Inspiration is easy to find here
By Susan B. Barnes
My intention was crystal clear during a recent foray into downtown St. Pete’s art scene: to find a piece of art, whether painting, photograph, sculpture, or something I had yet to discover, that would complement our home’s decor and celebrate our wedding anniversary. I started my day early, eagerly anticipating diving into the city’s energetic and flourishing art scene—I had a feeling I’d find the perfect piece.This wasn’t the first time St. Pete’s creativity called to me. On a previous visit, after reading that ArtPlace America named the city one of America’s top arts places, my husband and I came to explore The Dalí Museum, Chihuly Collection and the Museum of Fine Arts. The Dalí Museum houses the world’s largest collection of Salvador Dalí artwork outside of Spain, and I discovered that I’m drawn to his earlier works, which are softer and more fluid than his surrealism. The glass works at the Chihuly Collection struck me—transparent, colored glass morphed through heat into fluid-like pieces. The Museum of Fine Arts houses thousands of artworks spanning 4,500 years, from antiquity to the present. I wish we could have seen each item.
I looked over my list for the day: galleries I’d popped into previously, others friends recommended and a few blank spots to fill in along the way. I’d be guided by a complimentary copy of the St. Pete’s Discover Downtown map. The map beautifully outlays St. Pete’s five art districts, and notates the museums and galleries that can be found within each; I easily spotted those on my list and filled in the blank spots on my itinerary with a few more.
Exploring the Central Arts District
I started in the Central Arts District, and didn’t get far before popping into Michele Tuegel Contemporary, a curated collection of various medias displayed on the walls, bookcases, tables and cabinets throughout the gallery, mostly from local artists. As I admired the different pieces, looking for the one for my home, Michele, the gallery owner, and I started chatting about art. People’s definitions differ, and not one of them is wrong.
“I tell people that their art collecting can begin with the handmade mug they enjoy touching and drinking out of each morning. It brings a certain kind of joy,” Michele said.
I loved that idea, and instantly thought of the beautiful set of hand-thrown pottery dishes my father-in-law gave us for an engagement gift; they are indeed a work of art. And so was that piece of pottery by a local artist sitting on display that would go perfectly in my kitchen. Not the piece I was looking for, per se, but then, you never know what will catch your eye.
The city certainly embraces its artistic side, and that’s evident in these vibrant murals painted by local and national artists.
Leaving Michele, I walked a block west to Florida CraftArt, a bright and airy gallery space that showcases artworks by 300 Florida-based artists. Liz, the gallery manager, noted that all artists who show in the gallery must live in Florida at least six months out of the year, and that the staff rotates exhibits constantly, so there’s seemingly something new each time you walk through the door. I like the idea of supporting local artists, and what I really liked about Florida CraftArt is that there’s something for everyone’s taste and budget, and I mean everyone—from trinkets to hand-blown glass and exquisite brushed paintings, priced to fit budgets from $1 to $40,000. On exhibit in the gallery space, a rocket ship sculpture that closely resembled the image that my husband and I used on our save the date cards for our wedding really caught my eye. In the end, I realized the piece was bigger than what would fit in the space I had in mind, and so I continued my search.
Continuing down Central Avenue, I accidentally came upon a gallery of a different sort. Colorful paintings on the sides of buildings; I had stumbled upon murals that bring even more life to downtown St. Pete. The city certainly embraces its artistic side, and that’s evident in these vibrant murals painted by local and national artists. Driving into the city, I passed by an “Alice in Wonderland” tea party-themed mural cheekily painted on the side of a china shop; I think that one was my favorite.
Finding it in the EDGE District
I followed the murals up Central Avenue and crossed into the EDGE District where I popped into The Leslie Curran Gallery @ ARTicles. Though she was busy preparing for a show opening the next night in her new exhibit space two doors down, gallery owner Leslie graciously walked me through the curated exhibit displayed on the walls, floor, windows and tables. One painting really grabbed my attention – the colors would blend nicely with our home’s décor; this one made the short list.
During our friendly chat, Leslie mentioned the St. Petersburg Second Saturday ArtWalk that was happening that weekend. During the Saturday evening walks (5-9 p.m.), art enthusiasts, or those new to the world of the arts, can walk or hop a trolley to explore 40 or so galleries and studios in five different arts districts in one night. Perhaps the perfect anniversary celebration.
After so many galleries and fun conversations about St. Pete and its lively art scene, I looked at my watch and saw my day was running short; I wouldn’t have time to visit some of the other galleries and studios on my list, including the Duncan McClellan Gallery, Charlie Parker Pottery, Zen Glass Studio & Gallery in the Warehouse Arts District. There’s also the Morean Arts Center, with its Morean Galleries and Glass Studio & Hotshop, as well as Gallery909 (African and Caribbean art), Carter G. Woodson Museum (impressive exhibits about local African American heritage) and Uniquely Arts Studio in the Deuces Live district. And then there are the places dotted throughout St. Pete that I’d never thought of buying art: The Blue Goose Bar, The Amsterdam, Black Amethyst Tattoo Gallery, The Queens Head and The Bends. But that was all the more reason to come back, and I wasn’t quite done yet.
One for the road
On my way out of downtown St. Pete, I stopped quickly into Bloom Art Center, as friends insisted I check it out. The mural-covered warehouse space houses 10 working artists’ studios, as well as a performance space and gallery. Inside, artist and Bloom co-owner James Oleson was putting the finishing touches on a handful of metal sculptures that were a part of his show opening the next day, coincidentally, at Leslie Curran’s (ARTicles) new exhibit space.
“Art is accepted here,” James said. “You can just jump in, start participating and help make the scene what you want it to be. A lot of these people [artists] are really doing stuff, and it’s exciting.”
The St. Pete arts scene is indeed exciting, and inspiring. During my day exploring the city’s galleries in search of that one perfect piece, I discovered more than a handful from which to choose; now, to make a decision. Soon, I will return to purchase just the right piece for our home… unless something else catches my eye during my next visit to St. Pete’s eclectic arts scene. That’s the beauty of it; it’s ever growing and evolving, embracing the creativity of anyone who is willing to imagine past the edges of a canvas.