May, 2012
May, 2012


Pensacola Museum of Art

In 1954, Members of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in 1954 envisioned a place for art exhibitions, art classes for children and adults where meetings, lectures, films and other cultural presentations could be held.  

Others joined in and the Pensacola Art Association was born in the Spanish Revival-style City Jail—which was fireproof, secure and centrally located in Pensacola’s historic downtown district.  Leasing it for $1 per year, these art lovers transformed the former jail cells into exhibition space.  Then the Art Association (which became the Pensacola Museum of Art in1982) purchased the building in 1988.

The Pensacola Museum of Art (PMA) has presented hundreds of exhibitions and thousands of educational opportunities, serving nearly 100,000 patrons annually and offering quality visual arts experiences and arts education ever since.

Over 300 works comprise the Museum’s Permanent Collection of 20th- and 21st-century works by such acclaimed artists as Alexander Calder, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Leonard Baskin, Salvador Dali, Thomas Hart Benton, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Käthe Kollwitz, John Marin, Miriam Schapiro, Fairfield Porter, Alex Katz, Lynda Benglis and Milton Avery.  A wide range of modern and contemporary styles and periods including Cubism, Realism, Pop Art, Non-objective Art, Folk Art and illustration are represented. The PMA also owns a fine selection of European and American decorative glass as well as African tribal art and sculptural works.

Exhibits: from March 22 through June 2 is Garden of Eden: Photography by Andrzej Maciejewski. Polish-born Maciejewski’s work features 24 elegant color still-life photographs of fruits and vegetables, with dramatic lighting inspired by the paintings of Old Masters such as Caravaggio and Rembrandt. While they initially appear to be pristine, further examination reveals the produce with label, stickers or wrapped in plastic – delivering the social message modern packaging conveys.

Also showing March 22 through June 2 is Revisiting Eden: Glass by Kathleen Elliott. Creating sculptures out of flameworked glass, Elliott uses botanical forms which move from the representational to the imaginary. Her plant forms incorporate human characteristics and convey a sense of alternative realities.
The PMA offers a wide range of educational and cultural programs year round, including its monthly art history lecture series and summer-long art camps for kids.  Among the monthly events at the Museum are the young professional networking event Culture Club (first Thursday of every month at 5:00 pm), “artnight on the bayfront” (last Wednesday of every month from 4pm to sunset), art in bloom, Suite Soiree, the annual outdoor art festival “art in the park”, and multicultural day events.

The Pensacola Museum of Art (PMA) is located in the historic downtown district at 402 South Jefferson Street.  Hours are Tue-Fri from 10am-5pm and Saturdays from noon-5pm. Admission is $5-adults; $2-for students with ID, and for active duty military. Members and children under 5 are admitted free. Visit www.pensacolamuseumofart.org or phone 850-432-6247.

Florida Blueberry Festival in Brooksville
Visit the Florida Blueberry Festival in Brooksville on May 4, 5 and 6 where the skies are blue and the berries are too. With just 80 calories per cup and virtually no fat, these little blue dynamos are packed with vitamin C, provide dietary fiber, are an excellent source of manganese, and a leader of antioxidant activity. Stock up on fresh blueberries while enjoying the fun of the festival held under the shade of the twisted oak trees gracing the courthouse lawn.

It kicks off at 6:30pm Friday night with a free Blueberry Parade in downtown Brooksville featuring 130 floats, marching bands, and drill teams. At 8:30pm head to Hernando Park for the blueberry wine stomping contest. And at 9pm enjoy the “Never Stop Believin” Journey Tribute Band performance (tickets are $10 for stomp and concert).

On Saturday from 10am to 8pm there’s entertainment for every age and taste: Performing on the Rock Stage: from 10am-11:30-Azmyth; Noon-1:30pm-Live ‘n Let Die; and at 2-3:30pm-Roki Sofi. On the Classic Rock Stage: 11am-12:30pm-‘60s Groove; 1-2:30pm-Yesterdayze; and 3-4pm-Elvis on Tour. At the Kids’ Stage: 10-11:30am-Puppet Show; Noon-1:30pm-State of Mind; and 2-3pm-Brooksville Academy of Arts. On the Easy Listening Stage: 11am-12:30-Tommy Johnson; 1-2:30 pm Steel of the Night; and 3-4pm-Bill Creel. On the Country Stage: 10-11:30am-Emily Rose; Noon-1:30pm-Pete Hunt; 2-3:30pm-Pete Hunt. On the Main/Bandshell Stage: (reserved seating-$10) from 4-5:30pm-Josh Rowland and the Pitbulls of Blues Band; and from 6-8pm-The Blues Brothers Review and The Black Honkeys.

