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Local artists vie for top prize in Martha Stewart competition







Scott Durfee and George Medeiros, two talented St. Petersburg artists, are finalists in the Martha Stewart American Made competition, which highlights the creativity and craftsmanship of artisan entrepreneurs from around the country.
When Scott Durfee and George Medeiros moved to St. Petersburg from Philadelphia in 2003, they were intrigued by the fibrous bracts or "spathes'' that fell from palm trees and were scattered across people's lawns. Instead of seeing it as yard waste that needed to be hauled to the curb, the interesting organic shape of the spathes piqued their imagination.

Now more than a decade later, Durfee and Medeiros are successful artists with a distinctive brand they call Spath'-ose. And they've earned a reputation for pushing boundaries of art and fashion.  

The two create beautiful wearable sculpture -- purses, jewelry, accessories and wall art -- from spathe and other Florida native plant materials, which they combine with metal screws, bolts, nails and wire to give the final product an edgy, almost industrial look

"Each piece is hand-made and one-of-a-kind because we're working with all natural, sustainable materials,'' says Medeiros. 

Their Spath'-ose work is exhibited at various galleries and boutiques in the region and in the Museum of Fine Arts gift shop in St. Petersburg. They were the featured artists in September at the Dali Museum's Zodiac Group event, Spatholicious.

Trip to NYC

Now the two are finalists in a national competition -- the 2014 Martha Stewart American Made Awards. The competition honors what Martha Stewart's team is calling "makers,'' the entrepreneurs, artisans and small business owners who represent the best of American hand-made craftsmanship.  

This the third year for the competition, which recognizes excellence in design, visual appeal, originality and quality of materials in four categories: crafts, design, food and style. Spath'-ose is listed in the style category.

Nominations for the American Made Awards were accepted until early September when the top 1,000 finalists were selected. Eight hundred of the finalists were named by a panel of Martha Stewart judges. An additional 200 "wild cards'' were chosen by a popular vote through social media campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. 

Durfee and Medeiros were one of the 200 wild card finalists – and one of just a handful of finalists from the Tampa Bay region, including Sunshine Dye Dream in Tampa, The Poor Porker in Lakeland, DIY Fun Ideas in New Port Richey and Roc Paper Scissors in Palm Harbor,

"We are definitely excited and appreciative,'' says Medeiros. "Our fans and followers really spread the word and encouraged people to go the website and vote for us.''

But the competition is not over yet. In fact, the heat's been turned up. From the list of 1,000 finalists, only 10 will be named as grand prizewinners -- nine selected by the panel of judges and one by the public vote.  

Until the close of the contest on Monday, Oct. 13, the public can cast their online votes for Spath'-ose up to six times per day.

The grand prize winners of Martha Stewart American Made will receive a trip for two to New York City to attend the American Made event; $10,000 for the business, a chance to be featured in the Martha Stewart Living Magazine, on Sirius XM radio and the Martha Stewart website; a spot in the American Made Market, the premier wholesale gift show; and a video produced by the Martha Stewart in-house team.

Made in Florida

"If everyone in Tampa Bay voted we would have over a million votes,'' says Medeiros. "That would allow us to not only raise the profile for our product, but also elevate the entire Tampa Bay area and show that the arts are thriving here.''

Medeiros and Durfee hope to position themselves not only with collectors who appreciate fine art craftsmanship, but also with the Florida tourist industry as a sustainable Made in Florida business, one that is synonymous with palm trees and sunshine.  

"We believe in our brand 100 percent and know that we're still at the beginning of what we hope to accomplish,'' says Medeiros. "No one else is doing quite what we're doing here.''

Janan Talafer is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg, FL, who shares a home office with her dog Bear and two cats Milo and Nigel. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.
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