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Artists turn sketches into portrait of a city

(ran PW, PC editions)

The latest addition to downtown Dade City's lineup of festivals will feature Dade City as the star attraction.

A roving all-women band of professional artists, dubbed ARTPack, came to town Thursday to prepare for a series of watercolors based on Dade City scenes that will anchor the inaugural March Affair on the Square art and flower show, scheduled for March 27.

The event will feature fine arts, flowers and plants, organizer Ginny Solberg said.

Pat Weaver, an ARTPack member _ as well as founder of Downtown Dade City Main Street and a former Dade City mayor _ brought the group to her hometown.

"We toured the neighborhoods, we went down Church Avenue, we're looking at all the old places and getting ideas," Weaver said.

Sitting around the historic courthouse and sketching, artists said they were impressed with the area's architecture and flora, both in contrast to Sarasota, where most members live.

"Everything is so special here," artist Diane Schmidt said. "We love the brick streets."

With the photographs and sketches they took around town, ARTPack members plan to create watercolor paintings reflecting the city.

Solberg, executive director of Downtown Dade City Main Street, said festival organizers plan to group ARTPack works together for the March Affair. Having the work of experienced and well-traveled artists together _ each with a take on Dade City _ should set the Dade City art show apart from other shows in Florida.

Schmidt said the group formed in 1993 at a Sarasota seminar. Eager to continue working together, they began meeting monthly to inspire and learn from each other, and that led to group travels. ARTPack members have visited Greece, Spain, Mexico and Italy, as well as tours of states such as Massachusetts and Maine.

In town for Thursday's tour were ARTPack members Barbara Argenti, Nancy Clarke, Meribeth Coyne, Ellen Hinman, Eleanor Merrill, Margaret Mills and Dee Roe, as well as Schmidt and Weaver.

Schmidt credited Weaver's artistic influence for bringing vibrance to the group.

"Even though we were all artists on our own, after we met Pat, there was a creative zip," she said. "It's something that's been added to our watercolors that wasn't there before."

Weaver, a well-known artist, author and instructor, said members expect to also contribute works to Main Street for auctions to raise money for the organization.

Weaver said she showed off the area with pride, pointing to buildings her parents own and reminiscing about her childhood home along Meridian Avenue.

"It's been great showing them my town," she said.

The March Affair on the Square will run concurrently with the Dade City Garden Club's annual plant show and sale.

The event will take place on Meridian Avenue downtown from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 27, with the Garden Club's show at the club headquarters, 13630 Fifth St.

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