Other activities on Saturday include a blueberry stomping contest. At City Hall there’s a sidewalk art demonstration. Inside there’s a juried art show and Plein Air Art Exhibit. Starting at 10am is a blueberry pancake breakfast at the Methodist Church; from 10am-4pm-Good Neighbor Trail Casual Ride at the Brooksville Train Station; 10am-4pm–Monster Transmission Car Show on North Broad Street; from 10am-5pm-Apack Bike Fest in the Parking Lot; In the Contest Area: 11am-5pm-Blue Ice Challenge; from noon-4pm- Photo Booth; 1-1:30pm-Hot Dog Eating Contest; and at 2-2:30pm- Pie Bakeoff.

The Sunday Entertainment continues from 11am-5pm. Appearing on the Rock Stage: 11am-12:30pm-Dreams Come True; and 1-2:30pm-Kettle of Fish. On the Classic Rock Stage: 11am-12:30pm-Wendy Rich; and 1-2:30pm-Hot Rod Hornets. At the Kids’ Stage: 11am-noon-Chocachotti Dancers; 12:30-1:30pm-Desert Rain. On the Easy Listening Stage: 11am-noon (pending); 12:30-1:30pm-Julie Black. On the Country Stage: 11-12:30pm–Jennifer Lee and Neveah Peek; and 1-2pm–Tyler Creek Road Band. The Main/Bandshell Stage (reserved seating-$10) from 2-3:30pm–Billy McKnight and Soul Circus Cowboys; and 4-5:30pm-Warren Silvers. The same activities continue with the Methodist Church offering a blueberry pancake breakfast from 11am until they’re gone. From noon-4pm A stilt walker roams the festival and Nature Coast Tribal Dance Company provides street entertainment.

Besides 150 vendors, a Kids’ area, fine arts, jewelry and crafts, unique offerings in the Blueberry Wine and Cheese booth, plus blueberry shortcakes, preserves, fresh blueberries, and great entertainment, the Florida Blueberry Festival promises to be one sweet treat.

A parking shuttle will be available. For more information, phone 352-754-4173 or go to www.floridablueberryfestival.org



Turtle Mound Boat Tours is docked at JB’s Fish Camp and Restaurant which overlooks the Indian River at New Smyrna Beach. The boat is a 22' pontoon, and you can choose a covered or uncovered ride. If you’re a bird watcher or nature lover, you’re  in good hands with low-key, soft spoken Captain Pete Mader--who is U.S. Coast Guard Licensed and extremely knowledgeable about this area’s history and animals.

Dr. Andrew Turnbull, a Scottish physician and entrepreneur, established a settlement of more than 1,000 immigrants along the west bank of the Indian River in 1768, making New Smyrna Beach the largest single attempt at British colonization in the US. These coastal plantations grew sugarcane, hemp, indigo, and produced rum. Mosquito Lagoon was the most notorious point of entry for bootleggers on the entire East Coast of Florida. Boats from Scotland, England, the Bimini Islands and Cuba were pulled across a narrow strip of beach land just across from Oak Hill–where bootleggers stashed their bottles until it was safe to transport. These islands were known to have moonshine stills and some were quite famous for their size.

New Smyrna Beach’s intricate waterways and tropical microclimates inspired an Indian River Lagoon with more species than any other estuary in North America and the most diverse bird population in North America. An estuary is formed when saltwater from the sea mixes with freshwater from the land. Mosquito Lagoon is located in the northernmost part of the Indian River Lagoon and has a width that varies from one half mile to five miles. Here giant redfish meander pristine flats year round in these gin-clear shallow back-country waters.

Large gator sea trout, black drum, tarpon, nook, red drum or red fish,  ladyfish, jacks, flounder, spotted or speckled sea trout, snook,  tripletail, mullet, rays, eels, needlefish, seahorses, pipefish, pufferfishes, and tarpon. Mammal species include weasels, panthers, bottlenose dolphin, Mice, muskrats, manatees and raccoons. Alligators, turtles, tortoises, fiddler, horseshoe and blue crabs also inhabit Mosquito Lagoon, with shrimp, clams and oysters an important element of the food chain.

The majority of the islands (home to Timucuan and Ais Indians date back to 10,000 B.C.) were created when mangroves seeded oyster beds. They range from less than one acre to several hundred acres in size with the islands home to old oak trees, many varieties of palms and red cedar trees. The lagoon is a spawning and nursery ground for both ocean-living and lagoon fish. It is nesting home to at least 36 rare and endangered bird species and four species of fish that breed only in the Indian River Lagoon System.

Shipyard Island is the largest island in Mosquito Lagoon. The north tip came to be called Last Chance, which provided the last opportunity to scrape barnacles or make repairs before reaching Hallover Canal. It is said that American Indians stored their canoes there. Confederates used the island to build ships during the Civil War. Island residents planted orange groves there in the early 1900s.Orange Island was named for the largest orange grove in the area at that time.

On the two-hour pontoon boat ride of the Canaveral National Seashore and the serene backwaters of the Indian River Lagoon Estuary, you’ll marvel at the many unspoiled mangrove islands. These dunes, lagoon, salt marsh, islands and hammocks combine with several endangered species to enhance your day of beauty and serenity on the water.

