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Creative people in the area to watch this year

Betsy Goode, the diva of cello

PALMA CEIA — Roll over, Beethoven, the cellist known as the "String Diva" rocks. Betsy Goode fuses Mozart and Led Zepplin, Vivaldi and Michael Jackson with her intense playlist of hard rock and classical orchestra on electric cello.

The contrast energizes the tall, blond entertainer who riffs Beethoven's Fifth dressed in miniskirt and black leather stiletto boots.

"I love to find the common element that reaches young and old,'' Goode said. "Combining musical genres is a neat way to close the gap."

Last summer, her version of The Devil Went Down to Georgia was a showstopper in "The Rock Tenor" touring concert. If all goes according to plan, Goode expects to join the "popera" artists again in Las Vegas or London.

Dozens of traditional cello bookings have included gigs with Ricky Skaggs, Rod Stewart, Josh Groban, Il Divo, Sarah Brightman and Destiny's Child. Last month her cello solo, Christmas Eve in Sarajevo, opened Trans-Siberian Orchestra concerts in Tampa, New York and New Jersey.

Goode also plays violin and viola and has served in principal positions with Opera Tampa Orchestra, Walt Disney World Symphony Orchestra and numerous Broadway shows at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

"My living room started off as my stage at age 2. Now I entertain crowds of thousands,'' said Goode, 29, a Gaither High and University of South Florida graduate.

By 6 she was studying cello by the Suzuki Method. From age 9 to 18, Goode studied with Lowell Adams, assistant principal cellist with the Florida Orchestra. Now she teaches cello at Blake High.

But it's the String Diva who really sparks interest.

"It's totally different than anyone else," she says. "Others try to imitate, but you've either got it or you don't."

Amy Scherzer, Times staff writer

Glen Nash, the painter who sees possibilities

WEST SHORE — Glen Nash saw what looked like an exposed shoulder in the old wooden slat's honey-toned grains. He painted a woman around it.

It was typical for him: creating the unusual from everyday things.

Nash is developmentally disabled, yet artistically gifted.

He was 50 when his creativity was discovered in an art studio in the MacDonald Training Center. At home before that, Nash had painted on odd scraps of wood and linoleum, whatever he could find.

In one piece made of cardboard, Nash painted three fairies flitting near a man playing a flute on a tree branch.

"I'm trying to challenge him," said Jan Radovan, his instructor. Radovan takes his students on field trips and provides art books and travel magazines for inspiration.

Now 55, Nash has exhibited in art galleries at the TECO Plaza, Syd Entel, the University of Tampa and Tampa International Airport, as well as the Tampa Museum of Art and the Gasparilla Film Festival. His works are for sale at the Tampa Artist Emporium, 3415 W Bay to Bay Blvd.

Nash grew up in Tampa — "I like to draw downtown," he said.

Nash attended LaVoy Exceptional Center as a child and various day programs as an adult. He comes to the center to paint two days a week from his home in Wimauma, where he lives with his brother and ailing mother. He serves as an usher at his church and fixes bikes in his spare time.

"He can't verbalize his creative skill, yet it's not by accident," says Rita Hattab, community relations coordinator for the training center.

Nash has a savant-like quality when it comes to painting.

He isn't limited by what should be.

An orange-faced devil with horns.

A red sky beyond the University of Tampa's minarets.

A blue-haired Jesus with a turquoise beard.

Elisabeth Parker, Times staff writer

Samantha Churchill, the wire sculptor

WELLSWOOD — You could say Samantha Churchill is wired for art.

All around her, aluminum wire figures sit, stand, cuddle or leap in poses she "sculpts" with a twist of the pliers.

Single and in pairs, on table tops, walls and mobiles, miniature and lifesize.

Churchill spends six to eight hours per figure, cutting, twisting, "chaotically wrapping wire to capture the potential of organic movement in an inorganic material," she says.

Her hands turn black from the metal. Fingernails are long gone. Sore neck and shoulder muscles are a constant.

Churchill, 29, first worked with steel tie wire as a student at Maine College of Art.

"But they told me it wasn't art,'' said Churchill, who moved to Florida after graduation.

Working in a candle shop, she met Mark Barish, who happened to be a field engineer on the job at SkyPoint condominium in downtown Tampa.

From time to time, he availed himself of Dumpsters full of construction scrap, "granite, drywall, rebar, aluminum conduit," he says. He stashed a couple of tons of the latter in a shed in his Wellswood home, intending to sell it.

Churchill was captivated by him — and the wire. Soon, they became a couple, and their third bedroom became her studio. They went on the Florida art show circuit with her paintings and aluminum wire sculptures, which go for $300 and up, depending on size and complexity.

Find Churchill's work locally at 01 Organic Gallery in Ybor City, Tampa Artists Emporium in South Tampa and Raw Vibes in St. Petersburg. For more information, visit gettingfrankdone.com.

