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Hospitals get big-name help

The first time pop art icon Peter Max came to Clearwater, it was to paint fiberglass turtles.

This time, it's for a huge heart.

A 30-by-50-foot heart, to be precise. It is the focus of a mural that will decorate the west outside wall of the new Medical Arts Building at Mease Countryside Hospital.

The mural is an enlarged version of a Max painting, Heart Series IV Version II 1. Max will climb into a cherrypicker Friday morning and paint his signature on the mural.

Max's visit will be at a breakfast to kick off an $11-million capital campaign for Mease Countryside and its partner hospital, Mease Dunedin.

The campaign will raise money for projects at both hospitals, which are undergoing substantial expansions. Mease Countryside recently added another project to its list, said spokesman Matt Novak: a $16-million, 44-bed addition to its emergency room.

Reached by telephone Monday in New York, Max said he enjoyed doing charity work.

"When I'm at the easel, it's all about abstract art," he said. "It's really a very selfish thing to be a painter. Like a jazz musician sitting down, he really plays for himself."

The heart was an appropriate motif for the hospital, Max said, because "hospitals are for heartfelt activities." The heart was one of a series he painted in the early 1990s "when I started thinking about what America is all about," he said.

The original painting was about 16 by 20 inches. Max said he'd never seen it this large.

Max, whose color-drenched style became famous in the 1960s, has appeared on the cover of Life magazine and on NBC's Today show. He has painted planes, race cars and five presidents. He has created posters for the Grammys, Super Bowls and other events.

Max came to Tampa Bay two years ago to help start the Tampa Bay Tour of Turtles fundraiser. He painted three fiberglass turtles for that event. Since that visit, Max has come to like the Tampa Bay area so much that he's considering moving here, he said Friday.

Jay Goulde, who ran the tour, has since started a new group, the Outdoor Arts Foundation. Plans for the mural took shape when Goulde talked to Susan Benjamin, co-owner of Syd Entel Galleries in Safety Harbor, about Max's show this weekend. Benjamin also is on the fundraising committee for Mease Countryside.

The fundraising theme: "Giving from the Heart."

The foundation's new projects: murals on buildings around Tampa Bay.

A familiar Max motif: hearts.

"It all came together," Goulde said.

Goulde is enthusiastic about Max's participation.

"To have an internationally renowned artist like Peter Max get involved with our fledgling organization is an incredible thing," he said. "It's way beyond our expectations."

The hospital will pay the $8,000 cost to install the vinyl mural Thursday night and remove it after a year or so. The same image also will be used on the program it sends out for the campaign.

At Mease Countryside, the Medical Arts Building is part of its $71-million project. It includes an expanded maternity ward and 61 new hospital beds.

The Max show at Syd Entel, 247 Main St., Safety Harbor, will run Friday and Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. and Sunday from noon until 2 p.m.