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Artist's visit benefits kids and their hospital

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 18, 2002

Indiana jewelry designer Ronaldo was in St. Petersburg recently to visit All Children's Hospital, which will benefit from money raised through sales of his designs.

His signature pieces are intricately woven and braided in platinum, gold and silver. He stopped by the medical center to teach young patients how to make Celtic-design love-knot bracelets using leather strips in three colors.

It's a treat for youngsters in the hospital to have an activity unrelated to shots, pills and other necessary but unpleasant treatments. Ronaldo said he likes to ask them to write love letters to family and friends, along with creating the bracelets.

"I tell them, "What you do today will be the most precious gift' " their loved ones will receive, he said.

The 45-year-old designer, whose birth name is Ronnie Needham, succeeded his father, Hobert, in the business.

His home and studio are in Laconia, Ind., on 5 acres that overlook the Ohio River. He executes the designs, and a team of artisans help make the jewelry. Ronaldo's work is offered in some Dillard's and Lazarus stores and through other retailers and private sales representatives.

Dr. Barry and D'Vora Cannell of Palm Harbor were hosts for a show and sale of the jewelry on Aug. 10 to raise money for All Children's. Mrs. Cannell and Ronaldo have been friends and business associates for about 15 years and have collaborated on other events for charity.

They chose All Children's as a beneficiary because it was "the only hospital that could give me the answer I needed" to a life-threatening condition from which she had suffered for nine years, Mrs. Cannell said.

She has Hashimoto's syndrome, an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid that nearly had robbed her of eyesight and caused weight gain, among other symptoms. Her father, undiagnosed, died from the same illness, she says.

The diagnostic equipment and physicians at All Children's were the detectives solving her medical mystery, she said.

"The purpose of the hospital is not just to treat but to find cures" through research, she said.

On St. Pete Beach, Evander Preston's jewelry studio offers contemporary designs and some whimsical creations that include a bejeweled miniature electric train and precious-metal versions of pull-off tabs used to open canned goods.

Preston long has been interested in the cultures of India, Asia and Africa. He has an extensive collection of African masks and for years has served culinary wonders prepared on the wok stoves in his kitchen to select clients and friends.

Last spring he began to experiment with a tandoor, a clay oven surrounded by metal that generates wrap-around heat.

He ordered it from the Gulati manufacturer in India and waited about a year for it to be delivered. Once it arrived, 13 gas jets were installed to fuel the oven.

A cast-iron pan holds lava rock and wood chips; the tandoor uses radiant heat that cooks quickly.

He can prepare food two ways, using the gas-fired method or charcoal, which he uses the gas burner to light.

One recent evening, Preston invited me to join him and friends Susan Cameron and Lenne Nicklaus Ball.

Kelley Kline and Kenny Walton, who work in the studio, also partook of the flavorful meal that included tandoori chicken, Chinese ribs, white asparagus, hard-boiled quail eggs, cole slaw flavored with soy mayonnaise and chat masala, an Indian spice blend, and roti, a flaky Indian flatbread.

The intense heat of the tandoor does cook foods quickly, but their intense flavor results from hours of preparation, mostly blending ingredients such as yogurt and spices into marinades that tenderize the meat.

He prepared the chicken and ribs separately, but used skewers for both.

"We hang everything (over the heat source) the way the Chinese do," Preston said.

"Back 30 years ago, we didn't have any Chinese markets," he said. Asian food was "a mystery," well beyond the ordinary. "Then I realized the benefits of trying to stay alive with all this Pacific rim stuff."

-- Mary Jane Park can be reached at (727) 893-8267; fax (727) 893-8675; e-mail; P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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