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Syd Entel and Susan Benjamin celebrate three decades in the art world

SAFETY HARBOR

They've danced with pop artist Andy Warhol, dined with iconic sports painter LeRoy Neiman and brunched with the psychedelic icon Peter Max.

"We've kissed them all," quipped Syd Entel, who has hobnobbed with many darlings of the art world since she opened her art gallery 30 years ago.

Now the Max is back, along with Dr. Seuss, Picasso, Chagall, Neiman, Dalí, Erté and other big name artists represented at Syd Entel Galleries throughout the years, as Entel and her daughter, Susan Benjamin, host the gallery's 30th anniversary celebration and show.

Beside looking back at three decades in the art business, the collection also features current and emerging artists and artisans. The show (yes, the artwork is for sale) runs through May 18 at their gallery in downtown Safety Harbor.

Entel semiretired five years ago; these days, Benjamin runs the day-to-day affairs.

"It's rare that children go into the family business. I feel very blessed," Entel said.

• • •

Exposing everyone to fine art — whether it was her children or someone else's — has always been a priority for Entel, who helped found the Dunedin Fine Art Center, which opened in 1975.

Rather than the traditional bounty of toys or clothes for their birthdays, she would give her children a special piece of art — a nice painting or limited edition print — which would reflect their interests and personality.

For Benjamin, now 49, it was always a thrill.

"We were really into it," she said of both herself and her two brothers. "Art was always special. Always cool. We couldn't wait to see what we got."

Now Benjamin is following her mother's lead: Both women have invited untold numbers of schoolchildren into the gallery to help them understand and appreciate all forms of art. They each give talks and lectures about art to community groups, businesses, the Red Hatters.

Entel, who would rather not reveal her age, and her husband, retired radiologist Dr. Irwin Entel, are natives of New York. They moved to the area in 1962, when the norm for artwork offerings was sandy beaches and seagull paintings.

Entel wanted to offer something more.

In 1980, as her children began to leave the nest, she opened her first gallery — a one room venture atop an 11th story building on Cleveland Street in Clearwater. She filled it with artwork of Picasso, Chagall and other modern masters.

A year later, she moved her business, then called Contemporary Limited Editions, to Main Street in Safety Harbor.

Lee Iacocca, Burt Reynolds and John Travolta have purchased art from the business.

But it's not all about having an original painting from a noted artist or buying art as an investment, the gallery owners said.

Rather, art should be available to everyone, said Benjamin, who encourages people to buy what they love, what they can afford and what feels right to them.

Besides originals, the gallery offers limited edition prints, sculpture, jewelry and glass art by local and lesser known artists.

"Sometimes people want to make sure their friend or neighbor likes something before they buy it," Benjamin said. "But it's not what the neighbor likes that's important. It's what the owner loves that's important. It reflects who we are inside."

In the mid 1980s, Entel moved the gallery to its current location at 247 Main St., where a gas station once stood. The 5,500-square-foot pink stucco and glass block structure was designed by architects to reflect her love of art deco.

In 1984, Benjamin joined her mother in the business and soon began adding vibrant blown glass pieces in wild and fascinating geometric shapes to the collections. The business is now officially known as Syd Entel Galleries and Susan Benjamin Glass, Etc.

"I think glass is so sexy, you just want to touch it and admire it," Benjamin said. "It's like a dance. To create glass, you need to be artful, skillful and strong."

Being in the business has had its perks.

The mother and daughter have traveled to places including New York City, Las Vegas and California as well as Greece, Ecuador and Peru in search of intriguing works.

"I thank my mom for a job where I can meet wonderful people and be around gorgeous, inspiring artwork everyday," Benjamin said.

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.

If you go

Syd Entel Galleries 30th Anniversary Celebration

and Show

What: A retrospective exhibition and sale of works by renowned artists represented at the gallery over the years.

When: A reception from

5 to 8 p.m. Saturday includes champagne, hors d'oeuvres and the music of a flautist. The exhibition runs through May 18.

Where: Syd Entel Galleries, 247 Main St., Safety Harbor

Gallery hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.

Information: Visit

sydentelgalleries.com or call (727) 725-1808.

Syd Entel and Susan Benjamin celebrate three decades in the art world 04/15/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 15, 2010 7:47pm]
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