Amy Scherzer, Times staff writer

Greg Vonderheide, inventor of the Memorial Tree urn

NEW TAMPA — Two years ago, Greg Vonderheide of Meadow Pointe attended the funeral of a friend who had been cremated.

Instead of a burial, family members planted a tree in his memory.

It got Vonderheide thinking: If a burial plot gets a tombstone, why can't a memorial tree?

"Planting a tree to memorialize a deceased loved one is nothing new," said Vonderheide, 49. "Wouldn't it be nice if (the tree) had a tombstone like a time capsule that you can put memories and ashes inside?"

Vonderheide designed the Memorial Tree urn, a stainless-steel box with metal rings that affix firmly to any type of topiary. The rings vary in size, depending on the width of the tree.

The urn is engraved on the outside and, much like a memory box, it can lock away ashes and any other treasured mementos.

Vonderheide, whose background is in the hospitality business, got a patent on his Memorial Tree, which retails for $575.

He's hoping to sell his creation through funeral homes. So far, he has sold about 50 of them through his Web site: funeralchannel.tv.

He also plans to eventually sell complete packages, which will include landscaping, birdhouses and benches surrounding the Memorial Tree.

Dong-Phuong Nguyen, Times staff writer

Jon Mishner, the outspoken T-shirt designer

SOHO — A local clothing designer wanted to retile Bayshore Boulevard's 4 1/2-mile sidewalk with imported Italian marble and underground heating coils — or so he claimed.

He established a Web site this past summer to raise awareness for the overpriced project.

It was absurd. Why not pave S Howard Avenue in gold or serve Bern's steaks to the pound?

Turns out, Jon Mishner just wanted to drum up publicity for his clothing line with what he calls "the stupidest idea in the world."

It was an example of Mishner's comedic musings, which have wound their way onto T-shirts around South Tampa as part of his Eleven O Twelve line.

The 27-year-old's Tampa-centric designs feature a mock North Face logo with the words "North Tampa," South Tampa streets mapped out on cuts of beef and a historic "Welcome to Hyde Park" sign splattered by paint balls.

The T-shirts are sold at Tracy & Co. and Nicholson House in South Tampa, B'Szene Boutique in Hyde Park Village, and on Mishner's Web site, elevenotwelve.com.

The son of a Sarasota artist and doctor, Mishner felt designing T-shirts was a way to feed his creativity after pursuing a Hollywood career in acting in 2004.

He now waits tables at Mangroves SoHo before going back to college this month to study business or graphic design. Still, he soon plans to expand his clothing line with button-down shirts and business casual wool slacks.

"The goal since the beginning was to become a major clothing label," he said.

Justin George, Times staff writer

Debbie Keegan, conversation starter

NEW TAMPA — The day her daughter got her first period, Debbie Keegan got an idea.

"I wanted her to remember it as positive," said Keegan, 37.

So Keegan put together a gift set of things her daughter would need: feminine hygiene products, a calendar to track her cycle, heating pads for cramps. Giving the gift gave the mom and daughter the chance to have a heart-to-heart. Now Keegan sells similar sets to other parents.

Keegan's "O.M.G. What's Happening to Me?" kits give parents a segue into serious conversations with teens. She hopes that the kits help girls avoid what she went through as a teen. "My mother never talked to me about my period or sex," Keegan said. "I got pregnant at 16."

The kits come in three sizes: light, medium and heavy. They include products to make having a period more comfortable, including a case to keep pads and tampons discreet, and disposable underwear for emergencies, as well as other gifts. Keegan sells them online, at product fairs and at L.A. Pink in Tampa.

Since launching the kits in March 2009, she said, the feedback has been good.

"The kids know they have their parents to go to," she said.

Arleen Spenceley, Times staff writer

Brucie Boonstoppel, creator of toys with attached pacifiers

SOUTH TAMPA — Brucie Boonstoppel needed something to help her son hold on to his binky.

So she made it.

She sewed a pacifier to the back of the head of one of her son Harrison's stuffed animal toys. Friends and strangers would ask where she got it. She would say she made it. So she decided to make more.

"It is a toy of my heart and a toy of practicality," Boonstoppel said. "It does have a purpose."

Soon, she developed this stuffed animal with a pacifier receptor with companies in California and called it Baby's Best Friend. The stuffed monkeys come in pink and brown, or a combination of those colors, and sell for $24. The tot toy also comes with a MAM pacifier. The receptor fits most other brands of pacifiers as well.

"It is a real practical thing, so you can wash it and interchange the pacifier," said Boonstoppel, 51.

She said she is working with a major distributor and hopes to expand the company in the coming year.

