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Event's reputation draws top artists, musicians

The Masaryktown festival at U.S. 41 and Wilson Boulevard ends today

By DAN DeWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 28, 2000


MASARYKTOWN -- Kay Neuman, 55, who moved to Hernando County from Tampa in January, was one of the first people to show up at the Masaryktown Arts, Crafts & Music Festival on Saturday morning.

She was pleasantly surprised to come upon such a large gathering of good artists in such a small town, at the park on Wilson Boulevard and U.S. 41.

"There's a lot of talent here," she said.

People familiar with the festival, which is sponsored by the Hernando County Fine Arts Council and will run through today at 4 p.m., are less surprised. The event simply did this year something it has developed a reputation for doing in its previous 15 years: drawing top artists, along with musicians and musical acts, from all over Florida.

Herbert Hofer, 54, for example, is a native of Austria who lives in Miami Beach and whose work has been featured on a poster for that city's festival.

He comes to Masaryktown partly because of the friendly atmosphere. Nelson Priede, the owner of Cafe Masaryktown, puts him up in his home, Hofer said, while Hofer and his wife do the same for members of Priede's family who visit Miami Beach.

Also, he said, Masaryktown represents one of the last chances to display his art in Florida before the show season ends with the beginning of summer.

Entering his booth is like walking into an idealized vision of a leisurely day in South Florida, with bright tropical colors, palms and an occasional lion reminiscent of the French primitive painter Henri Rousseau.

Hofer describes his work as "children's paintings for adults or for people who don't want to grow up."

Most of them feature his black cat, Wootzy. One piece, particularly, sums up his life.

"This is my philosophy," he said.

The painting, called Looking for a New Place to Nap, shows Wootzy, preparing to hop into a hammock suspended between a palm and the roof of an open-air veranda. An easel, brushes and palette show that his work has an important place in his life. Images of a bottle of champagne chilling in a bucket and a figure diving into a blue pool make the point that he also leaves room for pleasure.

Not all the vendors create their own work. Vito Delsordo of Palm Bay and his business partners commission sculptors in Uganda to produce soapstone carvings, which are sanded and finished after they arrive in the United States.

Most are abstract, with enough realism to communicate powerful human emotions. One of the most common is the bond between women and their children, Delsordo said. This is partly because in many families in the part of Africa where the artists live, fathers must travel far to find work.

Though the artists have always been the main feature, music, from bluegrass to hip-hop, is performed during most of the festival.

The festival also included 11 food booths, and most of the 150 vendors sell crafts.

P.J. and Ernie Bettmann, of Oxford, own P.J.'s Windhawk Mild & Wild Spices, and their offering is a combination of food and crafts. They sell their own spice mixes, most designed to go with a specific kind of food. For $18, customers get a box of 21 different spice blends and a cookbook full of easy and quick recipes.

"Everything's natural," said Ernie Bettmann, 63, who wore the company's emblem, a rattlesnake's rattle, suspended from a necklace.

"There's no salt and no MSG."

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