercolors and sculptures and multi-media works and drawings. The subject matters were equally varied, from portraits to landscapes to animals.  Abstract works are specifically permitted under the prospectus for the show, but both Maggie and I felt they don't translate particularly well into the miniature format.

"Gypsy Horse, Cherokee
Rose" by Denise
Submissions have to be juried into the show.  If I understood correctly, there is a panel of five jurors and majority rules.  A judge then selects the winners.  Prizes are awarded in each medium and in a number of subject-matter specific categories.  First prize for opaque watercolor went to the Visual Arts Center's own Denise Horne-Kaplan for "Gypsy Horse, Cherokee Rose."  The work measures 2 1/2" by 4 1/2".  Even in my picture, you can see the amount of detail.

"The Road to Coomenole Beach,
Dingle" by Joan Cart (opaque watercolor)
The exhibition is an annual event and is held at the Leepa-Rattner Museum in St. Petersburg.  This year's show runs through February 15.  It's really a must-see for any art lover (and, in my opinion, much more interesting than the Picasso-Dali, Dali-Picasso show).  I am already looking forward to next year's show.