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By MARSHA FOTTLER CORRESPONDENT
Published: Sunday, March 8, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.

One of the most popular annual house tours in Sarasota, and one of the oldest, takes place next week with a two-day peek into the homes and studios of working artists.

It’s an opportunity to see how artists live, to discover what inspires them, to inspect their studios, and to chat with them.

The tour is organized and staffed by most of the 200 members of the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota; proceeds from the $20 ticket sales benefit the group’s scholarship and grants program.

Seven artists will welcome tour-goers to their homes this year. They are Miriam Cassell, K.D. Tobin, Lynda Finder, Frederic Murphy, John-Norman Tuck, Tom Stephens and Debbie Dannheisser. Artists’ works are for sale at their studios.

Dannheisser’s corner-lot home is in shady Hidden Oaks. She and her husband, Dan, have lived there for 15 years, but Dan, a trial attorney, had bought the home a year earlier for himself and his young son and daughter.

“I came along later as a new wife and stepmom,” said Debbie. “The whole place was gray and brown, and the family room was so dark, with a big fireplace blocking any view to outside, that I never went into that space. Dan bought the house for its spacious yard and convenience to downtown. He didn’t think much about color or design.”

But décor wasn’t uppermost on Debbie’s mind, either. The challenges of being a stepmother encouraged her to seek counseling, and the counselor also happened to be an art therapist. “She suggested I take a painting course, which was odd because I had never held an art brush in my life,” said Dannheisser. “But I did, and immediately painting became my refuge and my stress relief. Later I learned I had some talent and that people related to my work and wanted to own it.”

The two-car garage became Dannheisser’s studio as the artist and her husband made changes in their home that is reflected in Debbie’s color-drenched, intuitive art. They removed the family room fireplace wall and installed French doors that open onto a brick courtyard and pool pavilion. They landscaped and sculpted the outdoor area into several garden rooms, one of which is near the charming guest house that was once a boat garage. Debbie’s mother uses it when she visits from Georgia.

Inside, Debbie painted the kitchen chairs (each a different color), brought in a purple sofa, painted all the walls, hung art and created a seamless transition between interior and exterior spaces. A third child in the family subsequently necessitated re-configuring rooms for the family of five.

Dannheisser will display about acrylic 100 paintings for the Creators & Collectors Tour, as well as note paper, jewelry and framed giclee prints, all of which are for sale. The artist is donating a percentage of her sales to the YMCA Foundation of Sarasota to benefit Child Outreach Programs.

John-Norman Tuck is well known to locals as a hair stylist, but six years ago, when he was on a cruise with his wife, they were buying a piece of art when Tuck thought he could do as well as the artist whose work he was holding. And so he did. Using vivid colors, his work today encompasses floral landscapes and abstracts. The hallmark of his work is emotional power. Tuck’s big modern white residence is a perfect backdrop for his bold and colorful paintings. Outside is a tropical garden and Tuck’s specialty rose garden. More than 100 of Tuck’s paintings will be for sale at his stunning home and studio.

Lynda Finder’s home is Mediterranean-eclectic. “I’ve let my imagination run wild with my home, just as I do with my art,” she said. “My home is a fantasy depiction of Old World style inside and outside in my garden, too.” The artist works at her black granite dining room table and in her private garden, which tour-goers will see along with 130 pieces of her splattered-glass art works.

Miriam Cassell lives in a 1950s Sarasota school of architecture home in Lido Shores. She’s been there 12 years and chose the house for its attached studio and because she can walk to the beach every morning. Her art vibrates with color and boundless creativity, and each piece is infused with her irrepressible sense of humor. Cassell also understands the power of art that can shock.

A native Floridian and charter boat captain, Tom Stephens also has an art degree from Ringling College of Art and Design. His studio is his house, a 1954 ranch with terrazzo floors in the Sapphire Shores neighborhood of Sarasota. A constant companion (but not art critic) is his part-chow dog, Stubbs, who usually has paint on his tail.

Stephens works in acrylics on canvases that range in size from 10 inches to 12 feet, and he’ll display 83 for the tour. “And they’re recession-priced,” he said. “I want people to own my art.”

Frederic Murphy is widely admired for his elegant still-life oil paintings in the classic realist or neo-traditionalist style. He recently built and moved to a new house/studio in the northern part of Sarasota. His two-story residence is ideal, as the artist carefully designed the second floor, where he teaches and paints. Downstairs is home. A native of Baltimore, Murphy is currently represented by art galleries in Florida, Maryland, New York, Mexico and Canada. He moved to Sarasota in 1990 for the climate and the culture.

Kevin Tobin lives in the South Gate area of Sarasota near Phillippi Creek, in a 6,400-square-foot home that he’s made a serene, Zen-like dwelling, a sublime space to hang his abstract and figural paintings. A Buddha sculpture on the property could be a metaphor for the artist’s attitude.

“I’m hyper-aware of my surroundings, and that allows me to slow down time and to fix my paintings in the time in which they are created,” he explained. “That’s why I bury scraps of newspaper clippings into the art. My work is about connecting to the world we live in.”

Tobin has been an active artist for 35 years and works in acrylics because he appreciates the immediacy of the medium.

The Fine Arts Society has organized a sales gallery of work by other artists. The Galleria Exhibit is at the Crossley Gallery at the Ringling College of Art and Design. Participating are jewelry designers Kati Bognard and Diana Kahlenberg, surface designer Pamela Marwede, fiber artist Rebecca Stevens, portrait artist Diane Ogden, ceramic artist Amy Webber, painter Joseph Palmerio, and printmaker Elisabeth Stevens.

This story appeared in print on page I1
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