A ‘brave warrior cat’ will grace the poster of this year’s Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest.
While the poster has been known to feature flowers, football players, teddy bears and race cars in the past, this year the SWFL Children’s Charities Inc. fundraiser wanted to feature the work of a special local artist.
Sophia Black, all of ten years old, is the featured artist for the 2015 SWFL Wine & Food Fest on Feb. 27 and 28, 2015. Black’s artwork was inspired by the tutelage of well-known local artist Ellen Sheppard, who invited Sophia to her garage studio for inspiration.
“I’ve always liked working with children of all ages,” Sheppard said. “The money it has raised is tremendous, but it’s also about them. It’s their day.”
Sophia’s vision was vivd from the start. She arrived at Sheppard’s studio with a notebook full of sketches. There was her version of the solar system, containing planets primarily populated with cats that stand upright. Sheppard was impressed with Sophia’s passion and her already extensive portfolio. Sheppard volunteers at the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, helping youngsters express themselves artistically while they are treated for their illnesses.
Sophia, the daughter of A.J. and Jolie Black, has been undergoing treatment at Golisano for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a blood cancer. Her artwork, done in colored pencils, features a female warrior cat with blue-shadowed eyes, pink ears and long brown hair, just like Sophia used to have. She’s standing serenely in a lush green lawn surrounded by flowers, a blue sky and butterflies.
“I like to draw because I can really express my imagination,” Sophia said. “The cat in my drawings represents calm freedom.”
“It’s really cool,” said Sophia of her selection for the wine fest featured artist. “I’ve never had an honor like this before.”
Her drawing will be put up for bid during the live auction on Saturday, Feb. 28. The 2014 artwork, a drawing of a race car by 9-year-old Jay Aponte, generated $180,000 in bids of $5,000 or more from individuals at the event.
Each of the original works by the young artists have been donated to the hospital and is displayed on a wall named in memory of Jerry Schmoyer, a longtime Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest supporter, who lost his battle with cancer three years ago.
All of the winning bidders’ names are listed next to the artwork. In the past three years, the children’s art has raised more than $455,000.
“Having one of the children we are working so hard to help participate in the event is so meaningful,” said Elaine Hawkins, who will co-chair the event for the second time along with Dorothy Fitzgerald. “It has a powerful impact on donors, who respond with an abundance of generosity.”
Sophia said of Goliano, “Everyone is always so nice there. They always try to do the best for you. I want to say thank you for everything. And to other kids going there, I would tell them ‘everything is going to be OK.’”
Her mother, Jolie Black, says the hospital has been a godsend for the whole family.
“As a parent, it’s been so comforting to have a team of pediatric experts like those at Golisano caring for Sophia,” she said. “[It’s amazing that] we don’t have to travel away from home to receive this kind of high-quality care.”
The SWFL Wine & Food Fest is a two-day signature event of SWFL Children’s Charities Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides funding to local charities serving local children. Exceptional Chef Vintner Dinners held in host homes from Naples to Captiva are followed by a Grand Tasting and Auction the next afternoon at Miromar Lakes Beach Clubhouse. Funds raised during the auction directly benefit the charities; more than $11.6 million has been raised during the past six years. The primary charity is the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.
Also benefiting are Florida SouthWestern State College’s pediatric nursing program and Florida Gulf Coast University’s music therapy program.
This year’s event will feature chef vintner dinners Friday, Feb. 27, and the Grand Tasting and Auction Saturday, Feb. 28. For details, contact SWFL Children’s Charities Inc.