The toy can be bought online at bbftoys.com or some local stores, including Write Stuff, 3225 S MacDill Ave., Suite 107; Smarty Pants, 1548 S Dale Mabry Highway; Creme De La Creme, 4246 W Bay to Bay Blvd.; the Royal Tea Room and Gift Shoppe, 2719 S MacDill Ave.; and Yogani, 1112 W Platt St.

Jared Leone, Times staff writer

Janie Koike, the passionate photographer

CARROLLWOOD — As a student at Plant High School, Janie Koike loved to take pictures of her friends. At the prom. On camping trips. Movie night at her place. She has armloads of scrap books to prove it.

"I've always loved capturing those moments," said Koike, now 26.

In the years since, Koike has taken that love and developed it into a business with a focus on nature and the simpler things in life.

"Like a tree bark," she said. "If you look at that it's not very interesting, but if you take a picture, it just comes to life."

While she does photograph weddings and other special occasions, Koike's online blog is filled with candid pictures from a variety of natural settings. She often pairs the pictures with prose and music.

In an entry titled "How He Loves Us," Koike features pictures of swaying plants and trees. David Crowder's song of the same title plays in the background.

She recently snapped pictures of gentle waves rolling up on the sand at Long Boat Key. The grandmother of her husband, Kenzo Koike, had just died, and she wanted to reflect the mood.

"They were peaceful," said Koike, who works full time as a volunteer coordinator for the Red Cross Tampa Bay.

She uses emotion and color to create her own style. In a blog post about hope, she pairs vibrant pictures of purple, orange and pink flowers with lyrics to Christian singer Brandon Heath's song Wait and See.

"It's a passion coming to life," she said, "and it's so fun."

Nicole Hutcheson, Times staff writer

Lea Veronica Davis, the politico turned jeweler

SOUTH TAMPA — Lea Davis studied art in college, yet she spent 22 years as a political campaign consultant.

After retirement, she felt restless and eventually returned to her first love.

She had found a pair of earrings at an art gallery but never could find a necklace to match. So she designed her own, and five years ago decided to make a business out of her craft.

Today, burnt-orange faceted carnelian, African engraved bone and yellow jade are just a few of the stones she uses in her pieces.

"I draw most of my inspiration from my travels with my husband," said Davis, 60. "I love Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and Mexico City."

She formerly served on the board of trustees at her alma mater — the University of Tampa. She also solicited community support for the Tampa Opera League and the local Red Cross Auxiliary Club.

Part of the proceeds from one of her special necklaces benefits the Red Cross. The idea originated at a trade show, when she found freshwater pearls in the shape of crosses.

"The women who work with the Red Cross are so wonderful that I thought it might be something really nice to do. The cross pearls were just a stroke of luck," Davis said.

The necklace incorporates freshwater pearls with red coral in several strands.

Davis' jewelry sells for $150 to $350 and can be found at B Scene in Hyde Park, the University of Tampa gift store, Ciao Bella in Safety Harbor and the Tampa Bay History Center gift store downtown.

For more information, visit Leaveronica.com.

Arielle Stevenson, Times staff writer

Chuck Owen, the distinguished professor of jazz

TEMPLE TERRACE — Chuck Owen had a big year in 2009. The University of South Florida distinguished professor of jazz studies became the only university professor in the state to win a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship.

Not only that, the USF Center for Jazz Composition, where he is the founding director, released its first CD: The Comet's Tail: Performing the Compositions of Michael Brecker.

Now a song from that CD is up for a Grammy award for best instrumental arrangement, setting the stage for another big year.

The CD features Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge playing the music of one of the most influential musicians in jazz since the 1960s, according to his New York Times obituary. Brecker, a saxophonist and Grammy Award winner, died in January 2007 at the age of 57.

For the project, Owen commissioned Vince Mendoza, who had worked with Brecker, to pick out and arrange a song. The song he chose, Slings and Arrows, features solos by USF jazz studies director Jack Wilkins on tenor sax, as well as two other regular members of the Jazz Surge: Danny Gottlieb on drums and LaRue Nicholson, an adjunct USF instructor, on guitar.

It's a hard-driving arrangement, but one that leaves plenty of room for solo improvisation. "That's always a pretty heady combination in jazz," Owen said.

Grammy winners will be announced Jan. 31. And even if the song doesn't win, Owen, 55, of Temple Terrace has a full year planned. The Guggenheim will enable him to take a yearlong sabbatical starting this month to write a double concerto for saxophone, guitar and orchestra.

Richard Danielson, Times staff writer

The onset of a new year tends to stir the creative juices, nudging us to use dormant talents. Then reality sets in and we go back to the same ol' routine of watching people on TV do the neat things that we don't have the time, energy or the will to do. Well, for 2010, we found 10 locals — your neighbors — who have resolved to act on their intuitions.

Creative people in the area to watch this year 12/31/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 31, 2009 1:35pm]
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