Turtle Mound Boat Tours also offers personalized fishing trips. They provide the bait and equipment and all you need to bring is luck. The Indian River is habitat to red fish, spotted trout, black drum, sheepshead, mangrove snapper, and flounder. Although they are not equipped for hard-core backwater or flats fishing, they do have favorite holes and secret spots. It’s a great way to spend a fun day on the water and wet some line.

You can even create your own boat tour—going anywhere between Ponce Inlet, New Smyrna Beach and the Haulover Canal at Titusville (a 59-mile stretch of natural beauty). Captain Pete offers many options: The sunset cruise is relaxing and beautiful on a clear evening; swimming at “disappearing” island; take your own kayak or canoe and paddle around the islands; have a picnic or camp on an island. Captain Pete is creative and open to suggestions.

TurtleMoundTours is located at New Smyrna Beach, and docked at JB’s Fish Camp and Restaurant. Two-hour tour/$100/6-8 people on Indian River Estuary or along the coast. Call 286-409-9325 or go to www.TurtleMoundTours.com

Angell and Phelps Chocolate Factory Tour – Daytona Beach

Now you can travel to the sweetest destination for a Willy Wonka-esque experience. The Angell and Phelps Chocolate Factory was founded in   1925 by two industrious women, Riddell Angell and Cora Phelps.  Their time-tested recipes are still used. Family-owned and run, this fifth generation continues the old-fashioned virtues of homemade quality and fast with friendly service.
The best part of a visit here is their free tour to watch chocolate being made the old fashion way—by hand. A knowledgeable guide leads the 20-30 minute tour, and the sights, sounds, smells and tastes will overwhelm your senses as the chocolate is molded, decorated, mixed, shaped, and packaged.

Whether you like chewy caramels, crunchy nuts or rich creams, their large selection of boxed chocolates use only the freshest ingredients available. Whether unique molded chocolates such as beautiful conch shells, gators, sea turtles and many other souvenirs, chocolate assortments, or delicious chocolate truffles, chocolate-covered potato chips, cherries, or pretzels–there’s something to entice and please every chocolate lover. Their gift shop tempts with confectionary concoctions to take home. Your only caveat during this sweet experience should be self-restraint.
The Angell and Phelps Chocolate Factory is located at 154 South Beach Street in Daytona Beach. Store hours are Monday thru Saturday 9:30am-6pm. Factory tours are given Monday-Saturday at 10 and 11am, and at 1, 2, 3, and 4pm. They are closed on Sundays. Free samples and discounts given AFTER the tour. Call 1-800-969-2634 or 386-252-6531 or go to www.angellandphelps.com.



                    Armed Forces History Museum - Largo

We’ll certainly all agree that the road traveled to war leads to an unpleasant destination, yet for those of us old enough to have some recall of WW II, there seems to have been, at times, an air of romanticism. Perhaps it was the distorted view of a small child but the atmosphere seemed euphoric with the requirement of teamwork to accomplish a common goal. People complained about the rationing of things like gasoline and sugar, but at the same time glorified the push behind Victory Gardens and the Victory Buses that carried them to defense plants. It was unison unseen since.

Acuteness to ethnicity was cast aside as we boasted of whipping Krauts and Japs.  It wasn’t just the outlook that would be at discord with today’s climate—the language alone would be banned as politically incorrect.
My most vivid memory is the V-E Day celebration in my Ohio hometown. People lined the streets, flags waved everywhere, and paper larger than confetti appeared to rain from the sky. A piece landed at my feet and I crumpled and threw it with gusto at nothing in particular.  It went through the open window of a passing ’37 Chevy and hit a fat woman right in the mouth. The look of astonishment on her face stays with me to this day as a somewhat perverted symbol of triumph.

Few would dispute that the best part of any war is the ending, but we often forget the people and ancillary components that enable that conclusion. That is what The Armed Forces History Museum in Largo is about: Preservation of military history and education of current and future generations regarding the sacrifices by so many to safeguard our freedom and liberties.

Founded by businessman John J. Piazza Sr. in 1996, the museum consists of 35,000 square feet of indoor displays with an additional 15,000 square feet outside.  The exhibits continue to expand with myriad vehicles, specialized military pieces and memorabilia—making it one of the largest non-government funded museums in the southeast.

Although the preponderance of displays depicts events of WW II, facets of our military history are represented from the Civil War to the present day, embodying every branch of the service. There are probably as many preferred subjects, as there are exhibits—more than twenty in all—depending on interest in history and/or military experience.

Near the entrance the firearms and ordnance gallery fascinates everyone with the machine guns, mortars, landmines and grenades as well as the hand-held weapons. In the USMC South Pacific Diorama there is more weaponry including a 75mm-pack Howitzer and an operational M5A1 Stuart Tank, plus the detailed map of USMC South Pacific operations and battles, photos, flags, and display cases of memorabilia.

