Ona Barn, Ona, Florida

As an artist, Virginia Hoffman has mostly been known for her sculpture, with many of her pieces adorning the highest of the high-end homes around town. But there’s a whole other side to the longtime Sarasota resident—Urban Exploring.

Virginia, along with a little cadre of like-minded enthusiasts (I’ve accompanied them on several occasions), set out searching for ruined buildings throughout the state. They can be anything from old mansions and Cracker houses to abandoned factories—sometimes even whole towns left to slowly decay in the hot Florida sun. It can be exciting and even a little dangerous. You never know how sturdy the floor is or if you’re trespassing and the police might show up. It’s all part of the thrill of the hunt.

Center Hill Main Street, Center Hill, Florida (demolished)

The most fertile area for Urban Exploring is the little-known Bone Valley, barely an hour away in Polk County. This was phosphate mining territory—in fact, it still is—and as the technology changed, so did the buildings. The obsolete ones can still be found, slowly crumbling away, along with many old farmhouses. Virginia is particularly drawn to these, since she grew up on a farm back in New Jersey.

Grain Depot, Brooksville, Florida

Virginia’s photographs of her finds will be on exhibit at her alma mater, Ringling College, starting Oct. 18. The pictures are moody and dreamlike and a little mysterious. She uses various techniques, some the latest digital software effects, others that date back to the very beginning of photography as an art form. It’s entitled Vanishing Old Florida, and it will take place in the Patricia Thompson Gallery in the Keating Center at Ringling College of Art and Design through Dec. 20. And from Jan. 7 through Jan. 30 you can catch it at the Englewood Art Center.

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