Monday, May 21, 2018
Arts

Look inside the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, opening Saturday

ST. PETERSBURG

As in the landscape of the American Southwest, the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art in downtown St. Petersburg has a particular grandeur.

This dream of philanthropists and collectors Tom and Mary James has a "soft" public opening Saturday and a grand opening on April 28. The Tampa Bay Times was granted a private preview, with only minor tweaks left for the multimillion-dollar building.

"I wanted to have a museum that tells the story of the West," said James, 75, chairman emeritus of financial giant Raymond James. "To go back and get into all the factors, including how the government reneged on promises to the Indians."

The 400 works on view have been culled from the couple’s collection of about 3,000, chosen to highlight the collection’s breadth. Architect Yann Weymouth, in collaboration with architectural firms Harvard Jolly and Wannemacher Jensen, has created a conceptual homage, repurposing the museum’s 80,000 square feet in what had been a business headquarters, using materials and colors evocative of the natural elements represented in many of the paintings and sculptures.

James purchased the building at 150 Central Ave., about 134,000 square feet and covering a city block, in 2015. The extra space will house businesses including Datz restaurant, Woodhouse Day Spa and Club Pilates. Atop the first two floors is a city-owned parking garage with five decks. Floors three and four will be dedicated to museum parking.

Architectural metaphors are present in almost every detail of both the exterior and interior. Entry to the James Museum is through a massive sculptural element wrought from sandstone suggesting a vertical version of mesas, the elevated formations, usually cliffs, found in the West. Walking through it also suggests ancient cave dwellings. The rest of the perimeter is swathed in patinated copper "which will vary and weather with time," Weymouth said.

Inside the two-story lobby, walls are lined with more sandstone, imported from India and "cut and installed in such a way as to suggest layers and striations" of arroyos, dry creek beds that sometimes flood. That rush of water is represented by a black granite waterfall, which functions as a sculpture court for James’ massive bronze sculptures. It’s flanked by an event space, museum shop and a cafe that will be run by Datz. Diners will be lured into the cafe by a massive early 19th century bar on the back wall, once located in a historic San Francisco hotel. A 129-seat auditorium will offer films, talks and entertainment.

Stairs leading to seven second-floor permanent collection galleries are angled like switchback roads. The galleries are painted in the shifting, earthy colors of the landscape and each color marks a gallery theme: early West, native life, native artists, frontier and new West. The wildlife galleries are not exclusively western.

"We love animals," James said. "So we have a collection of animal art, too."

The Jewel Box gallery is seductive and charming. Fashioned as the crystal-lined interior of a geode, it houses Mary James’ collection of jewelry and accessories by Southwestern artists. Most pieces are wrought in silver and embedded with precious stones. Convincing her to transfer them from home to the museum wasn’t easy, James said, but it helped that she can take any item out at any time.

"I told her she didn’t have to put it all in the museum, that I would buy her more," he said.

The couple also has an extensive group of art by Florida artists that will not be part of the permanent collection. Instead, it will be rotated in a 4,000-square-foot special exhibitions gallery along with works by young contemporary artists.

The parking space seemed at first aesthetically problematic because of its faux Mediterranean appearance.

"It reminded me of mission church bell towers," James said, "but Yann hated them."

"I have come to like them," Weymouth said, after making a few modifications on them. "They are sort of a Spanish style."

Museum director Bernice Chu, hired in August, acknowledged the perception of the Western narrative has evolved over time into a more complex, nuanced story. And there are sensitive issues.

"We have Native American advisers we reach out to," she said, noting that different tribes can have different beliefs and protocols.

When the project was first announced, James committed $75 million, figuring about $40 million would build the facility and the remainder would be used for an endowment. He based the figure on what it took to build the Salvador Dali Museum, where he served as board chairman.

"When I first started thinking about doing this," he said, "reveling in the Dali doing so well, I said, that’s good tailwind for this museum."

He sees the James Museum as part of a constellation of arts destinations in the downtown — the Dali, the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, the Chihuly Collection and the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, now under construction.

Costs have exceeded his estimate. Of the $75 million, he said, "I’ve probably spent that." He and Mary James have pretty much forged the project on their own. Now he says he’s ready to form a board of trustees and introduce naming opportunities and other fundraising programs.

"I want them to be for the endowment, not the building," he said.

     
                   
Comments
St. Pete artist holding funeral for 600 block’s vanished art galleries on Sunday

St. Pete artist holding funeral for 600 block’s vanished art galleries on Sunday

Local artist Boo Ehrsam remembers seeing the photo in the news years ago. "It was this dark, empty street, and an egret flying away," she said. "The caption read, ‘Will the last one to leave St. Pete please turn out the lights.’ " That ...
Published: 05/18/18
The Dia de Los Muertos exhibition at Florida CraftArt is full of life and color. As it should be.

The Dia de Los Muertos exhibition at Florida CraftArt is full of life and color. As it should be.

As soon as you pass through the paper flower archway to enter the bright pink gallery, it becomes clear that the "Dia de Los Muertos" exhibition at Florida CraftArt is full of life and color. As it should be: The Mexican holiday that honors loved one...
Published: 05/18/18
Deal alert: The Dali Museum offers $10 admission on Friday

Deal alert: The Dali Museum offers $10 admission on Friday

DALÍ DEAL ALERT: NATIONAL MUSEUM DAYFriday is National Museum Day, not to be confused with Free Museum Day, which happens in September. Not as many local institutions participate in this day, except for the Dalí Museum, which will offer $10 admission...
Published: 05/16/18
Groundbreaking artists Larry Bell and Jesus Rafael Soto’s work on display at the Tampa Museum of Art

Groundbreaking artists Larry Bell and Jesus Rafael Soto’s work on display at the Tampa Museum of Art

A new exhibition that opened at the Tampa Museum of Art this week features two of the 20th century’s most innovative artists, Larry Bell and Jesús Rafael Soto."Vapor and Vibration: The Art of Larry Bell and Jesús Rafael Soto" will be the first time ...
Updated one month ago
A Tampa artist made portraits of all 17 Parkland shooting victims

A Tampa artist made portraits of all 17 Parkland shooting victims

TAMPA As the semester comes to a close, University of Tampa art and design students have presented their senior projects. Symone Hall, 21, had another group of students on her mind: the victims of the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Doug...
Updated one month ago