In the U.S. Navy Gallery you will hear an audio-enhanced diorama describing the infamous June 6, 1944 D-Day landing on Utah Beach. Capt. Leonard Schroeder, the first man to hit the beach, sets the scene with images of the unfolding battle just as he saw it. Much of Schroeder’s personal gear is on display with other authentic pieces. A portion of an LST and an operational M4 Sherman tank being offloaded further augments the exhibit.

Of course Pearl Harbor is illustrated in a large display, as is the notorious Battle of the Bulge.  Interesting too, are the replicas the St. Mere Eglise Church, and the WW II German Outpost/Farmhouse.  The French church is where Private John Steele hung suspended by his parachute from the steeple as the D-Day battle raged—miraculously rescued unharmed.

The dioramic presentations continue in chronological order with General Macarthur’s Inchon landing in Korea. It features a platoon of marines in full gear led by the posthumously awarded Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Baldomero Lopez going over a wall. Shortly afterward the Tampa native gave his life by jumping on a grenade to save his comrades.

And then there is the MASH field hospital—mobile, fully self-contained working hospitals—made famous by a TV drama, and in reality greatly increased chances of survival.  It too is a diorama with all original medical equipment and a fully restored M21 ambulance.

Along with artifacts there are numerous photos, particularly of the Cold War era, and even a display of Saddam Hussein’s uniform.

And, certainly no exposition of military hardware would be complete without aircraft. Some latter-day collectors of memorabilia may not know that before baseball cards there were cards identifying all the fighters and bombers of the Big War. I could name all of them on sight and deliver the statistics on the back. One description that sticks in my mind was of the distinctive Lockheed P-38 portrayed as “bad medicine for the enemy.” Equally formidable were the several “war birds” seen at the museum such as the B-17 “flying fortress,” and the F-84G jet fighter of the Korean conflict.

This large, complete museum is unusual in its lifelike dioramic displays. And, the emphasis is not just on our fighting ability, but American ingenuity, perseverance, and courage. It’s a message that is “good medicine” for our nation’s psyche.

The Armed Forces History Museum is located at 2050 34th Way North in Largo. Hours are Tue-Sat from 2am-4pm and Sunday from noon-4pm. Museum store (free to the public) hours are the same as the museum. Parking is free and admission is Adults-$17.95; Seniors 65+ is $14.95; Children (5-12)-$12.95; Free admission for children under 4, and active, reserve or retired military with ID. Special AAA rate. Go to www.ArmedForcesMuseum.com or call 727-539-8371.

      The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Tampa

MOSI should never be confused with mosey. When you bring the kids to MOSI, the experience won’t be a disinterested shuffle through boring bookish subjects, but more likely an adrenalin-charged romp from one exciting exhibit to the next.

This is a 400,000-square-foot facility with more than 450 hands-on activities acclimated to the interests of kids of all ages, but at the same time guaranteed not to bore adult chaperones—a seeming endless stream of information—much of which adults will probably not admit to not knowing either.

MOSI is a not-for-profit institution that had its grand opening in 1982 and has continually expanded to the present day. In this time of galloping technology it is dedicated to understanding science by involving people of all ages in real experiences.

Looking at a map that diagrams the layout, there appears to be so much to see that it is difficult to determine a starting point, but the annex ascribed as Kids In Charge! sets the tone with simple scientific interactive experiments with gravity and magnets that excite and test young skills. The favorite activity is probably the jumping and bouncing of the Astronaut Training Adventure, but also heard are squeals of delight in learning to lie on a bed of nails like a Hindu fakir. This building also houses the Saunders Planetarium where the high-resolution projection onto the dome takes everyone on a captivating space adventure.

Back in the four-story building known as the West Wing, two dinosaur skeletons greet visitors as they ascend to the second floor where the IMAX Dome Theater (the only one in Florida) houses an 82-foot Hemispherical screen featuring movie themes varying from coral reef adventures to endangered wild life, and flying dinosaurs (pterosaurs)—ostensibly snatched from Jurassic Park, but backed by scientific evidence.

Also on the second floor is the Disasterville exhibition featuring emersion theaters replicating natural disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, and floods. Visitors can tour the Bay News 9 WeatherQuest and play a role in this virtual news studio—just like those hyper newscasters predicting the path of an impending storm and directing the public on evacuation.

On the next floor is the 13,000-square-foot exhibition titled The Amazing You, illustrating the health and welfare of the human body, covering every stage of life. Observers learn of the evolutionary milestones of life, medical conditions and diseases, and what is required to stay healthy, especially during the developmental stages.

A healthy body is beneficial to physical courage—as most will discover—and that can be tested on the high-wire bicycle. A 1-inch cable is stretched nearly 100 feet, three stories above the ground floor, allowing anyone with a sense of daring and balance to ride out and back to the thrill of onlookers. Actually it is a lesson in physics with the heavy weight suspended beneath the bike making the loss of balance impossible for riders of lesser bulk. After that precarious adventure you may want to cool your heels in the Coleman Science Works Theater—a high-tech theater where science is illustrated through an interactive audience experience.

