By MEGAN HUSSEY
An ethereal mermaid floats gracefully in the sea, holding a bowl of tangerines as she gestures lithely toward signposts leading the way to five Hernando communities. This portrait, Weeki Wachee Mermaid, captures life in Hernando County--and has been named the inaugural winner of the Hernando County Fine Arts Council Art in the Park Artist Contest.
Allisa Babor, contest coordinator and Council member, explained that "the winning artwork was selected because it not only captures a unique element of Florida's Adventure Coast, but it also has a sense of fun! It just so happens that the timing couldn't be better since the Florida Mermaid Trail is just launching February 29."
The creator of this sketch, completed with colored pencils, is Elizabeth Johnson, an accomplished Brooksville artist whose career has spanned more than four decades.
In the past, Johnson has been the subject of a one woman show at Center Place in Brandon. Her painting "Teatime Temptations" was accepted in the international Colored Pencil Society of America show at Brea Gallery, CA, in 2019, and she was one of 40 artists chosen to present at the Clearwater City show "Our Perspectives, Our Cultures, Our Community." She claimed second place at "Squares Off," a national show at Center Place Fine Arts Center in Brandon, and has won numerous Honorable Mentions in competitions at the Dunedin Fine Art Center and the Stirling Gallery in Dunedin, and at the Brandon League of Fine Arts.
Johnson dedicates at least 25 hours a week to her artistic pursuits, and already was working on a full slate of contest entries when she came across an announcement of the inaugural artist competition for artwork to be featured at its 36th annual Art in the Park, set to take place 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 14-15, 2020, at Tom Varn Park, 306 Darby Lane, Brooksville. This competition, open only to artists in this area, is co-hosted by Roots Creative Company. The contest theme called for "designs (that) should reflect and represent the Florida lifestyle and the Florida Adventure Coast. Artists are encouraged to choose subjects that they feel showcase both our area’s beauty and its uniqueness." The contest was open to artists of all ages, and entrants ranged from 10 to 90 years old. The top ten finalists were Sue Beach, Anne Bristol, Leslie Duncan, Peter Gerbert (2), Elizabeth Johnson, Joan LoBianco, Chris Munson, Hayley Riege, and Diane Ziemski.
"I liked the idea of the contest. I was very excited," said Johnson. "I wanted to create an artwork of this area, pulling together the communities and the symbols of this area."
An artist since early childhood, Johnson has sampled "every medium there is" and a vast number of subjects, from florals to fairies to animals (she completed a painted fiberglass dog for a Southeastern Guide Dogs event, and is known for her Fairy Flower Festival collection). For this piece, she chose another fantasy creature--a mermaid--as her primary subject.
"We're known for the Weeki Wachee mermaids all across the country," she said. "And for our citrus fruits."
It is this pride in Hernando County, and a wish to shine the spotlight upon artists in the area, that first inspired the Hernando County Fine Arts Council Art in the Park Artist Contest. The winners and their work will be showcased in a special tent at Art in the Park, and will receive special mention in the event program. The 1st Place Prize is a $250 cash prize, Interview Spotlight in the AITP Souvenir Program, an online Art Directory space for 1 year, and 10% of proceeds from products sold featuring winning artwork; 2nd Place Prize is a $125 cash prize and an online Art Directory space for 1 year;
3rd Place Prize is a $75 cash prize and an online Art Directory space for one year.
"This contest was intended to bring recognition to the artists of Hernando County," said Beth Putnam, vice-chairperson of the Hernando County Fine Arts Council.
Second place winner Sue Beach claimed honours for her pastel portrait, "Twilight."
"It was inspired by the beautiful sunsets here on the nature coast," said Beach. "I am constantly amazed by the rainbow of color in a sunset reflecting on the objects in its path!"
Beach originates from Buffalo, New York, where she received her Bachelor and Master of Art Education degrees from Buffalo State College. She taught art in Kansas City and western New York for 33 years. She creates drawings and paintings in a wide variety of media and styles.
Beach has exhibited her work in Dunedin, Spring Hill, Brooksville and Philadelphia. Her work has won Best Of Show in the "Monochromatic Minis Show" at the Dunedin Fine Art Center, and "Dakota Art Pastels Award" in the Possibilities in Pastel Fine Art Exhibition at the Stirling Art Studios Gallery. She is a member of the Pastel Society of Tampa Bay, Florida Watercolor Society, Dunedin Fine Art Center, Nature Coast Art League and the Brandywine River Museum of Art. She welcomes assignments of commissioned pieces at [email protected]
Third place winner Peter Gerbert, who maintains a Wildlife Art Studio in Ridge Manor, counts the Florida landscape and living habitat as his primary subject. The exhibition The Wildlife Art of Peter Gerbert, in fact, will run March 26th through July 19th, at Coral Gables Museum. And his work is the subject of the Live Oak Production Group's film The Art of Peter R. Gerbert, a 4-minute promotional film to preview a full-length documentary for public broadcasting currently in production.
Gerbert's third place winning entry is entitled, 'Skating Across the Edge of a Cloud.' This original painting is a work of Acrylics on Gessobord with Texture & UVLS Varnish.
"As darkness descends on a pristine lake, a graceful Snowy Egret dances across the clouds in the reflection of a concluding sunset," Gerbert said in an artist's statement. "As I sketched all of these elements to use in this painting, I had the feeling of being surrounded by the awe-inspiring vastness of nature and the way it can wrap its arms around you. To capture the experience and pictures I needed for this design; I ended up going back up a very long and narrow tributary in full dark, in my boat, with only a small floodlight."
"Wildlife Art with Imagination'' is the prevalent theme of his artwork, which since 1997 has graced acrylic wildlife art prints endorsed by the Florida Wildlife Federation, with part of the proceeds benefiting wildlife conservation programs. His work was sent to the United States Congress to encourage passage of the Everglades Restoration Bill, and he has received Conservation Service Awards from the FWF and the Wildlife Artwork of the Year Award from Audubon Florida, for his painting, The Spoonbill Lagoon. And his artwork has been featured on the covers of Florida Naturalist and Florida Fish & Wildlife News. For more information, visit http://www.PeterRGerbert.com/
“The Arts Council is thrilled with the response to this contest. Nearly 100 Hernando County artists responded,” said Allisa Babor in a related news release. “We are proud to give local artists an opportunity to share their work with the community, and to gain exposure and recognition."
Art in the Park offers free visitor admission, a food court with food trucks, live stage entertainment, a 'You Be The Judge' award that allows guests to vote for their favorite artist or crafter, a Student Art Activities Tent with free activities for children, and convenient on-site parking. More than 130 local, state and national fine artists and fine crafters will exhibit and sell their fine art, plus the show will offer a $1000 Best In Show prize and $4000 in additional prize money and a juried student art show with awards.