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Art show also exhibits trains, games and music

For its silver anniversary, the All Children's art festival has attracted 80 exhibitors who will compete for $3,500 in prize money.

By EILEEN SCHULTE
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002


LARGO -- This weekend at the All Children's Hospital Art Festival and Benefit Auction, you can get an exquisite, one-of-a-kind, $17,000 15 carat dark blue tanzanite set with a quarter-carat diamond in 18 carat white/yellow gold blend.

Or you can just get a $2.50 Scandia dog and take a slow-speed train ride around Largo Central Park.

That's the beauty of this smallish, casual fine arts and crafts show now in its 25th year -- there is something for everybody, from ceramics, jewelry, paintings and photography to a climbing wall, hands-on activities and train rides for everybody else.

"Our motto this year is 25 years of friend-raising and fundraising," said Pat Bell, who is in charge of publicity for the event.

For a quarter century, the Seminole/Largo branch of All Children's Hospital guild, one of seven active fundraising groups stretching from Sarasota to New Port Richey, has been putting on the show, raising money to buy fish tanks, beautifying the lobby and anything else the St. Petersburg hospital needs.

This year, the proceeds from the art show will be combined with proceeds from other fundraising events by other branches, and the money raised will help renovate the hospital's neonatal unit.

In the past quarter century, "our little group has raised over $700,000 to give to the hospital," Bell said.

She is especially proud of that because "over 1-million people from the Seminole/Largo area have been served by All Children's," she said.

Sadly, the art show has been ailing in recent years, and is still trying to recover.

Why?

It has been uprooted and moved several times. It was held for the first time in 1976 at someone's house. Then, in 1977, it was moved to Johnson Park in Seminole, a park that now no longer exists. In 1979, it was moved to the grounds of Bay Pines Veteran's Hospital. Finally, three years ago, it was moved to Largo Central Park.

The frequent moves caused mass confusion for both artists and festivalgoers who had no idea where the festival was going to be held from year to year.

"The first year it was held at Largo Central Park, some artists showed up at Bay Pines," said Bell.

Attendance dropped. So did sales.

"It takes time to rebuild a show when you change locations," said Paul Henning, 53, a jewelry maker who has sold his pieces at the show since the early 1980s. "At Bay Pines, the show was well-attended by artists and the general public, and it had a nice mixture of artists."

An expert once told Bell it would take five years for total recovery.

But she likes the festival's chances. This year, on its silver anniversary, the festival has attracted 80 exhibitors who will compete for $3,500 in prize money.

"The art that we have is outstanding," said Mindy LaGrande, co-chairwoman of exhibitors. "We really have some top-notch art like the painter Hua-Yao Tung, who paints exquisite Oriental florals with gold leaf on them. He was best in show last year. And one lady, Debra Purdy, does copper sculptures, free-standing birds and cat tails.

But it's photographer Nels Johnson she is really looking forward to seeing.

"He does really bright Key West-style photos that have interesting composition," LaGrande said.

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