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Minnette Webster, Hillsborough arts supporter, dies at 76

BRANDON – Artists throughout Hillsborough County set aside their paint brushes, shed their spattered smocks and came together to pay tribute to one of their own Saturday, April 19.

Longtime artist and art educator Minnette Webster died Monday, April 14, during surgery to place a stent in her heart. The 76-year-old Bloomingdale resident had been battling Myasthenia Gravis, an autoimmune disease that progressively weakens the skeletal muscles.

Her best friend, Brandon artist Meletha Everett, said Webster’s death was not unexpected.

“Last month she asked me to write her obituary,” said Everett. “I kept putting it off but she insisted that it needed to be done right away. She had been in pain for so long and was having trouble swallowing and walking. I think she was ready.”

The disease, however, didn’t prevent Webster from performing her duties as the secretary and charter member of the Greater Brandon Arts Council or sharing her love of art with children, said Everett.

“She put on a good front,” said Webster’s friend. “People had no idea she was a sick as she was.”

Upon the news of her death, fellow artists and art patrons shared memories of the diminutive woman who had such a big impact on the arts in Hillsborough County.

“Every year she and I would put on witch hats and pass out candy to the children at Center Place’s Halloween Horribles Parade,” said friend and fellow artist Anne Drewry of Lithia. “We always had a grand time eating candy and talking to the kids. She loved every minute of it.”

Drewry met Webster and her late husband, Bill, in 1976 when they both were part of the effort to create the nonprofit Center Place Fine Arts and Civic Association in Brandon.

“Minnette was a very dear, dear friend and probably one of the most generous and kind people I have ever known,” said Drewry. “Her death is such a loss but I got the feeling she was resigned to the fact that she would never be back to her old self.”

“She was so creative. She worked in most media and was always trying new things,” said Everett.

After attending classes at the Penland School of Crafts in Bakersville, N.C., and the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tenn., in the late 1980s, Webster became one of the first artists in the area to experiment with creating handmade paper. Her efforts earned her numerous awards and attracted the attention of the White House, which placed one of her handmade paper angels on the White House Christmas tree.

Webster also enjoyed working with pen and ink, watercolor and exploring the art of printmaking. She was a member of both the Florida Printmakers Association and the Florida Craftsmen as well as a longtime member of the Brandon League of Fine Arts.

But Everett said the feather in Webster’s cap was her initiation into the National League of American Pen Women.

“You don’t just join the Pen Women,” said Everett of the national organization of women writers and artists this month. “You have to be invited. You have to have credentials.”

Everett said her love of creating and exploring art was only overshadowed by her love of teaching art.

In addition to teaching art classes at Center Place, Webster taught adults and children at Brandon area and South Shore libraries and local YMCA branches.

Webster’s also earned accolades for founding and running the state’s first arts program at a state prison.

She taught art for nine years at the Hillsborough Correctional Institute in Riverview before it closed.

Webster received the first Brush Strokes Artist With a Heart award in 2006 for her work at the prison.

“She was so inspirational to the women inmates and was devastated when the prison closed,” said Cheryl Kuck, Plant City artist and founder of the Brush Strokes awards. “She was such a giving and caring person.”

Center Place marketing coordinator Lisa Rodriguez said she will always cherish the calligraphy poem on handmade paper Webster created for her many years ago when she took one of Webster’s calligraphy classes.

“She was ahead of her time as far her artwork goes,” said Rodriguez who also met Webster in 1976 during the formation of Center Place. “But teaching was her legacy. She had so much patience and dedication to her students and she opened up the world of art to kids who might never have gotten the experience. I think that’s how she’d want to be remembered.”

Following her diagnosis with Myasthenia Gravis, Webster hosted her final art show at Center Place, “Revisiting a 50-Year Journey in Art,” in 2011. She said it was fun reviewing her works while selecting pieces for the show.

“I really enjoyed doing it. It was a trip down memory lane for me,” said Webster in a 2011 interview. “It’s interesting to see how my technique has evolved over the years.”

But she said she felt her best works art were those created by her students, especially the incarcerated women at the Riverview prison.

“It’s amazing what those women can do and to see the changes in them as they explore their artistic talents,” said Webster. “It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Southern Funeral Care, 10210 Riverview Drive, was in charge of funeral arrangements.

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