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Art Enthusiasts Converge on Tom Varn Park

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39th Annual Art in the Park Art Show

The rich beauty of Tom Varn Park in Brooksville shone particularly bright last weekend as thousands converged in this natural mecca for a celebration of artists and the arts the annual Art in the Park (AITP) art show. Now in its 39th year, Art in the Park featured the work of more than 100 artists and artisans from 20 states.

The Hernando County Fine Arts Council presented Art in the Park on March 9 and 10, an annual celebration of fine art, craftsmanship, and community that creates a special opportunity and tradition for artists, collectors, and art patrons.

“In this, our 39th year, we are so pleased with the turnout from the community,” says Allisa Babor, Chair of the Hernando County Fine Arts Council. “We are thankful for all the artists, the craftspeople, the vendors, the nonprofits, the volunteers, the council members, and all of the people who made it possible.”

[Credit: Hanna Maglio]

As masses of excited art enthusiasts of all ages made their way down the trails and walkways of Tom Varn Park, they perused a vast and beautiful assortment of artistic masterworks, including fine arts painting, fine arts ceramics, fine crafts, fine arts drawing & graphics, fine arts fibers, fine arts sculpture, fine arts jewelry, fine arts photography, fine arts digital art, and fine arts mixed media.

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“I’m so excited to be here,” said Samantha Rispoli, owner of the Sam Marie multimedia artist and color tattoo artist creative venture in Spring Hill. “I’m offering art prints, T-shirts, resin, acrylic, mixed media, beadwork, a little bit of everything.”

Rachel Cook of Brooksville offered intuitive soul art at AITP in the form of acrylic works that emphasize the elements–water, air, gravity, fire—as well as resin. “Art in the Park is a great opportunity to get people to see what we have to offer here in the arts community in Hernando County,” she said.

Aside from offering her nature-inspired oil paintings at AITP, Diane Stover conducted a live painting session at the event. “Art in the Park is like one big art studio for artists in this area,” said this Brooksville artist. “Here we work and meet those interested in our work.”

Deanna Poelsma, Glazed and Confused Creations, came all the way from Indiana to show and sell her selection of handmade glazed jewelry.“After doing some research about art shows across the nation, I came to the conclusion that this was one of the best,” she said.

Art installations and demos were presented by senOih Glass, who presented a live framework demo; Nancy Barry, who presented an interactive painting activity; Hilary Frambes, who presented an interactive chalk activity; and Wall Yak Festival, who presented an interactive puzzle. “I’ve participated in Art in the Park for years and love it,” said Nathan Spence, senOih Glass. “You meet so many people from this community and beyond. It’s such a colorful and personable event.”

At the heart of Art in the Park is a juried art show of more than 100 artists; as well as a huge student art show including work from kids across the county. Prizes in the amount of $6,500 will be awarded as a part of the juried art show, including a $1,250 Best of Show honor, a Fine Art Award of Excellence valued at $1,000, and a Fine Craft Award of Excellence valued at $675.

AITP Best in Show winner Danny O’Driscoll. [Courtesy photo]
Award of Excellence Fine Art winner, Adam Porciau with Allisa Babor.
Award of Excellence Fine Art winner, Adam Porciau with Allisa Babor. [Courtesy photo]

Art in the Park also featured a student art experience area, which included a Springstead High School Interact Club art activity. “We’re offering kids a take-home art activity of a foam art piece,” said Ronica Gurrier, leader for the Interact Club at FW Springstead High School. “Something of their very own, that they can create and keep.”

Anna Groudas, student Interact president, added, “We want to give kids a chance to express themselves, to learn about the work and fun that go into art.”

Also, Hillside Baptist Church offered spiritually based art activities for kids during the student art experience. “This is a creative way to spread a good message,” said Shaneza Yung, a church employee.

This year’s live entertainment acts included Davy Daniels, Serious JuJu Show, Keemba on the Drums, Chris Korbus, Dino Danger, and Joseph Hudoklin.

And in homage to the history and tradition of Art in the Park, a special tribute was paid to Pasco- and Hernando-based artist and sculptor Larry Whidden, credited among the founders and organizers of this event. Whidden’s daughter, Heather Whidden, has donated a number of her father’s sculptures to the Hernando County Fine Arts Council–pulling from his curated collection of tropical bird and animal sculptures known as the Bronze Zoo. For the occasion of Art in the Park and as an HCFAC fund-raiser, the Art in the Park Sculpture Raffle will make it possible for one lucky winner to possess their own Larry Whidden sculpture.

Babor looks forward to next year’s Art in the Park event. “In 2025, we mark forty years,” she said. “I can’t wait.”

