The winner of this year’s Mayfaire-by-the-Lake’s Best of Show is a familiar figure at the fine-arts festival. Ummarid Eitharong has been showing up every year since 1986, and he's a multiple winner of the top prize.

The juried art festival, hosted by the Polk Museum of Art, was held over Mothers' Day weekend at Lake Morton, with more than 140 artists participating.

Eitharong, a resident of Deland, and more commonly known as Tony, has won Mayfaire’s Best of Show several times. But this year marks two consecutive years in a row earning the distinction.

“Apart from simply being beautiful, Tony's art speaks to the level of talent and creativity in the Central Florida community and beyond, which is in itself the essence of Mayfaire by-the-Lake,” said Alex Rich, executive director and chief curator of the museum.

Eitharong got his start in the 1970s drawing realistic pieces. More recently, he's drawn to the expanse of imaginativeness and opulence of colors afforded by abstract art.

He pushes back on the idea that he’s a particular type of artist, though, resisting the labeling of a specific genre.

Besides, realism and abstract art aren’t mutually exclusive, he said. One medium doesn’t discount incorporating the sentiment of the other, for example.

Ummarid “Tony” Eitharong at Mayfaire 2021. He's standing between “Man in the Mirror, Self Portrait 20/20” — his only realistic work in the show — and one of his abstract works.

When he draws, the outcome is realistic, “but the meaning is abstract.” When he paints an abstract piece, it might seem impersonal, but the meaning, especially as conveyed through color, is realistic.

Which is, perhaps, his greatest muse these days: the intersection between the real and the abstract. He enjoys identifying the differences and intentionally mingling them. He compares the merge to human relationships, in how we traverse varying and colorful personalities to form bonds.

“Humans have all different colors, and we all have to get along,” he said. “You start to realize it’s a lot more than colors. It’s a relationship.”

Eitharong is a fan of surrealist James Rosenquist and likes masters of the 1950s-70s such as Anselm Kiefer

His favorite abstract artist is a tough call, but he thinks of Gerhard Richter. And he finds himself mirroring a trajectory like Jackson Pollock, who started out as a realist and evolved to abstract painting.

Eitharong was visited at Mayfaire this year by Ken Rollins, who was executive director of the Polk Museum of Art from 1981 to 1994. When Rollins first started at the museum, Mayfaire was a local crafts-only show held on the lawn of the Lakeland Public Library. During his tenure, the show became a nationally recognized fine-arts festival with a corporate sponsor and was moved to the banks of Lake Morton.

Rollins, who now lives in St. Petersburg, said that when he first witnessed Eitharong’s work, it was mostly of large-scale drawings, reminiscent of Eitharong's self-portrait at this year’s Mayfaire. Rollins can't help but notice that, by now, Eitharong has mastered abstract expression.

“Most artists go through an evolution with their work,” Rollins said. “When Tony began making the abstract work several years ago, some people were surprised, but the public was and is very responsive.”

Of winning Best of Show again this year, Eitharong said, “Of course you feel good.” He appreciates that Lakeland prizes art, and he likes the hometown feel of the community.

“It’s like a family feeling over there,” he said. “I know a lot of good people there who are familiar with good artwork and there’s a good support system there, which I think is wonderful.”

This year's Mayfaire judge was Graham C. Boettcher, director of the Birmingham Museum of Art. 

The Polk Museum of Art’s Mayfaire-by-the-Lake 2021 winners:

Best of Show ($5,000)

  • Ummarid Eitharong, Deland, Oil and Acrylics

Awards of Excellence ($2,000 each)

  • Alex Lanier, Miramar, digital art
  • William Kidd, Dexter, clay

Awards of Distinction ($1,000 each)

  • Larry Maynard, Redington Shore, wood
  • Janet Herman, Polk Cit, mixed media
  • Helen Gotlib, mixed media & drawing and graphics
  • R.L. Alexander, Celebration, painting-oil and acrylics

Merit Awards ($500 each)

  • Susanna Spann, Cortez, painting-watercolor
  • Jennifer Peck, Sarasota, mixed media
  • John Mascoll, Safety Harbor, wood
  • Jessie Reyes, Gainesville, painting-oil and acrylic
  • Stacy Tabb, Lakeland, drawing and graphics
  • John Canterbury, photography

Honorable Mention Awards ($200 each)

  • Robert Stein, Melborne, mixed media
  • Diane Perry, The Villages, fiber
  • Cheri Kudja, Lakeland, sculpture
  • Nicola Barsaleau, LaCrosse, drawing and graphics
  • Claudia Melchiorre, Cape Canaveral, jewelry

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