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New Tampa

Images of home, traveling in time

A local artist uses technology and old-fashioned craft to place her neighbors in famous landscapes. A painting featuring a Town 'N Country girl recently won a $10,000 grand prize.

By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2003


TAMPA PALMS -- Artist Heide Presse stood amid a small, canvas-cluttered bedroom-turned-studio inside her Wyndham home, eyeing her painting hub of the last decade.

"This is by no means my dream studio," she said.

Easels support unfinished oil paintings, ceramics line the shelves and antique clothing crowds the shuttered room.

But even a small studio can yield a big success.

Such is true for Presse, who used artistic vision and inspiration derived from her Tampa Palms neighborhood to launch an award-winning painting career.

Since her move to New Tampa in 1988, Presse has become the subject of industry magazine stories and recently received a $10,000 grand prize from the National Park Academy of the Arts. Her award-winning piece, The Weaver's Daughter, was a 9-by-13-inch miniature watercolor depicting 19th century life in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Now, with a calendar of her work arriving in Christian bookstores this month, gallery sales and a Web site at www.heidepresse.com, the local artist is switching gears.

"From the beginning I pursued national exhibitions and shows and was successful with that," said Presse, 44.

Now she wants to focus on the New Tampa community that helps supply her with the land, lakes and models (usually neighbors and their children) that often appear in her pieces.

Much of her work has a nostalgic 18th- and 19th-century feel, said Presse, who favors vibrant colors in her paintings.

"I'm always chasing fall," she said.

She photographs friends, family, neighbors and historical re-enactors in period garb. Wearing antique corsets, bloomers, shawls, vests and hats, they pose in her driveway and around New Tampa.

From those images, Presse uses a computer to insert her subjects into historic landscapes inspired by the south of France, California's Carmel coast, 18th-century Spanish missions in San Antonio and colonial plantations.

For her models, it is a form of time-travel.

"I'm looking at one where I'm painted in a field of lavenders and it's just amazing," said frequent model Carol Bowers of Town 'N Country. "It's like looking into the past; somewhere I've never been but I could belong."

With long strawberry-blond hair and a classic old-world look, Bowers and her 10-year-old daughter Bailey have posed for Presse since the women met at a Temple Terrace hair salon three years ago.

The mother and daughter are featured in almost a half-dozen paintings. Bailey was the subject of Presse's 2002 grand prize painting honored by the National Parks in its 16th annual Arts for the Parks competition. It is now on a yearlong tour.

Presse's work typically sells for $3,000 to $5,500 depending on size, said the artist. She generally needs at least a week of nonstop work to research, reference and complete a piece.

"For a good 10 years I hardly painted," said Presse, who earned a fine arts in design degree from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. She only returned to painting in 1992 after the birth of her son, Alex.

Now, she has no fear.

"I know a lot of artists who are afraid to enter competitions," she said. "I'm not . . . I've always been an artist."

-- Melia Bowie can be reached at 269-5312 or bowie@sptimes.com .

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