The occurrences at MOSI are not all under roof, however. Outside you will find the BioWorks Butterfly Garden—an engineered ecosystem that nurtures the beautiful gossamer-winged insects through the entire life cycle. Besides the many species of butterflies the BioWorks contains five hands-on components that demonstrates how natural wetlands cleanse water.

And then there is the real thing known as MOSI’s Back Woods. It’s 47 acres of water conservation elements and outdoor interactive environmental exhibits that include compass trails, a boardwalk, a sinkhole, and a population of gopher tortoises in communities of pine flat woods, sand hills, oak hammocks and wetlands. The best part of the educational experience is that the Back Woods is open to the public every day of the year, 9-5 through the week and 9-6 on weekends, and museum admission is not required.
The latest outside attraction that has the adventuresome excited is the Sky Trail Ropes Course. This is a multilevel structure with narrow balance beams ranging from 12 feet to 36 feet above the ground. Touted as a high-energy challenge for every age group, it is designed for one clip-in that allows venturing over the entire configuration without detaching. Unlike some other courses there is no minimum number of participants.

In addition to the permanent displays MOSI also boasts traveling exhibits. Currently, and running through September 9, is Mummies of the World—a collection of 150 specimens that debuted at the California Science Center in July 2010, making MOSI the fifth stop on a seven-city tour. It includes a 6,420-year-old child mummy from Peru, dating 3,000 years before King Tut.  The exhibit presents a one-of-a-kind collection from across the world counting South America, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Egypt, transcending time and history.

As you can see, MOSI is a multi-faceted institution. Any one of the mentioned subjects could be a complete story in itself, and the only way to fully appreciate the contribution is to witness it first hand. Take the kids, a good pair of walking shoes and be prepared to spend at least four hours. It will be some of the most mind-expanding time your kids will ever spend—and maybe you too.

The Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) is located at 4801 East Fowler Avenue in Tampa. Open 365 days a year, M-F from 9am-5pm and Sat and Sun from 9am-6pm. Admission to MOSI exhibits Galleries, one Saunders Planetarium show, one standard IMAX Dome Theatre Film and Kids in Charge! is $20.95-Adults, $18.95-Seniors 60+; and $16.95 for children 2-12. Those under age 2 admitted free. Additional charges for expanded Imax and SkyRopes Course. Parking costs $4 per car. Call 813-987-6000 or go to www.mosi.org.


                  Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish

My view of traveling on trains has always has always been one of romanticism, although, I must have acquired that feeling from watching old movies, because it certainly didn’t come from personal experience. Until I visited the Florida Railroad Museum my only riding of the rails was by Amtrak, which falls a little short on the sentimental scale.

Still, that era in which railroads were the most affluent means of travel was a desirous time in American history, and if you want to get a hint of that bygone, saccharine period, the museum in Parrish is a good place to invest a little time.

It’s different than most museums—as they like to point out—here you “ride the exhibits.” There is memorabilia in the stationary rail car/ticket office and you can wander through an old Pullman car, the deplorable condition of which is excusable since it was rescued from the scrap heap and is slated for restoration. If romanticism correlates to closeness you will feel it in the old Pullman. Compartments are tight, but illustrate the luxury or the golden era with the red velvet upholstery private beds and baths plus the ability to flick a switch that summoned a porter to cater to every personal need.

The Museum is in possession of several locomotives and cars that have been donated or purchased from all over the country. The ex-U.S. Army diesel #1835 is the primary road engine, while a General Electric diesel electric engine that was donated by the Navy after its use at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station is their switch engine. And, there is the little 1919 steam locomotive used until 1963 in a Brooklyn rail yard that has been cosmetically restored and on display.

The two passenger cars regularly used for excursions are 1930 iterations used by a railroad commuter service out of Hoboken, New Jersey until 1983, plus a ‘50s lightweight air conditioned Union Pacific coach with a concession stand added. Bringing up the rear is the proverbial little red caboose retired by the Texas and Pacific system in 1981. It was purchased by a museum member, later donated, and is now used as the party caboose on weekend outings.

The excursions take you several miles out and back on the 1 ½-hour-ride, past truck farms, pastures, and a few isolated homesteads—scenery that’s not too exciting unless you were unaware that Florida exists beyond the glamour of beaches and theme parks. But the real entertainment is the train itself and the special events coordinated with the rides.  

On weekends throughout the year the museum presents various themes to amuse before, during, and after the jaunt over rails. On different weekends you can participate in the Train Robbery with the Hole in the Head Gang, the Murder Mystery Dinner Train, a Hobo Campfire Cookout, and the Rock & Roll Railroad.   In October there is the Pumpkin Patch Express, and in December the North Pole Train.

And what about operating one of those mega-ton locomotives yourself? If that has ever been a dream, you can realize it at the Florida Railroad Museum. You will receive hands-on training for an hour behind the controls, chugging one of those monstrous engines up and down the tracks.

