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Festival revived, with all the memories

By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 22, 2002

You never can quite be sure what's going on when you hear Larry Whidden's voice on the other end of the telephone line.

But, in answer to queries I have received, yes, there really will be a party at Whidden's house as a fundraiser for the Tri-County League of Professional Artists, which is reviving the Masaryktown Arts and Crafts Festival. And, yes, part of the funds will go to Hernando-Pasco Hospice. More about that later.

And, yes, I am still a little hinky when Whidden calls.

"We're going to paint you to raise funds for the festival," Whidden said about 15 years ago, when he was promoting one of the first Masaryktown Arts and Crafts Festivals.

And so I sat uncomfortably on a stool while a bunch of artists sketched and painted away, thinking it would at least earn me points with my then-wife, who was a fledgling artist.

"No," Whidden said after a few minutes, "that's not what I meant. I said we were going to paint you!"

And, producing a large brush and a can of paint, he did just that.

It was one of many crazy ideas that have made the Masaryktown artist one of my favorite people. And the arts, crafts and music festival one of my favorite events.

Another group, which used to put on the festival, moved it to Tom Varn Park in Brooksville a couple of years ago, where two annual festivals now take place and are well-attended.

Whidden's group is reviving the old Masaryktown festival on the festival grounds on U.S. 41 in Masaryktown. Thereby, of course, hangs another tale.

"You're going to have a what? Where?" was my response when Whidden and a handful of others first came up with the idea for the festival years ago.

Masaryktown is a tiny settlement more given to chicken-farming than to the arts, and I had doubts about the success of an event in a place that many people have trouble pronouncing.

But successful it was, and Whidden's ideas keep coming.

A few years after the painting episode there was a party titled "Get the Point?" Whidden had apparently overdosed on the works of a Bulgarian artist named Christo, who was always going around doing things like wrapping entire islands in pink plastic.

Whidden enlisted local artists to paint pyramids made out of home insulating material on a tiny island off Pine Island Beach in Hernando County.

The problem was that by the time the event took place, a grazing tropical storm had reduced the size of the island where it was to be held. Whidden then held it in the public park while park officials stood around and scratched their heads, wondering if pyramid painting was an acceptable activity.

Then there was the time lingerie models posing in the woods near his home/studio got all wet when a sudden downpour caused a collapsing rain gutter to drench them and their . . . but I digress.

The festival will take place Nov. 30-Dec. 1, and I wouldn't miss it.

It was there in 1984 that I met folksinger/artist Mary Ann DiNella, who has become a lifelong friend. She and her partner, Dennis Devine, another old friend, will be performing at the fundraising party at Whidden's home, where artists are invited to set up their work for display and sale. Also appearing are local groups Equal Time, Future Perfect and, possibly, Baker Act.

I have been honored by Whidden and the league naming an award after me, a cash sum based on the total raised, to be given to a charity of my choice -- in this instance, Hernando-Pasco Hospice.

Tickets are $10.

Beyond that, I have no idea what is going to happen, but that has always been part of the fun. We almost always have a good time at such events -- at least up to the part of the evening where Whidden decides he is a blues harmonica player, at which time the crowds tend to thin.

For further information about participating or attending, and for directions, call Whidden at (352) 796-1766.

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