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A night anointed by nectar

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By AMY SCHERZER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 8, 2002

MAGNIFICENT METAMORPHOSIS: The chrysalis to butterfly metaphor succeeded on many levels Saturday night at Pavilion XVII, the Tampa Museum of Art benefit chaired by Sara and Mort Richter.

In the two decades since community leaders started the Pavilion, the glamorous, once strictly white-tie affair has set the standard for society fundraisers, while collecting close to $3-million for the downtown museum. Pavilion XVII added $200,000 more.

Tampa's most formal affair has undergone a metamorphosis much like the museum soon will. The museum, now cocooned in 23-year-old quarters, will emerge in 2005 as a $52-million butterfly.

The Richters chose the theme "From remembrances of things past . . . to great expectations." The giant papier-mache cocoon, chrysalis and butterfly hanging from the ceiling were created by Gainesville artist Alice Hehr, who collaborated with former Pavilion volunteer Wayne Jamieson. Graphic artist Marc Dahl of Modi5 carried through the motif on the invitations and program book.

An enormous laser-projected butterfly fluttered across an adjacent office tower. Tiny paper butterflies dotted a pathway through the park. Once inside the museum, guests sipped cocktails, shopped the silent auction and admired the ball gowns. The current photo exhibition and the renowned Noble antiquities collection make the museum a priceless asset as a party venue.

Tables of more than 100 silent auction items rimmed the gallery and terrace. Guests jotted down their bids for jewelry, clothing, artwork and vacation packages. By night's end, the tallytotaled $48,000. One table of kaleidoscopes -- a 15-piece collection donated by Barbara and Gary Tessitore -- sold for $1,050.

TWO HUMAN BUTTERFLIES led the way to a 14,000-square-foot tent over the courtyard. The Kenny Soderblom Orchestra alternated with the cha-cha-cha beats of another band, Egues y Amigos, during perfect al fresco dining weather.

In another nod to the past, Chef Hans Hickel of the Hyatt Regency Westshore re-created previous Pavilion menu choices, with help from 33 cooks and 65 waiters, all doting over 50 tables.

Chilled bisque arrived first in a halved acorn squash, as it was served at Pavilion VI. Duck salad was the hit from Pavilion X. The tenderloin, paired with lobster, saffron pasta and baby vegetables, was the main entree at Pavilion VIII. Dessert was new: pistachio mousse in a chocolate pyramid. At each place setting, guests found a glass pine cone memento from Tiffany & Co., a butterfly fan and a tiny flashlight.

Harrison and Tom Giddens, named chairmen of next year's Pavilion XVIII, arranged Casablanca lilies and tall sticks of curly willow centerpieces, dotted with butterflies. More butterflies landed on tent poles wrapped in white plastic. Overhead, Alice Hehr's hand-painted, fabric butterflies were suspended in flight, their wings spanning 8 feet. The manual labor -- setting up tables, glueing butterflies -- had fallen to the dance committee.

At 10:30 p.m., as dessert arrived, guests were joined by about 100 Second Wavers who paid a discounted $100 to come for dessert and coffee, music by the DeLeons and auction bidding, plus omelets at midnight. First wave tickets cost $350 to $2,500.

One young couple, Amy and Jeff Handlin, hosted 10 friends for dinner at their Palma Ceia home, then headed to Pavilion. Newcomers to Tampa from Kansas, the Handlins (she's a physician's assistant and he's an attorney at Carlton Fields) fit the profile of future Pavilion-goers.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD: Until last year ago, Pavilion was Tampa's only white-tie event other than the debutante balls. Most people could only read about the party. Loosening the rule to black-tie swelled the ranks. Now all museum members get an invitation: 3,000 were mailed this year, drawing 500 guests.

Early organizers patterned the gala after the Swan Ball in Nashville. In those days, committee meetings were elegant dinner parties at private homes. Volunteers plotted the transformation of the museum parking garage and the old Curtis Hixon Convention Center into an Oriental garden, an African veldt, a Venetian plaza and a three-ring circus.

Until 1992, Pavilion volunteers functioned independent of the museum and maintained a separate office.

"We could do whatever we wanted to improve the museum's image and make money," said Jean Ann Cone. She chaired Pavilion VII, "An Evening on the Orient Express," with her daughter Julianne McKeel in 1987.

Back then, guests visited versions of Victoria Station, the Eiffel Tower and a Monte Carlo casino, before dining in St. Mark's Square as the Peter Duchin Orchestra played. The party raised more than $240,000, one-third of private money donated to the museum that year.

"Pavilion was one-of-a-kind, the most exclusive," Cone said.

In 1986, the Edwardian Garden-themed Pavilion VI, chaired by Pat Carter, netted $278,000. The only hitch, she recalls, came a day after the ball. Dessert was served on a barge docked behind the museum. University of Tampa students cut it loose, and it crashed into the bridge.

In 1988, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus brought a carousel and live animals to Pavilion VIII. A trapeze artist modeled a full-length mink coat while hanging from her hair during a live auction. Guests took elephant rides at the patrons party.

AT ONE TIME, Pavilion was the seventh-largest, one-night fundraiser in the nation, according to Susie Sanders. Sanders, former assistant to two Pavilion chairmen, also served as auction chairman and, for the past three years, auction consultant.

But the economy changed. Proceeds dropped from $207,000 in 1990 to $76,000 in 1991. The following year, Pavilion XII, "An Evening in Old Havana," ran a $25,000 deficit that led to a temporary hiatus. It returned in 1997 with fiscal oversight, but the mission remained: Throw an extravagant party without shortchanging the cause.

With six of the 16 previous chairmen attending this year, the changing of the guard was noteworthy. Barbara Romano, Joanne Frazier, Pat Carter, Jean Ann Cone, Bonnie and Jim Judy, andSuzette and Monroe Berkman appreciated seeing their photos and invitations enlarged and hung at the entry. A photo collage book at each table brought memories of changing economies, fashions and hairdos.

Of the original patrons present, only Calvin Carter proudly sported all 17 patron pins.

Yet with all the nostalgia came a grateful salute to the new blood. The originators noted their impact and welcomed the future sustainers.

"It's so exciting seeing all these new faces, with plenty of old ones," said Jeanne Winter, a charter and continuous patron who has worked countless Pavilion committees.

"It's good to see young people stepping up to become active. That's what we worked so hard to perpetuate," Sanders said. "The museum belongs to the generations to come."

-- To pass along tips to Amy Scherzer, reach her at 226-3332 or

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