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Old film becomes art in Nancy Cervenka's hands


Nancy Cervenka of Gulfport is a veteran of outdoor art shows. Mainsail Arts Festival was her first, in 1981 when she was just out of graduate school. The two-time Best of Show winner (2001 and 2003) will join about 250 artists there this year. Her sculptures are immediately recognizable, tight coils of film she forms into sinuous, organic shapes. We talked with her on the eve of Mainsail and the opening of a gallery show at C. Emerson Fine Arts, also in St. Petersburg, about her take on showing at arts festivals, galleries and how she creates.

Congratulations on winning Best in Show at Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts last month and the $15,000 prize money. It was your first Best of Show there, right?

That was my first award of any kind at Gasparilla and I've been doing that one for 10 years.

Are the festivals your main source of income?

At this point, yes. But I have to say, it's been really bad.

Even Coconut Grove, which traditionally is one of the best for sales. I only sold one piece and that was to a woman who lives in St. Petersburg. Sales were pretty good at Gasparilla, though.

Like many artists, you also do a number of gallery shows. How are they different from the festivals?

Outdoors, you're limited to a 10-foot by 10-foot booth. There's no lighting except natural light. Everything has to be up against a wall so you can get as much in as possible.

Galleries are more expansive. You can do things with the play of light and shadow, have audio, movement. It's more interesting.

Do you show less expensive or sophisticated works at a festival because people tend to spend less money there?

Not at all. It's about the size of the work. I would say they're less complex. But I'll have works at Mainsail from $250 to $5,000. And I love the festivals because you don't have to split the sales.

What's special about Mainsail?

It's where I first got to be known.

Objectively, it has good quality though it isn't like some really high-end shows I've done where everything is really at the top of fine art and fine crafts. You have that at Mainsail but also just crafts. It's good for this area, something for everyone. I usually sell work there.

Gasparilla announced you as winner Saturday afternoon. Did you have a big surge at your booth Sunday?

It's funny. The awards don't translate to sales for me. I didn't sell one piece on Sunday. Everything was the day before. No one has ever bought something from me because of an award.

Your sculptures are so unique. How did you come up with the concept?

I was getting my master's in cinematography at USF in 1980 and I had all my film around me, footage I wasn't going to use but didn't want to throw away. I started playing with a small piece, coiling it, and thought it was interesting and wondered how big I could make it. I had also studied sculpture so I had that background.

How much film do you use in a sculpture?

Anywhere from 20 feet to 200 feet.

Now that everything's digital, do you have trouble finding film?

I have a huge collection of it. I buy a lot of 8mm online. And now people hear about my work and bring their old film to me when they clean out their garages. My dentist gave me old X-rays I used in a sculpture.

Someone else found a bunch of microfiche in a Dumpster. I was concerned it might have important personal records on it but it didn't so I used it.

So you're not worried about running out of your material?

No. But if that happens, I'll just be done with it.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at or (727) 893-8293.

34th annual Mainsail Arts Festival

The free festival is Saturday and Sunday at Vinoy Park on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront at Bayshore Drive and Seventh Avenue NE. About 250 artists from around the United States will show works in ceramics, digital art, fiber, glass, graphics, jewelry, metal, mixed media, painting, photography, sculpture and wood. Mainsail also offers a free children's hands-on art tent and Young at Art show of student artwork.

Hours: 9.a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

Entertainment: Live entertainment begins at noon both days. On Saturday, you'll hear acts including Jason Young (2:30 p.m.), Magadog (3:45 p.m.) and headliner Orleans (5:15 p.m.) . Sunday includes Amandla Tunesmith (2:30 p.m.) and Pocket Change (3:45 p.m.).

Other: Food and beverages available for sale. No pets or coolers.

Online: For a full list of artists and an entertainment schedule go to .

Old film becomes art in Nancy Cervenka's hands 04/15/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 17, 2009 6:48pm]
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