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Group hopes donors fawn over fundraiser

Ten local artists are painting deer statues that will be auctioned at a United Way benefit.

The United Way of Hernando County is taking fundraising on the hoof this year.

Local artists have lent their talents to design and paint small three-dimensional deer statues, each in a different style, for the Deer to our Hearts campaign.

The idea came when fund development coordinator Marty McKinnon spent a long weekend in New York City with her husband where The CowParade, a public art project, had 500 life-size fiberglass cow statues displayed throughout the city this summer.

The cows, each designed and painted by area artists, were to be auctioned after Labor Day, with proceeds going to several charities.

"It was wonderful to see all the excitement around these pieces of art," McKinnon said. "I knew we had to come up with something like that."

The next week, organizers went through a list of animals and settled on deer.

"We liked the word play aspect of that," McKinnon said.

Spring Hill artist Anne Preston was chosen as one of 10 local artists to be part of the fundraiser. She chose an Arabic theme for her deer, which is painted like a mosaic in rich colors with black and gold accents. For her inspiration, Preston drew from the decade she spent in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She named the piece Johara, which means jewel.

"All the pieces are going to be very individual," said Preston, who is a member of the Hernando County Fine Arts Council board and president of the Spring Hill Art League. "It was a challenge to come up with something unique. I enjoyed it."

In addition to her artistic contribution, Preston helped round up other artists to participate in the fundraiser.

"It's whimsical, and (the artists) all seem to be right in the spirit," she said. "They're very gung-ho."

Before the deer are auctioned at a benefit dinner, they will make a tour of the county and be on display at places including Brooksville City Hall and various branches of SunTrust Bank and Publix stores. A display schedule will be announced soon, McKinnon said.

At the displays, visitors can bid on any of the deer. Then, at the auction, the highest of those bids will start the bidding.

In addition to the deer, several local artists also have donated artwork for the auction. A dozen smaller deer, decorated by local art students of all ages, will serve as decoration for the event, and then be sold to the highest bidders.

The auction and dinner will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 19 at Brewmaster Steakhouse. Tickets are $50 per person. For information and reservations, call 688-2026.

Executive director Marilyn Ceh said she hopes the event will bring local artists and businesses together to help the United Way reach its goal of raising $500,000 for the year.

"This is such an unusual concept and we're hoping for the best," Ceh said. "It's nice to have something different to offer."