NEW PORT RICHEY — Walking through her whimsical backyard garden, Ellen DeIntinis points out the unique colorful pieces she made from garage sale remnants and found items others gave her.
There's a little bit of everything: glass totem poles, mosaics, quilted wall hangings, dolls made of driftwood and pine cone ensconced mirrors.
She loves nature and brings it into her art.
"I'm really nature bound," said DeIntinis, amid the greenery of her backyard, her gorilla of a dog running through the leaves behind her.
She's best known for the Altered Minds group she started 4½ years ago, bringing together artists and creative people to share and teach ideas. The group is as diverse as it is expressive — mostly women of all backgrounds who dabble in art of all forms: beading, dolls, mosaics, painting, pottery, ceramics, henna, quilting.
"We're a group of people who get together and share our talents and help each other grow," DeIntinis said.
They meet once a month at the New Port Richey library on Main Street downtown, and occasionally at members' homes because art can get messy.
Originally called the Pasco Service Design Group, the group started with five women and became so popular they had to cap its membership around 25. Participants are expected to not just come and create, but also to teach others. If someone takes a class and learns a new technique, for example, she shares it with the group.
"Anybody who joins has to be willing to share and teach," DeIntinis said.
It's not a charity organization or a religious group. It's strictly about the art and the relationships between members, DeIntinis said. They meet in the morning, break for lunch, then jump into creating.
DeIntinis, 58, grew up in New York, selling suede and leather patchwork clothing.
Her first marriage produced a son, Jay, who lives in Spring Hill with his own daughter, Zandreea.
DeIntinis moved to Florida two decades ago and remarried. Her husband, Ernie, has a car lot on State Road 52. She has taught classes at her studio and to outside groups, including snowbirds at local campgrounds and children in low-income housing.
As a child, her report card said she was too quiet. But her confidence grew in adulthood, as she shared her art and gardening expertise with others.
"It just sort of evolved," she said matter-of-factly. "I love teaching."
Her mother, who lives in Clearwater, is an avid gardener and her father did mosaic stained glass. She remembers her grandmothers teaching her sewing and needlework.
Now her granddaughter, nieces and nephews come to the studio in her home to paint and create all kinds of things — birdhouses, heart-shaped boxes. She sews mermaid costumes and threatens to wear them herself.
She's been a quilter and doll maker and is part of the Stitchin' Sisters Doll group in Pasco. She's most fond of driftwood and the way it can naturally take the human form. And she loves creating faces. She combines the driftwood and other found objects she collects around the country: pine cones, glass, concrete. She likes to visit art galleries and draw inspiration from others, she said.
That was part of her motivation in starting Altered Minds.
"We decided that this area needed a group like this," said Terry Montaldo of New Port Richey, who was one of the founding members. Other similar groups meet in Pinellas and Tampa, usually at night. This group meets during the day for people who don't want to drive at night, she said. It's mostly retired women, and one man.
"We have a very giving group," said Montaldo, who was a professional dressmaker. Her love of fabrics led her to making art quilts, but she also enjoys painting and was part of a folk art group in Tampa.
"Those things are in your background but it's not what you want to do all the time," she said.
She has known DeIntinis for 20 years.
"She is a talented young lady and she has given a lot to the group," she said. "She has a lot of ambition and a lot of know-how, so we kind of depend on her."
While the Altered Minds group is strictly about the art and fun, DeIntinis said, it's her unique, ever-changing garden that energizes her spiritually.
"Most of my faith comes through my garden," she said. "That's where I go to talk to God."
"There's always miracles going on in the garden," she added. "Watching plants completely die and come back, caterpillar cocoons turn to butterflies."
She uses things she collects on her travels to artfully decorate the outside space. Colorful, upside-down recycled glass bottles form borders around plant beds.
She uses native plants, digging out anything that grows too fast or freezes. She has a Certified Florida Yard, using no fertilizers or pesticides, and received the National Wildlife Foundation's certification for a backyard wildlife habitat. In 2009, she received the WaterWise Award from the Southwest Florida Water Management District. When she leaves and travels the country during the peak of the heat, her yard survives with no water. She doesn't use sprinklers.
"I'd really like to see everyone in Florida have one," she said of her environmentally friendly yard.
The Clearwater Garden Club has taken tours of her garden and gets tips from her. A confident teacher and artist, she exudes the gentle pride of someone who hasn't always been that way.
"She's a fearless leader," said Sherry Stamback of New Port Richey, a minister, artist and spiritual mentor who is part of Altered Minds. "She gently guides us with authority. When there's too much chatter in the room, she'll reel us in. She's wonderfully inspiring, as they all are."
DeIntinis doesn't sell her art, largely because she has such a diverse collection of it, she said. And she doesn't have a favorite creation or art form. For now, she's happy trying new things.
"I just go with everything," she said. "I enjoy all art."