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Artist captures richness of Florida on canvas

By JENNIFER STEWART
Published March 26, 2006


LONGLEAF - Christopher Still couldn't get any closer to what he paints.

"Sometimes that means a bull's coming after you, and sometimes that means you're underwater," the accomplished Tarpon Springs artist said.

He created one of his latest nautical pieces, The Spring of Life , underwater at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

The 45-year-old used one hand to paint inside a box attached to his scuba gear. It was something Still envisioned himself doing when he was 7 or 8 and with his parents in the park's dry "Fish Bowl."

"I didn't realize I was already doing the research I needed to do that painting," Still told a crowd during a rare public appearance Thursday night.

Still spoke to more than 35 adults and kids in the Longleaf Elementary School cafeteria for a dedication of 10 paintings. The prints, two with nautical themes and eight of Florida history, are replicas of large murals that hang in chambers at the state Capitol.

The 10 pieces will go to Pasco County schools.

The work was purchased with money raised from the Longleaf Fine Arts on the Village Green show in December.

Retiring Pasco Arts Council executive director Marj Golub served on the show's steering committee, and focused on making sure the fine art show was actually fine art .

Regarding the show's proceeds, Golub said, "We didn't have a huge amount of money, but we wanted to do something meaningful." Hence, $1,300 went toward the Still prints and frames and other materials for the "Art in Schools" program.

The art and materials will be placed in two large traveling tubs to be used by K-12 public and private schools in Pasco. "This gift is our putting it all together," said Pam Marron , director of the fine art show.

Still's donations included two paintings, an interactive audio CD, and a coffee table book featuring his work, Florida Legacy: Land, Legend and Leadership .

Still's extensive art background includes numerous awards and scholarships, and education from Philadelphia to Florence, Italy.

When Still finished school, he thought about returning to Italy or Florida, where he was raised.

He chose Florida.

His fondness for the state is evident through his comments and his murals. In the eight historical pieces, "It's dusk at the Civil War and then it's night time during the Reconstruction," he said of the progression.

Still decided to paint the two nautical pieces after the historical ones, "So you don't know whether it's past or present," the artist said. "It links the paintings in a circle."

The House of Representatives project involved him working tirelessly for four years and raising nearly $110,000. He sold his studies and sketches to help fund the job.

Still's research for the paintings also included his collaborating with nearly 50 historians, scientists and everyday folk, like cattlemen.

"You can't imagine how rich each of these murals is," Longleaf Elementary art teacher Stefanie Bracciale told the crowd at the dedication.

Still disclosed during the question-and-answer session that his next project will involve studying and painting everything happening above and underwater on a stretch of beach between Caladesi Island and Clearwater.

Bracciale's students have been studying Still, and they eagerly asked him questions.

Ten-year-old Dominique Miranda Dubay asked Still before his talk to check out a mural the kids are creating on the side of school. It depicts wildlife on the Starkey Ranch.

The armadillos and sandhill cranes there, the artist told the kids, "You guys know those things like nobody else. It's worthy of doing art about."

In 2003, Still also spoke of nature in Florida before the House of Representatives. He said: "I hope that these paintings symbolize Floridians' prayer for you to protect and preserve the beauty of Florida as you set forth to the future."

He received a standing ovation.

--Jennifer Stewart writes about social events and personalities in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6231. Her e-mail address is jstewart@sptimes.com

[Last modified March 26, 2006, 00:26:15]


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