For May and June, Mothers Day and Fathers Day are the big events, with Moms and Dads riding free on their respective holidays. It would be a great time to rent the caboose for a private party.

On our visit the diversion was a Civil War Re-enactment. It was entertaining as well as educational—especially the hospital tent with the original medical equipment and explanations of care.  The Confederates and the Union soldiers skirmished before the train pulled out, and the Johnny-Rebs waylaid us on the way back, but were whipped both times, and we made it home safely.

The Civil War subject won’t be repeated for a while, but it was great fun and we can only assume that all the events are just as enjoyable. For a different kind of weekend escapade this nostalgic exhibit is worth investigating.

The Florida Railroad Museum is located at 12210 83rd Street East in Parrish. The museum operates only on Saturdays and Sundays. For information on future events and reservations, call 941-776-0906 or visit www.frrm.org.

  The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art  -  Sarasota

John Ringling derived a fortune from his circus, real estate, oil and railroad investments. When he died in 1936, he left his art museum and palatial estate on 66 acres of Sarasota Bay to the people of Florida. Today The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the State Art Museum of Florida encompases the Ca d’Zan mansion, Museum of Art, The Circus Museum, Tibbals Learning Center, Museum of Art Library, grounds and gardens, Gift Shop, Banyan Café, and Treviso restaurant.

This was the last of the Gilded Age mansions to be built in America. Ca’ d’Zan--(meaning “House of John”)—was John and Mable Ringling’s tribute to the American Dream. This graceful Venetian Gothic palace exudes grandeur. Construction began in 1924 and was concluded before Christmas, 1925 at a cost of $1.5 million. It is 200 feet long, encompassing about 36,000 square feet with 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms. It is five stories and has a full basement. The pinnacle of the structure is the 81-foot Belvedere tower with an open-air overlook and a high-domed ceiling. It is constructed from terra cotta “T” blocks, concrete, and brick, covered with stucco and terra cotta, and embellished with glazed tile. The original roof was made from imported 16th century Spanish tile. Its bayfront terrace is made of domestic and imported marble. A 6-year, $15-million restoration was completed in 2002, restoring it to the grandeur of the era.

The Italian Renaissance-style Museum of Art was built in 1927 by John Ringling to house his personal collection of masterpieces. Construction slowed because of the collapse of Florida’s land boom, and then Wall Street’s stock market crash. Financial misfortune and Mable’s death in 1929 could have ended the dream, but Ringling borrowed money and gained a new resolve, completing and opening the museum to the public in October, 1931.

Today the Museum features paintings and sculptures by the great Old Masters including Rubens, van Dyck, Velázquez, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, El Greco, Gainsborough, as well as the Ringling’s Art of Our Time, a growing collection of contemporary art. The European, American and Asian masterworks available here make the Museum of Art an awe-inspiring retreat. The Courtyard features casts of original antiquities and renaissance sculptures, including the towering David by Michelangelo.  The Courtyard features two fountains - Fountain of Tortoises, one of three replicas from the Piazza Mattei in Rome, and the Oceanus Fountain, copied from the 16th century original by Giovanni Bologna in Florence’s Boboli Gardens. Special exhibitions are featured in The Ulla R. and Arthur F. Searing Wing, which opened in 2007.  The galleries mirror the original Museum of Art's exterior, but makes available expansive exhibit space for major traveling shows.

Presently On Exhibit (Searing Wing): Peter Paul Rubens: Impressions of a Master – through June 3;  Luminosity – through August 12;  Sanford Biggers – through August 19; From the Vaults: John Ringling's Asian and Cypriot Art- through September 21. (In Gallery 13): Fashion Forward: A Focus on Dress in the 1700s – through June 10.  Sunset and daily hours available for viewing Joseph’s Coat, the Skyspace created by James Turrell.

The Circus Museum, established in 1948, celebrates the American circus, its history, and unique relationship to Sarasota.  On exhibit is the Wisconsin, the 1905 private rail car of John and Mable Ringling. There are colossal parade and baggage wagons, sequined costumes, and a sideshow banner line, memorabilia and artifacts of The Ringling Family Circus, John Ringling, and the greatest circus movie, The Greatest Show on Earth, which was filmed in Sarasota.

At the Tibbals Learning Center  is a permanent exhibition of colorful circus posters. The cornerstone is the world's largest miniature circus, The Howard Bros. Circus Model, a replica of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus from 1919 – 1938.  It was created over a period of more than 50-years by master model builder and philanthropist Howard Tibbals. Exhibitions celebrate circus performers. On the second floor the history of the American circus from ancient times to the present is documented. The Interactive Galleries are fun and provide many photo opportunities. On Exhibit through May 14: Whirling Wheels: Bicycles in the Big Top.

