Ann Roberts has been scrounging for the perfect art projects. ¶ She loves to salvage items that others have thrown away and give them new life. If something needs repair, her husband will fix it, before turning the objects over to her to refinish and decorate with colorful scenes. ¶ Not too long ago, the Thonotosassa couple saw a man throwing out an old nightstand and rescued it. ¶ "We're not bashful to stop and pick things up beside the road," Roberts said.
Roberts is a member of Florida Suncoast Decorative Artists, a painters group that boasts 100 members, mainly women, from all over Tampa Bay. The median age, Roberts said, is about 50, though the youngest member is a 10-year-old who accompanies her grandmother to meetings.
For nearly 40 years, the national organization Society of Decorative Painters has championed this hobbyist art form. In 1991, the Florida Suncoast chapter, the only one in Hillsborough County, was chartered.
Every two years the group holds "Trash Chic," a luncheon and fundraiser featuring dozens of painted items, many of them household objects embellished with intricate designs. Tiny rocking cradles perfectly sized for a baby doll, birdhouses and treasure chests will be among the selections.
Roberts, 57, is directing the event this year. The painters group splits the proceeds between their community service projects and operational costs, such as hiring instructors and renting space to hold the monthly meetings where members hone their skills.
Historically, decorative painting described the artistic embellishment of furniture and other functional items. But modern definitions of the genre describe a teachable art form that heavily relies on the use of traced patterns and step-by-step methods.
Because of this, members of the Suncoast chapter often say that decorative arts is a skill anyone can learn.
"It's not paint by numbers," said the organization's president Lori Capria, 56, of Carrollwood. "But at least you have an outline to begin with."
Many of them, however, are talented painters who can turn plain household objects, such as stools and hat boxes, into works of art.
The Suncoast Decorative Artists meet monthly at Messiah Lutheran Church in Carrollwood, usually drawing a crowd of about 50 members and guests to accomplish a new artistic feat. They start at 8:30 a.m., break for lunch, and by 2 p.m. have a finished project in hand.
During the recent October meeting, members painted a snowman and glittery winter scene onto a glass plate. With the assistance of an overhead projector, 54-year-old instructor Sherrie Colgain of Valrico guided her audience through the project.
First, they used blue and white enamel paint to create a background before freehand painting a snowman, greenery and snowflakes.
"If you wish you had the perfect snowflake, then cover up a quarter of it and nobody will know it's not the perfect snowflake," she said, instructing the crowd to mask imperfections by painting over them. "If you have the perfect snowflake, don't cover it up."
The artists sat at round tables, fussed over their projects and admired work around them, sometimes reaching over to provide assistance or point to a particularly interesting detail.
Members often gather outside of the monthly meetings to paint together at each other's homes. Over the years, they have donated dozens of keepsake boxes to children at Tampa Shriners Hospital, hoping to brighten up the hospital stay and give youngsters a place to stash mementoes or personal items. This service project started with the national organization.
The group also has begun helping Messiah Lutheran's Migrant Ministries, which assists families of migrant workers in southeastern Hillsborough. At Easter, while the parents were receiving baskets of food, the artists helped the children create holiday cards.
Initially, some of the older boys were resistant, said Carolyn Zaengle of Wesley Chapel, the group's philanthropic chairwoman. But it didn't take long for them to warm up.
"Once they got started, I couldn't shut them off," said Zaengle, 68. "Maybe we'll get a new generation of painters out there."
The artists donated school supplies and stuffed them into backpacks that were given to the migrant farmers' families before the start of the school year. More food baskets and art projects will come around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Zaengle sees the partnership as more than aid to the needy.
"To me, you can't start a child in the arts early enough," she said. "If you start them out young, you develop it."
Tia Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3405.