By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
FLORENCE - More than 1,000 people attended the third annual L'Arte Antica stone carving competition and Fine Arts Festival at The Vineyard at Florence Saturday and Sunday, Vineyard owner Kambrah Garland said.
Visitors during the weekend got the chance to sample his wares and a wide variety of other Texas wines. They could also watch 11 sculptors under the sponsorship of Texas Carved Stone of Florence compete for first-, second- and third-place prizes with pieces they produced during the weekend.
"We've been building this festival up over three years," Texas Carved Stone owner Bob Ragan said. "The first year we just had five sculptors, and I won first place with the piece sitting on top of the courtyard fountain now. I get the feeling we've really taken off this year."
The Vineyard came to him with the idea for the competition because Texas Carved Stone is probably the premier firm of artists in stone for the 20 quarries in the vicinity of Florence. "I've trained a lot of artisans who have started satellite companies on their own," he said. Ragan wore a top hat as he worked on his own project this year. Others wore bright colors and bowler hats to show their personal flair, while some just wore the T-shirts and jeans of Central Texas workmen, but all were trying to create significant works of art with stone donated by Continental Cut Stone. Their works were auctioned off at the end of the day Sunday to benefit the Florence city library.
Ragan won first place again this year. Matthew Johnson of Austin took second place and Jeremy Johnson and Rebecca Cantos-Busch, both of Austin, tied for third.
"The past two years, we brought our works up here," Ragan said. "This year, the raw stone was delivered here so we could work on it here. It was good for us. It gave us a reason to create something out of our own ideas and made us compete against a deadline, besides offering a chance to talk to each other."
Ragan's wife, Mary Condon, was in charge of recruiting the artists.
Other attractions included kiosk-type showings by about 30 artists including photographers, jewelry makers and painters. Many works were abstract and cartoon-style. Garland said the firenze displays series of works by local and regional artists, changing every couple of months, and she doesn't take a commission.
Originally from New Hampshire, her first Texas home was in Lubbock with her military family. "I kept trying to get as close as I could to Austin, but you can't find enough land there to start something like this. So I got as close as I could and started attracting creative people here."
Other advertised offerings include dance lessons, a farmer's market, cooking classes, live music and salon and spa services.
She produces two white wines and three red wines under The Vineyard at Florence label with blanc du bois, cabernet sauvignon, norton/cynthiana and lenoir grapes grown on the property. Lenoir is also called Black Spanish.
"I was educated in art," she said, "but I don't have time to do anything with it right now," she said. "I manage all this and work in the vineyard myself with several other people."
A Boutique Wine and Food Festival is planned 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 17.