The grounds and gardens are also treated and cherished as works of art. The fragrant 37,225 sq. ft. Rose Garden was completed in 1913 and is patterned after a traditional Italian circular garden design.  While none of the original rose bushes planted by Mable survive, many of today’s 1,200 rose plants are of the same types planted by Mrs. Ringling.  Today the garden consists of roses introduced between 1867 and 2002.  There are Tree Roses, Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, Grandifloras, miniature roses, shrubs, and Old Garden Roses.
Just north of the Ca’ d’Zan Mansion is Mable Ringling’s Secret Garden, derived from plants given to her during her winters at Cà d’Zan. There’s also the Dwarf Garden Millennium Tree Trail, and 13 historic banyan trees with paths and picnic areas to enjoy. More than 200 trees and 40,000 plantings have recently added to the landscape.

The Ringling Museum of Art Library is open to researchers, students, and the public Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1- 5 p.m. The Library is located in the Johnson-Blalock Education Center on the south side of the Ringling Museum estate off Bay Shore Road.  

It contains more than 85,000 volumes, exhibition and sale catalogs, and more than 100 current periodical titles. The Library conducts and supports research on the Museum's collection of Italian and European Baroque art, 20th Century Art, Decorative Arts, Peter Paul Rubens, Contemporary Art, and Photography. The Library collects research materials encompassing the entire history of art, art education, and conservation and houses a collection of rare books from the 16th - 20th centuries, including the personal library of John Ringling.

Because you could spend the whole day here viewing everything, take time out for lunch or a pick-me-up. Located between the Circus Museum and Mable’s Rose Garden, the Banyan Café features a family-friendly self-serve and outdoor seating daily 11am - 4 pm. Treviso offers fine indoor dining daily 10am-5pm, and on Thursdays from 10am-8pm.

The Ringling also is emerging as a center for the study, practice and presentation of contemporary art. The Ringling International Arts Festival (RIAF) showcases a variety of contemporary art at the Ringling Center for the Arts in Sarasosta. A continuum of the Ringling Museumm’s Art of Our Time, the fourth annual Festival features music, dance and theater in its intimate theaters, galleries and gardens by well-known and emerging artists. RIAF is produced by Sarasota’s The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and New York’s Baryshnikov Arts Center. The artists scheduled to perform are hand-picked by the legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov. The 2012 Festival takes place October 10-13.

The John and Maple Ringling Museum of Art is located at 5401 Bay Shore Road. Allow 3 hours minimum. Hours: Grounds open daily 9:30-6pm. Museum open daily 10-5pm and Thursday 5-8pm. Guided tours depart daily on the hour from 11am-4pm. Cost (also includes Ca’ d’Zan, The Circus Museum and Tibbals Learning Center) $25; $20-ages 65+; $15(ages 6-17 and active military, college students and Florida teachers with ID). Call 941-359-5700 (recorded info); 941-358-3180 (advanced ticket info) or go to www.Ringling.org.


                         Crandon Park-Key Biscayne

Crandon Park was at one time part of the largest coconut plantations in the country—obviously requiring a tremendous amount or work—now it’s all for pleasure.

It’s one of those places that sounds too good to be true, but it doesn’t take long after arriving to discover that there is nothing misleading about the marketing that lures literally millions of people every year. It’s 2.5 miles of white sand forming a lagoon-style, low-surf impact beach that is so gorgeous that many visitors simply rent one of the cabanas, watch the surf, and never venture any farther.

This beach is rated among the 10 best in the nation with a gradual slope into the water and close patrol by lifeguards making it also one of the safest. You’ll discover more fun for the kids at the Amusement Area featuring a carousel, outdoor skating rink, splash fountain, playground and soon to be featured petting zoo. In addition, there are landscaped picnic areas. Beyond that are the Crandon Gardens, complete with diverse botanicals and lakes offset by a tropical forest of overhanging vines and ferns.

The gardens per se are only one of the various ecosystems of the key that include the dunes, mangroves, and coastal hardwood hammocks. Seagrass beds provide a home for marine life and the island is also the habitat of rare and beautiful plants like the Beach Peanut, Biscayne Prickly Ash and the Coontie—with an abundance of butterflies always flittering about.

The transformation from coconut grove to a recreational facility began in 1940 when the Matheson family who operated the plantation donated more than 800 acres to Dade County (now Miami-Dade). The agreement was that the park land would be in exchange for a causeway built to Key Biscayne. Not a bad deal, even though the Big War prevented the over-water connection until 1947.

Now, only 10 minutes from downtown Miami, its convenience equals its excellence. The county has not skimped on any of the amenities beginning with parking that accommodates 3,000 vehicles. The two major sports facilities match the class of the surrounding environment with eminence that lures top-name professionals.

The Crandon Golf Key Biscayne (the only public course on the bay) is a championship 18 holes that has hosted a regular Senior PGA tour event for the last 18 years. It is without question one of the most beautiful golf courses in the state and rated in the nation’s top 75 upscale courses by Golf Digest. If you forget your clubs, they can be rented and you can sharpen your game on the driving range before starting.

