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As winter nears, art and craft fairs blossom

While fall temperatures are dropping later than usual, art shows and craft fairs are happening right on schedule.

From local women's groups to fine arts leagues, vendors are lining up at schools, churches and parks to get a jump on the peak shopping season.

The festivals, scheduled through spring in Florida, are not all about holiday ornaments, candles and gift baskets. Fine jewelry, sculpture and paintings are among the offerings at some festivals.

What separates craft from art?

"A craft is something you can utilize - it's useful," said sculptor Larry Whidden of Brooksville, who appeared at the recent Temple Terrace Art Festival in a full beard and faux sea captain's hat. "A fine art is something that's viewed and appreciated and it sort of hits you in the solar plexis."

Jeweler Marilyn Vaillancourt-Cole, a khaki-eyed woman whose passion for art overshadows a natural shyness said, "In the physical sense, it (art) is a piece that can't be reproduced. It comes from the heart and flows from the heart and, in its essence, if your life depended on it you couldn't reproduce it."

The terms are not exclusive. Crafts people can also show artistic flair and a love for creating.

Leticia Meynet is a word processor by day at a Tampa law firm. By night she and her mother, Maria Meynet, knit, crotchet and sew elegant baby clothes and folksy Christmas decorations.

Their display at the St. Timothy's Catholic Church craft fair included a long, slim-fitting Corvette-red skirt and matching top ruffled around the waist, appropriate for the ever fashionable Barbie. Leticia Meynet makes the patternless Barbie outfits with leftover yarn "because little girls ask for them," she said. The red dress sells for $4.

Why spend hours crafting items that sell for less than $20?

"She (her mother) loves to crochet and I love to knit," Leticia said. "It's enjoyable and soothing."

Though Leticia Meynet starts with a pattern, it doesn't confine her artistic impulses. "After you become proficient you just take off," she said.

As captivating as the work itself are the life experiences the artists share.

Whidden, a Tampa native, said he worked 15 years as a ground control supervisor at Tampa International Airport before turning to art in his 30s. A turning point came when he had a chance to live with Indians in Mexico. "They were poor but they ate well," he said. "I figured this was the worst I could do and it wasn't bad." He returned to the United States and eventually was able to sell sculptures to area restaurants and offices.

Sally Storsberg, an enthusiastic redhead with an easy smile and north London accent, also lived in Spain and New Jersey, where her in-laws owned a pottery business.

Having shown a knack for the potter's wheel back in high school, Storsberg started showing her work in Florida shows. Pale magnolias, pink water lilies and blue irises stretch across her off-white glazed lamps, which caught the eye of browsers and buyers in Temple Terrace.

Almost as much as the compliments, she enjoys the comraderie among presenters and organizers.

"They care and it shows," Storsberg said. "They enjoy you. They want to know how you're doing during the year."

Presenters say the shows carry considerable challenges - extensive travel, intense salesmanship and 70-hour work weeks.

"You get into it because you love the art," Vaillancourt-Cole said. "You can't not do it."

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