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THE TAMPA TRIBUNE

Life Printed Daily

Creating A Natural Attraction

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Joe Weinstein, above, talks with Paul and Terry Luth about his fountains at the USF Botanical Gardens plant sale Saturday.

Photo by JIM REED/The Tampa Tribune

By KATHY STEELE ksteele@tampatrib.com

Published: Oct 13, 2005

SEMINOLE HEIGHTS - When Joe Weinstein creates fountains, he speaks a language of his own.

Muddy mixtures of sand, plastic foam beads, fiberglass shreddings and lightweight concrete are like the cookies or drop biscuits he remembers as a child in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. As he plasters the crooks and crevices that chart the flow of stone and water, he is "chinking," filling the void and finding the natural line for the eye to follow.

What he creates are portable fountains that evoke the tropical beauty of Florida with waterfalls and native plants.

"I've developed my own vernacular because what I do is unique," Weinstein said.

If that sounds self-promoting, Weinstein won't deny it. He has a sketch posted in his south Seminole Heights studio of poet Walt Whitman, known to publish anonymous articles praising his poems.

"Everyone knew he wrote them," Weinstein said.

Art and the business of art are uneasy companions, and Weinstein is searching for a balance.

In September, he opened Patio Paradise Fountains to the public on Saturdays, weather permitting, from noon to 5 p.m., or by appointment. The studio and garden, next door to Covivant Gallery, is at 4910 N. Florida Ave.

Weinstein has been there for about two years, hand-crafting fountains from simulated coquina, the limestone sediment of broken shells and coral. He has been pulling back from the years on the road selling and promoting his fountains to florists, restaurants and gift shops in the southeastern United States.

His work is at the Tower & Garden Gift Shop at the Bok Tower Sanctuary in Lake Wales; the Disney Village Shop in Orlando; and the botanical garden at the University of South Florida. His most recent creation, with a hummingbird mosaic, is on the patio at Viva La Frida Cafe y Galeria on North Florida Avenue.

"He uses material that is really Florida," restaurant owner Anjelica Diaz said. "I found that really interesting, making water fountains with sand. He incorporates a lot of tropical native plants as part of the water fountain."

At USF's fall plant festival last weekend, Town 'N Country residents Paul and Terry Luth bought a fountain from Weinstein to make a bog garden.

"They fit into the natural landscape rather than plastic," Paul Luth said.

What began in the mid-1970s in DeLand as Weinstein's backyard hobby grew through the decades into a large inventory, and reluctantly into reproductions from molds and a small staff of employees.

Weinstein now lives in Lutz and works mostly on commissioned fountains.

"I didn't want to be a business person," he said. "I developed a love for fountains and grew to love my business."

Born in the Virgin Islands, Weinstein moved to Miami at age 6. He lived for several years with an aunt and uncle and once was a Jehovah's Witness. A luxurious garden at a Kingdom Hall made a strong impression.

"To me, landscaping is almost like a spiritual practice," he said. "I saw what people could do with gardening, the peace it brings."

By profession he was a plasterer, a trade he learned from brother David.

"It was a lot of fun, and I felt fulfilled," Weinstein said.

But he was drawn to fountain art "like a sailor with the ocean," Weinstein said.

A fountain for a friend led to another fountain for a friend. He put a fountain on display at a local lawyer's office, and began cold-calling florists and restaurants.

His first sale was to a florist in Sanford in 1984. He rented three fountains to a home show in Orange County and began to think his art was a way to make a living.

With his employer's blessing, Weinstein cut back on his work hours as a plasterer to spend more time creating fountains.

It is often a solitary process.

"You have to work with certain speed or mud gets away from you," he said. "It is very labor-intensive."

Weinstein has taken inspiration from Whitman, Florida's beaches, the time-eroded rocks and boulders of the great canyons of the western United States and Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi.

He seeks a sense of harmony in his work.

"It's kind of like a lava flow," he said. "And yet there is geometry underneath it."

"He uses material that is really Florida. I found that really interesting, making water fountains with sand."

ANJELICA DIAZ Viva La Frida Cafe y Galeria owner, on Joe Weinstein's creations