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Artwork that soothes and moves

As people search for calming influences in their lives, the soulful sounds of a home fountain are becoming increasingly popular.

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 31, 2003

TAMPA -- Julia James remembers wandering through a home show last year with her husband, Bud, when she heard the soothing trickle of water two aisles over.

"It sounded so real," recalls James, a West Virginia native who's a sucker for anything with a melody of a mountain spring. "I just had to find out where it was coming from."

As it turned out, that luscious water sound was wafting from the booth of artist Joe Weinstein, who lives in South Tampa. His custom-made fountains made music she couldn't forget. She had to have one.

In an increasingly edgy and fearsome world, James is not alone in her desire to bring flowing water into her home. Home fountains have achieved hip status in recent years, trickling into the mass retail market. Frugal desktop versions have turned up in mail-order catalogs, even at Target.

"You've got everybody nesting now," says Michael Jones, owner of Pondscapes on South Manhattan Avenue. "Fountains can bring the sound of the garden inside, creating a transition from the outdoors."

Today's top sellers are elegant, pre-cast concrete urn fountains that start at $300 and can be installed in two hours -- even by someone who isn't handy, Jones says. Many customers well-versed in feng shui want them by their front doors for the sound and perceived energy flow.

Weinstein says the appeal of fountains goes deeper than other luxury purchases. People buy them as a treat, not because they need them.

"I think that many clients want them as a response to world events," he said of his sculpted creations made of lightweight concrete that resembles coquina rock. "They are turning inward and looking for something to enhance their life and make it more beautiful."

Julia and Bud James hired Weinstein to create an alluring $2,800 fountain viewable from just about every room in their new home in a gated community off Bearss Avenue. The heck with a pool, Julia thought. The kids were grown and frankly, at 65, she was more interested in meditating than swimming.

Poised in a landscaped lanai, the fountain draws Julia with its soulful sounds and gentle curves. "I sit by it and watch the sun rising and setting. Nothing is more beautiful," she says. "I have fallen deeply in love with it."

On a recent Saturday afternoon, customers looking for ready-made home fountains wandered the winding paths at Tampa Statuary on West Kennedy Boulevard, where models range from $400 for a small, basic fountain to $13,000 for a four-tier Gatsby-esque model that looks like it's bubbling Moet.

"There's something about water, especially for people who live in Florida. We're drawn to the ocean waves, the falling of rain," says Bradley Carroll, who bought the business six months ago with his wife, Carolyn. "Water in a home or garden environment helps create a sense of peace and serenity. It's wonderful and very calming."

Options include lighting, custom-built base pools and sophisticated tile-work.

"We sell a lot of big installations with exterior pumps," says Carroll, who attracts both commercial clients with big needs and residential customers looking for something more modest.

Carroll attributes the great local interest in fountains to "lots of new construction and homeowners who want fountains as an integral part of their homes from the beginning."

Much of the inventory the Carrolls carry is neo-classical in sentiment: replicas of old fountains from Europe and New Orleans crowned with a pineapple or the head of Bacchus. More contemporary offerings include a line of fountains replicating garden designs by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Carlos Vasquez, who has been hunting for the perfect fountain for his house for the last two years, arrived at Tampa Statuary with a mantra.

"Peace," he says. "That's what I'm looking for. A place to sit and have a cup of coffee. A nice place to just go and be around."

Andrew Balloon, a Tampa gardening buff who has six fountains in his yard, describes fountains as moving art. Balloon, who tests well water for Hillsborough County, is a passionate tinkerer who constantly updates his landscaping projects with new waterfalls and visual diversions. He likes incorporating flowing water into his designs because "fountains really do distract people. They'll calm anyone right down."

Julia James wanted the same thing. When she called artist Weinstein, he brought ideas and a willingness to incorporate her own creativity into his design.

"He came to our house and worked something up so that we could look at the fountain from the living room, family room, master bedroom -- even as we walked in the front door," James recalls.

Weinstein's creation -- soothingly lit for night viewing as well -- lulls the couple's guests into such a stupor that all conversation stops when they gather around the new fountain.

"It's so beautiful and relaxing," Julia says, "that no one has anything to say anymore."

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