St. Petersburg, Florida: Anatomy of an Art Town

(September 2010) Why, you might ask, was St. Petersburg named a top Art Destination by AmericanStyle Magazine? Number One, in fact, for a mid-sized city. What does it take to make an Art Town? You will soon see that St. Petersburg has the Art and everything else to attract and delight Art Tourists from around the world.

St. Petersburg has long been a very stylish city, which continues to be evoked from the downtown waterfront Vinoy Resort and Golf Club (1925) to the luxurious beachfront Don CeSar (1928). And with that high style comes lots of Art.

Museums are a good place to start when looking at an Art Town. And while the superb Museum of Fine Arts opened on Beach Drive in 1965, and the Salvador Dali Museum did so over on Third Street in 1982, the big news is that the Chihuly Collection opened this past July just up the street from the MFA. And even more news, is that the Dali Museum is moving into a new home in January 2011 at a waterfront site next to the Mahaffey Theater.

The Chihuly Collection is the first facility specifically designed to display the Art of Dale Chihuly, flamboyant glass artist extraordinaire. Included are spectacular large-scale installations such as Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier created specifically for the Collection along with several popular series works including Macchia, Ikebana, Niijima Floats, Persians and Tumbleweeds. There is, of course, a gift shop.

Float Boat

The Dali Museum has the largest collection of artwork by this iconic surrealist outside of Europe, and was assembled by A. Reynolds and Eleanor R. Morse. The museum's collection includes 96 oil paintings, over 100 watercolors and drawings, plus 1,300 graphics, photographs, sculptures and other pieces. Included are seven of Dali’s eighteen masterworks. The Hallucinogenic Toreador and The Discover of America by Christopher Columbus are but two.

The Hallucinogenic Toreador

Architect Yann Weymouth, who worked with I.M. Pei on the renovation of the Louvre, is designing the new facility. He also designed the new wing of the Museum of Fine Arts.

Still housed in the original building, the MFA’s permanent collections include European Art from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, such as Claude Monet's Le Parlement, Effet de Brouillard. There is American Art, 18th and 19th centuries, as well as Greek, Roman, Asian, and Pre-Columbian Art.

Le Parlement, Effet de Brouillard by Claude Monet

The new wing provides ample space for special exhibitions such as the current show, Transcending Vision (through January 9, 2011) which contains works by more than seventy artists, including such major figures as Thomas Moran, George Inness, Childe Hassam, Daniel Garber, John Sloan, Ernest Lawson, George Bellows, and Guy Wiggins.

Childe Hassam, Old House, East Hampton, 1917
Also downtown, Florida International Museum presented many mega-scale exhibitions when they opened in 1995 with the Treasures of the Czars. Most recently they brought the Vatican Splendors, before moving to a smaller space in St. Petersburg College.

Not surprisingly, there is a plethora of Art galleries throughout the city. From around the waterfront and the strong cluster surrounding the museums there, to the length of Central Avenue, St. Petersburg boasts a great many interesting and innovative galleries.

One way to see what the city has to offer is at the Second Saturday Gallery Walk. This is presented by the St. Petersburg Downtown Arts Association (

And while I cannot possibly list or describe all of St. Petersburg’s Art galleries, a few stops on Central Avenue deserve a closer look at the Art and Architecture.

Beginning at 4th Street, I like to visit the Open Air Post Office, a mix of Classical Revival and Spanish Colonial. Or is it Mediterranean Revival? It was dedicated in 1916 and has served as a post office since.

Originally open on all sides allowing patrons to access their boxes at any hour, part was enclosed in 1969 for indoor, air-conditioned service. Next door is the coquina-clad Snell Arcade, also in the National Register of Historic Places. I found this very nice mosaic inside:

Just one block up is the Florida Craftsmen Gallery, home of the statewide association for fine craft art. The association is over 58 years old, while the gallery has been anchoring the Central Avenue Art revival since 1998.  In addition to rooms of fine crafts for sale, there is a large display space for exhibitions such as the group show Fabricated, which included several wonderful pieces that used items such as divorce law briefs for The Beginning of the End by Denise Moody-Tackley. Or a dress made from sugar by Gianna Coppiano Dwin.

Last April, the former 1920’s Crislip Arcade, 645 Central Ave., was converted for use as studio and gallery space for eleven emerging artists. Another investment in the Art scene.

Morean Arts Center, 719 Central Ave., is a spectacular exhibition space, with regularly changing shows of contemporary Art. We got there while the next show was mostly in crates.

Out back is the Glass Studio & Hot Shop where viewers get an opportunity to see how glass is worked and a chance to learn how to blow glass. A combo ticket is available with admission to the Chihuly Collection.

Morean’s roots go to 1917 as the Art Club of St. Petersburg, and morphed into the 35,000 square foot facility it is today. Besides showing work by internationally renowned artists, the Morean (named for its benefactor Beth Ann Morean) offers a full range of classes and activities.

Further up Central is Creative Clay. So much more than its name implies, this is a cultural arts center as well as a social service agency. Since 1995, Creative Clay has been “providing local artists with developmental, physical and/or emotional disabilities an opportunity to pursue their passion for art making.”

Ambitious goals, well-met, if the smiling faces we saw at their Folkfest last weekend was any indication. Central Ave was filled with booths for Art and fun and learning and eating and music.