The same is true for the tournaments held at the Crandon Park Tennis Center. Since 1987 the leading players in the game have contended in the Key Biscayne competition known presently as the Sony Ericsson Open, and under several other sponsored names over the years. When the pros aren’t stroking the ball, there are 26 courts available for reservation.

For those whose aquatic preferences extend beyond the beach there are rentals of Kite-Boards and Kayaks. And, when an activity cool-down is desired, a guided historical tour or a leisurely stroll through the Bear Cut Preserve is recommended. It’s a designated National Environmental Study Area exhibiting the island’s natural elements at their best—a window to the wilderness that was once South Florida—so it is said. That could be, but with the merriment surrounding you at Crandon Park it’s hard to imagine that it was once inhabited by Indians and soldiers, plundered by pirates, and covered in coconuts. Some think the pirates left treasures there. That could be too, but really the whole place is a gem.

Miami-Dade’s Crandon Park is located at 6747 Crandon Boulevard and is reached via the Rickenbacker Causeway over Biscayne Bay-toll $1.50. Hours are 8 am to sunset. Cost is $5 per private vehicle (weekdays); $6 per vehicle (weekends and holidays); $15 per bus or RV(every day). Go to www.miamidade.gov/parks or call 305-361-5421.

                      Homestead-Miami Speedway

If you’re under the impression that every racetrack is visited only by hardcore NASCAR types (as Seinfeld would say; “not that there’s anything wrong with that”) you should check out the track on Speedway Boulevard in Homestead—you might even decide to get down on that 1.5 mile asphalt oval and show your own stuff. Yes, you can actually do that, or if you prefer to be just an observer, this is the place to visit, because in track lingo, it’s “hot” more than 280 days a year.

Unlike some race facilities that host only a few races a year and are ghostly quiet for the remainder, the Homestead-Miami Speedway satisfies the yearnings of race enthusiasts and/or plain thrill seekers with more event time than the average person spends at work.

Rising out of the rubble after Hurricane Andrew flattened nearly everything in Homestead twenty years ago, the speedway has steadily improved and attracted diverse racing and buffs until it has become one of the premier tracks in the country. The track’s history includes being the first venue to host every major North American Motorsports Championships: the IZOD IndyCar Series, GRAND-AM ROLEX Sports Car Series; and NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

When there is not a sanctioned race, fans are drawn by activities such as manufacturer testing, car-club events, driving schools, ride-along programs, product launches, and charitable events topped off by movie and photo shoots. This is motorsports for the family—you’re even allowed to bring your own cooler of favorite cold drinks (check the rules for gate entry). Better yet, you can bring your own car for the competition. Take a look at the May calendar:

May 4, 18 (6 pm-midnight) Test and Tune on the 1/8th mile pit row. Open to the public for dragging down the strip instead of the street to see what the family buggy will really do.

May 5-6 (9am-5pm) Motorcycle Racing - Championship Cup Series - Practice on Saturday and GT and Sprint races on Sunday. Visit www.ccsracing.us.

May11-13 (9am-5pm) Ride & Drive - Richard Petty Driving Experience-This one is a blast for the wannabe racer. You can ride shotgun in a 2-seat NASCAR-style stocker driven by a professional instructor, or take the wheel yourself for an experience most fans will never get in a lifetime. Visit www.1800bepetty.com.

May 18-19 (9zm-5pm) Karting – South Florida Rotax Max Challenge Series Races 3-4 – Karters of multiple classes compete on full-course layout at Homestead Karting Center, located on the grounds of Homestead-Miami Speedway. The Rotax MAX Challenge collects racers via a feeder system of local, regional, national and international events, with the top drivers from each class in each region invited to the Grand Nationals. Visit www.rmaxchallenge.com.

May 19-20 (9am-5pm) Car Club - National Auto Sport Association-Florida Region - A high performance driver education for entry-level drivers & practice time/races for experts on the road course in race or street cars. Visit htpp://www.drivenasafl.com or call 386-227-7795.

May 26 (9am-5pm) Diving School - Hooked on Driving - A high- performance driving experience held on a closed road course with managed passing rules. You can enjoy a full day program where most participants bring their own cars and are allowed to drive on the course in conjunction with focused instruction, monitoring, and grouped by ability and experience. Visit www.hookedondriving.com

May 27 (9am-5pm) Car Club - Equipe Rapide Sports Car Club - This is an autocross. Amateur racers are timed as they run through a cone-lined course (one car at a time/best time wins) on a road course built in the blue lot adjacent to 336th Street. Visit www.erscc.com.

The May calendar is typical of the year long schedule. This is one of the few tracks where you can test your skills against the same challenges faced by the pros. You can inhale the intoxicating fumes from the stands at any track, and there is always a good view on TV, but for the fan who wants to really get up close and personal with his favorite sport there is not a better place to be in the state of Florida than Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The Homestead-Miami Speedway is located at One Speedway Boulevard in Homestead. Call 866-409-RACE or go to www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com.