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Artist's glass brightens Stuart Society benefit

Dale Chihuly's extraordinary glass works commanded a larger attendance than usual at the Stuart Society's annual gala to benefit the Museum of Fine Arts. Patrons of that Jan. 17 eventpreviewed the museum's offerings for Chihuly Across Florida: Masterworks in Glass.

Guests wandered through the galleries and into the garden, marveling at the installation and the colorful shapes. The glass-filled "boat," the multilayered "ceiling" and the sculpture inspired by Georgia O'Keeffe's popular Poppy were especial favorites, at least through conversations experienced and overheard.

Mary Shuh was chairwoman for the evening, heading a committee that included Joann Barger, Judy Cunniff, Barbara DeMaire, Tina Douglass, Donna Guillaume, Sally Habermeyer, Priscilla Hobby, Greta Myers, Mary Perry, Sally Poynter, Clare Raymond, Fran Risser, Iris Salzer, Maritza Smith, Edie Spies, Paulee Springer, Cindy Weatherby, Mary Wheeler, Evelyn Wilty and Barbara Wiseman.

Progress Energy was the evening's gold sponsor; Willis A. Smith Construction, silver; and Crown Eurocars, Derby Lane, Wachovia Bank, William R. Hough & Co. and Publix Super Markets Charities, bronze.

Joanna Sikes and Jennifer Lewis of Chihuly's Seattle studios got to rest a bit from their labors installing the show but were scheduled on a flight out of St. Petersburg the next day.

Diners filled the museum's Marly Room and the membership garden, and the attendees were a list of civic leaders, artists and arts supporters: Steve and Nancy H. Thomas, Mayor Rick and Joyce Baker, John Schloder, Roger and Sally Zeh, Carol Upham, Rudy and Starr Weihe, Dr. Jim and Sunny Endicott, Jack and Mary Critchfield, Tom and Mary Lou DeVoe, Royce Haiman, Troy and Judy Holland, Elliot and Amy Holland, Bill and Hazel Hough, Robb and Susan Hough, Pat and Susan Hough Henry, Nancy Loehr, Cathy Clayton, Ian and Jean G. Irwin, Charles and Laurie Lowe, Barbara Lane, Ron and Noel Hill, Jim and Suzanne MacDougald, Dr. Norval Marr and Ardith Rutland, Dr. Lawrence and Carol Merritt, Eric Lang Peterson, Sam and Demi Rahall, Janet Raymond, Richard and Helen Minck, Tom and Mary James, Bill and Kathy Stover, Carol Upham, Rudy and Starr Weihe, Phyllis Williams, Ann Wykell, Michele Vogel, Vera Espinola Beery, Jeanne Tucker, Cary Bond Thomas and Frank Blandford, Wade and Brenda Brickhouse, Tony and Carolyn Bond, David and Lupi Coffin, Evelyn Craft and Harry Chittenden, Bob Stackhouse and Carol Mickett and Bob Devin Jones and Jim Howell.

Crown Eurocars brought a Maybach on site as a fundraiser for the live auction. The luxury automobile has a price tag of about $311,000, and the auctioneer briefly invited purchase bids but entertained offers for use of the vehicle for several hours.

Across the bay at a Tampa event Thursday night, I saw development director Roger Zeh, who said attendance at the museum Jan. 18, the official opening day, was in the thousands, and daily attendance opening week was in the hundreds.

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That Saturday in January often is a test of loyalties and logistics for supporters of the museum and of Bayfront Medical Center.

A few nimble souls braved the museum gala and Bayfront on Vine, also held Jan. 17, to benefit the Bayfront Health Foundation.

Guests graze through food from numerous bay area restaurants and sip various wine and martini offerings spread throughout the Bayfront Medical Plaza building in St. Petersburg.

The benefit raised more than $100,000 for the hospital.

CompServ was the presenting sponsor, and underwriting sponsors were Cordis Corp., KPMG, Publix, Raymond James & Associates and William R. Hough.

Premier vintner partner parties preceded the main event, at the Renaissance Vinoy's Sunset Ballroom, and in the homes of Bayfront president and chief executive Sue G. Brody and of Dr. and Mrs. Bushnell Clarke on Jan. 16.

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For 26 years, the Seminole-Largo Branch of the All Children's Hospital Guild organized an annual art festival and auction to benefit the hospital. In the words of Michelle Blanks, co-chairwoman of Wednesday's Bloom event at the Pinellas Expo Center, the group decided to blaze new trails in 2004, by becoming the charity partner for A Garden Paradise, the first Tampa Bay Flower Show.

The event featured a multitude of gardening inspirations, including a floral re-creation of Busch Gardens, topiary figures of Minnie and Mickey Mouse from the designers at Walt Disney World, native plants, tropicals, butterfly gardens, even gardening equipment.

I was especially struck by a tall plant with begonialike leaves and pendulous, hydrangea blossoms that smelled like cheesecake. Another spectator thought they had the fragrance of bread pudding.

It took Mr. Greenthumb, Stan DeFrietas, and his broadcast partner Mark Govan to identify it as a Dombeya wallichii, or tropical hydrangea.

Crissy McWilliams co-chaired the event, which drew about 300 All Children's supporters. The team putting together the fundraiser represents the second generation of guild volunteers to organize events for the hospital.

_ Mary Jane Park can be reached at (727) 893-8267; fax (727) 893-8675; e-mail; P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.