2024 AITP & NCAL Winners
The AITP 2024 Award Winners are:
Fine Art Best in Show Danny O-Driscoll,
Award of Excellence Fine Art, Adam Porciau,
Fine Craft, Madelyn Motsinger,
Award of Distinction, Fine Art, Juan Carlos Cahue,
Fine Craft, Charles Bell,
Award of Achievement, Fine Art, Jill Kalber,
Robert Fragale, Fine Craft,
Award of Recognition, Jennifer Hartz, Fine Art, Roger McCall, Fine Craft,
Award of Merit, Gary Curtis, Fine Art,
Shannon Wilson, Fine Craft,
Honorable Mention, Lyn Novak Hise, Fine Art,
Peggy Palmer, Fine Craft

Student Art Winners
Best in Show, Lillian Meadow Williams, 11th grade, Hernando High
1st Place, Elementary, Kendall Isaacs, 4th grade, Westside Elementary
1st Place, Middle School, Alaina Tell, 7th grade, West Hernando Middle
1st Place, High School, Camille Argudlo, 12th grade, FW Springstead High
1st Place, AP, Gisella Saldana, 11th grade, FW Springstead High
1st Place, Sculpture, Kaitlyn Stires, 11th grade, Home school
2nd Place, Elementary, Jailen White, 4th grade, Winding Waters K-8
2nd Place, Middle School, Izzy Ford, 8th grade, Powell Middle
2nd Place, High School, Sarah Tipton, 12th grade, FW Springstead High
2nd Place, AP, Tessa Fortner 10th grade, FW Springstead High,
2nd Place, Sculpture, Shelby Bors, 11th grade, Weeki Wachee High
3rd Place, Elementary, Jayla Shiflett, 5th Gulf Coast Academy
3rd Place, Middle School, Cyler-Jade Dahm, 8th grade, Winding Waters K-8
3rd Place, High School, Lianna Hood, 9th grade, Weeki Wachee High
3rd Place, AP, Valene Weinel, 12th grade, FW Springstead High
3rd Place, Sculpture, Gabriela Macedo, 11th grade, Hernando High
Honorable Mention, Elementary, Bella Decker, 1st grade, Winding Waters K-8
Honorable Mention, Middle School, Briana Aria-Vasquez, 6th grade, Powell Middle
Honorable Mention, High School, Ava Hoyt, 11th grade, Weeki Wachee High
Honorable Mention, AP, Payton Browning, 10th grade, FW Springstead High
Honorable Mention, Sculpture, Arianna Watson, 11th grade, Weeki Wachee High School
People’s Choice, Adelyn Kessler, Grade 2, Your Arts Desire Studio

Also hosting an exhibit at Art in the Park was the Nature Coast Art League, celebrating 50 years of service to the Hernando arts community with at least 75 art pieces and the sale of a 50th-anniversary member cookbook.
“The show is going even better than I expected,” said NCAL exhibit coordinator Brandt Emerson. “So much three-dimensional art, so many paintings, mixed medias, still lifes, portraits, photos, a little bit of everything.”

Jana Withers, NCAL media coordinator, shares the league’s exhibit award winners for AITP 2024:

Best of Show:
Diane Becker, “Peek-a-Boo” Oil

2D Art:
First Place – Suzanne Gentry ” White Faced Cattle” Oil
Second Place – Sandy Philips “Mother’s Love” Pencil
Third Place – Joan Jagodowski LoBianco “Snack on Zinnea” Photography

Honorable Mentions:
Ed Barker “Leko Oaks” Watercolor
Yolanda Barreto “Pizza” Watercolor
Jana Withers “Crossing Over” Oil

3D Art:
First Place – Judy Katz “Hand Knitted, Beaded & Embellished Jewelry”
Second Place – Mary Ellen Caesar “Hand Painted Silk Scarves”
Third Place – Hedy Emerson “Fabric Art”
Honorable Mention – Carole Rose “Mixed Media”

NCAL Second Place 2D – Sandy Philips “Mother’s Love” Pencil. [Courtesy photo]
Judy Katz received NCAL’s First Place 3D art award “Hand Knitted, Beaded & Embellished Jewelry.” [Courtesy photo]
AITP Fine Craft Award of Distinction – Charles Bell. [Courtesy photo]
AITP Fine Art Award of Distinction – Juan Carlos Cahue. [Courtesy photo]
Suzanne Gentry received NCAL’s 2D Art First Place award for “White Faced Cattle” Oil. [Courtesy photo]
Whitney and Sophia from Stir up the Gift dancing at Art in the Park.
Stir up the Gift dancing at Art in the Park on Sunday.
Artwork done by high school students around the county.
Glass flower made by Lucy Fraser.
ApotheKeri Digital Artistry booth at Art in the Park.
Emmaline from Stir up the Gift singing “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll.”
NCAL Second Place 3D – Mary Ellen Caesar “Hand Painted Silk Scarves.” [Courtesy photo]
Diane Becker with “Peek-a-Boo” [Courtesy photo]

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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