There is at least one location a bit off the beaten track that should be mentioned. Salt Creek Artworks (1600 4th St. South) is an important part of the city's growing reputation as an art destination. For over a decade there has been space for more than forty artist studios in an industrial atmosphere where a wide variety of Art has been produced. The Galleries at Salt Creek is one of the largest spaces in the area, and has presented a diversity of quality shows by artists from across the nation.

Good Public Art is something that certainly makes an Art Town. And St. Petersburg has more than its share. Some corporate citizens, such as Ovation condominiums, have commissioned special artworks for their properties.

O Wave by Gordon Huether, 2009

The Art in Public Places program has installed over eighty pieces of Art since 1990, through a “Percent for Art” program. (Click here for more information.)

Millenium Gateway by Alex Klahm 2001

In addition, the Pinellas County Public Art Collection and Design program has completed major commissions, launched a successful residency program for artists in parks, and stimulated interest in public art throughout the county.

Face the Jury by Douglas Kornfield, 2006 Pinellas County Judicial building

A major Art festival is a key ingredient of an Art Town. Going into its 36th year, the Mainsail Arts Festival (April 16 & 17, 2011) is one of the premier Art events in the nation (Sunshine Artist’s “100 Best”). More than 250 artists from around the nation fill St. Petersburg’s waterfront, to compete for $50,000 in prize money.

I like to highlight architecture when I visit an Art Town. In St. Petersburg, I discovered the Historic Kenwood Neighborhood - 170 bungalows erected in the 1930’s, many in the Craftsman style. Among the many activities is the Bungalow Fest on the first weekend in November. What is particularly interesting about this neighborhood is their attempt to attain Artist Enclave Status.  (

No city is an island, and there are several notable Art attractions beyond downtown St. Petersburg, but still in Pinellas County, that contribute to the Art Destination status.

Just ten minutes away is the charming town of GULFPORT, home of the Gulfport Art Walks which take place on the 1st Friday and 3rd Saturday of each month. These events are more like mini-Art Festivals with tents on the sidewalks and performances in the streets.  (Click here for more information).

There is also Springfest at the end of March and Geckofest on Labor Day weekend. The beach and the casino on Boca Ciega Bay are added bonuses!

Out on ST. PETE BEACH you find the appropriately named Suntan Art Center and Gallery, standing next to the legendary Don CeSar Hotel. No better place to get out of the sun and see some Art. Now over 40 years old, the non-profit, membership-driven Suntan Art also hosts the Pass-A-Grille Art Mart every Saturday. A laid-back gallery al fresco on one of the best beaches anywhere.

The Tom and Mary James/Raymond James Financial Art Collection can be found at the Raymond James International headquarters (880 Carillon Parkway, off Olmerton). This is one of Florida’s largest private art collections, and consists of over 1,800 paintings, sculptures, and graphics. Although the Jameses began accumulating predominantly American artists, in the late 1950s, the collection has grown to include works by such artists as Alexander Calder, Salvador Dali, Jacob Lawrence, Roy Lichtenstein, Leroy Neiman, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol, and Jamie Wyeth, among others. In the mid 1980s, while on trips to Colorado and New Mexico, Mr. James began to collect Western and Southwestern art. At the present time, more than half of the collection consists of Western/Southwestern styles of art, including works by Roy Andersen, Earl Biss, Glenna Goodacre, Allen Houser, Frank McCarthy, Dave McGary, Dan Namingha and Ray Swanson. Wildlife art makes up about a quarter of the collection, including works from Matthew Hillier, John Seerey-Lester, Al Agnew, and Trevor Swanson.

The collection is not open to the public; however, those wishing to visit may request a tour by calling 727/567-1363.

The real Art Tourists continue north along the Gulf of Mexico, to the end of Pinellas County and the city of TARPON SPRINGS. Often described as the most European-feeling place in Florida because of its Greek population and sponge diving ambiance, it is also home of Tarpon Springs Unitarian Universalist Church. Here, at the corner of Grand Boulevard and Read Road, we find the largest collection of paintings by George Inness, Jr. Open to the public every afternoon from 1-4pm Dec 1-April 30, except Sun, Mon and holidays. To view the paintings prior to December 1, call the church at 727-937-4682 to make an appointment.

Fishing Near Tarpon Springs by George Inness, Jr., 1917

Son of the famous George Inness, master landscaper painter, Junior trained under his father (and others). And while best known as a portraitist, his landscapes bear the father’s influence. Inness Jr. spent his winters in Tarpon Springs beginning in 1900 until he died in 1926.

While in Tarpon Springs, visit the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art on the St. Petersburg College campus. It only opened in 2002, but began with the 20th century collection of Abraham Rattner, which includes work by his contemporaries: Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, and Max Ernst. The 6,000-piece collection includes work by Rattner’s second wife and son-in-law.

Abraham Rattner's The Flying Trapeze, 1935

That should be enough to satisfy any Art appetite, but wait. There’s more. CLEARWATER/DUNEDIN plays host to even more Art activities.  Every 4th Friday Clearwater's Cleveland Street District (400-600) lights up with Art ( And now almost 50 year old, the Art Harvest is held the first weekend in November at Highlander Park in Dunedin. Over 200 artists participate in this well-respected juried show.  Also, the Dunedin Fine Art Center (1143 Michigan Blvd.) offers changing exhibitions, classes and activities.

And finally, here’s the Pinellas County cultural

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