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ART AT THE HEART OF IT

Nothing is off limits in a bay area home filled with art collected over 48 years.

From the handcrafted bench outside the front door to the folk art nativity set in the playroom, nearly every space in the St. Petersburg home is a visual feast.

A visitor's eyes first may go to a substantial Theo Wujcik painting, one of six created for his Gateway to the Millennium installation in 1999, then to a minuscule beaded American Indian manger scene placed atop the grand piano.

Throughout their marriage, Pat and Ron Mason have collected fine things, although neither grew up knowing much about art.

"My parents, and Ron's, too, came up through the Depression," when family photographs often were the only pictures evident in their childhood homes, Pat said.

She and her twin sister, Sandy Bogner, took art history, a humanities course requirement, after they enrolled in Florida State University; on a visit to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, they were astonished and thrilled to find that "there on the wall were these paintings we had studied."

Ron, also an FSU graduate, says his father thought hanging pictures of any kind had only one effect: putting holes in the walls.

As a college student, Ron worked several summers in Rockport, Mass., near Gloucester. His first artistic acquisition was a wooden cornice remnant from an apartment building in the area, used as a sconce. He bought the ornamental piece "with his meager salary from dishwashing and waiting" tables, Pat said.

Ron acquired his first lithograph at the Horizon Gallery in Rockport before they were married.

Early on, "We decided we didn't care what our furniture was like. We had two director's chairs for our living room and an outdoor eating set for the dining room," Pat said. "Our first priority was collecting art, because that was so much more fun than buying furniture."

Pat's twin sister and brother-in-law spent a year in New York, where the two couples were introduced to the pop and modern art of the 1960s.

The works the Masons initially purchased together were some "very modern" prints, "a lot of pop art."

An acquaintance once raised her eyebrows at their choices. "I like the Old Masters," she ventured.

"I like the Old Masters, too," Pat replied. "But we can't afford them."

Always, the couple has made room for beautiful things, often supporting additional Tampa Bay area talents such as James Michaels and Rocky Bridges and gallery owners such as Mindy Solomon, who moved her place to Miami last year.

"We've been doing this for 48 years," Ron said.

They also have worked with numerous arts organizations in the Tampa Bay area and beyond. Pat was director of the St. Petersburg Bicentennial Committee and then executive director of First Night St. Petersburg for nearly two decades. Ron, an insurance agent, was a member of the committee that welcomed the founders of the Salvador Dali museum to town in the early 1980s. He was a St. Petersburg City Council member from 1987 to 1991, had several roles in the Mainsail Arts Festival and its predecessor, served on the boards of the Pinellas County Arts Council and the Morean Arts Center, chaired the St. Petersburg Arts Commission and served on the state arts council.

More than occasionally, the Masons have loaned pieces for showings in the Tampa Bay area and elsewhere: A golden Fritz Scholder print of an American Indian was in the recent New Mexico exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.

They also frequently rearrange things. An adobe bowl that also was featured in the MFA show once sat atop a coffee table in the living room and now aligns with several similar pieces on an elongated shelf in the family room.

A large black-and-white Clyde Butcher photograph the couple purchased a decade ago in his Big Cypress gallery recently moved from a guest room to the foyer after they visited his studio and gallery in Venice, Fla.

Glass sculptures gleam atop an antique Chinese table that faces an east window. At sunup, Ron Mason says, "That Duncan McClellan lights up like a ball of fire."

A Rocky Bridges mixed-media assemblage hangs near one of Robert Stackhouse's watery blue canvases.

"The hard part is displaying everything," Ron said. "There comes a time when you think your days of collecting may be over, and you have to curb your enthusiasm."

The Masons also enjoy experimenting with color schemes. The entry hall and several adjacent rooms have, at different times, been painted bright yellow and warm pumpkin. Just now, the walls are a deep gray.

"We're not really afraid to change" things around, Ron said. "We sort of get it going one way and then go the other."

Clearly, the Masons savor life among their treasures, and nothing in the house is sacrosanct.

Friends marvel as their grandchildren, ages 2, 6, 7 and 9, have free range in the household, as did son Clark and daughters Paisley and Randy during their growing-up years. Thus far, there have been no casualties.

"They just don't even notice it," she said.

Pat uses a Swiffer to dust items in the collection ("My housekeeper won't touch it"), and track lighting illuminates many of the objects and paintings.

"Our collection has just kind of grown," she said. "It doesn't all happen at once."

It helps, Ron said, that they generally enjoy the same things.

The Masons are on the lookout wherever they go. On family vacations, with the goal of touring all of the national parks, they fell in love with the American West, particularly Santa Fe, with its innumerable galleries and the extensive Indian Market in August.

A Tammy Garcia bronze caught their eye, as did a Jason Rich oil and pottery by Robert Tenorio and Virgil Ortiz. They also have brought home Indian folk art from a vendor who speaks no English and has no telephone.

"We buy what we like," Pat says, and they have negotiated installment payments on occasion.

That Butcher print is among the photographer's top sellers, and its current asking price is about five times what they spent on it, Ron said.

"Another thing I think that people should know about collecting art," Pat said. "Ron and I never bought anything that we thought would accrue in value. We didn't buy them for that reason."

"It's very important (to say) that we have not bought anything for investment," Ron said.

Their favorite pieces? They have "chased a few," he says, and several come to mind, but he offers the perennial answer he attributes to St. Petersburg art consultant and appraiser Eric Lang Peterson: "Why, the next one, of course."

Up next:WILD ALPACAS

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