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Prison art and sampler of South County talent is weekend fare

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By MELODY JAMESON
mj@observernews.net

   South County artistry – on paper, on stage, in vocal form and expressed instrumentally - will be on parade this weekend in two novel events.
   One opens Sunday as an exhibit of visual works titled “Beauty Behind the Walls” and produced by prison inmates. The other is summed up as “five hours of non-stop action” by professional entertainers and slated for Saturday afternoon.
Both showcase the creativity and imagination of current South Hillsborough residents. Both are open to the public free of charge. Both offer their audiences the uncommon experience.
   Some 150 prints of art work springing from the hands and minds of women presently incarcerated at the Hillsborough Correctional Institute in Balm have been hung in the gallery at Brandon’s Center Place, ready for the month-long exhibit opening at 3 p.m. Sunday, according to Minnette Webster, artist and teacher in the prison art program. Center Place, a fine arts and civic gathering site, is located on Vonderburg Drive.
   The works, collected over the last two years from a multitude of creative expressions produced by the female inmates, flow from a wide variety of media with which they can experiment as they search for their most suitable approach to preserving the objects they visualize, Webster said. The collection contains works in watercolor, colored pencil, charcoal, oil pastels, pen and ink, she added.
    Their subjects also “run the gamut,” noted Webster, working artist, arts instructor and outdoor arts exhibit coordinator. There are brightly colored birds, both stylized and in natural environments, landscapes and seascapes, floral still lifes, scenes of war and unique takes capturing fleeting moments in the human experience. What’s more, their methods of bringing the imagined scene to the visual state that can be shared range from very detailed to “simple but wonderful,” she added.
   All of which dovetails with Webster’s artistic philosophy. “Try everything once,” she encourages her students, “and the fun things twice.” Under her tutelage, they learn to experiment, sometimes discovering talent they did not know they possessed. “I’m very proud of them,” Webster added.
   Webster began the art instruction program at the prison seven years ago. It now consists of three class levels – beginner, advanced beginner and advanced – and two other teachers join Webster in guiding about 20 inmate students in each class, she estimated.
   The program pays multiple dividends, Webster asserted. “They work together and help each other. There is no squabbling among them and they find such a feeling of accomplishment” when they are able to implement their instruction, recreating on paper something first seen only in their imaginations.
    It is that innate and learned creativity committed to paper that will speak perhaps pointedly but always silently to viewers of their exhibit this month. The inmates, of course, cannot attend or take any other part in the exhibit or its opening, Webster pointed out, and their original works are retained in the prison, with matted prints of their work comprising the actual exhibit displays.
    The Saturday showcase of South County art begins at 1 p.m. in Kings Point’s Borini Theater. This “Arts Expo” is being presented for the first time by the SouthShore Arts Council and is intended both to show off South Hillsborough talent and to express appreciation to the Greater Sun City Center Community Foundation which in the last year helped finance the council’s major programs, including the annual Big Draw event, said Melanie Hubbard, a council member.
   The five-hour showcase, structured to allow audience members to choose their favored forms of art, opens with performance by Nathan Coe-Marsh, an illusionist in the David Copperfield genre. Coe-Marsh, a professional performer, is the son of Ruskin artists and teachers Dolores Coe and Bruce Marsh.
   The 2 p.m. hour is dedicated to operatic theater, with lyric baritone Clint Shepherd and coloratura soprano Victoria Pelagia presenting several scenes and arias from works that will be familiar to opera enthusiasts.
    In a fitting transition from opera to ballet, a troupe from the Brandon School of Dance Arts composed of students nine to 18 years of age is scheduled to present ballet numbers at 3 p.m. under the direction of Cory-Jeanne Houck-Cox.
   Eleanora Lvov, a concert pianist, is to take the stage at 4 p.m. to perform works of Chopin, in a tribute to the artist’s Russian heritage dubbed “From Russia with Love.”
   The last hour of the afternoon showcase begins at 5 p.m. with poet Peter Klappert reading from his published work, “Idiot Princess of the Last Dynasty.” The presentations wrap up with a one-act play presented at 5:30 p.m. by the Pelican Players. Titled “Almost A Home,” the storyline involves two older individuals, perhaps touched by dementia of second childhood, who undertake to run away.
   Throughout the expo, art work produced by council members, also will be easeled in the clubhouse lobby, available for purchase from the artists.
   The prison art exhibit is to remain on display Monday through Friday during business hours in the Center Place gallery until Wednesday, June 30.
© 2010 Melody Jameson
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