A Western art museum in downtown St. Pete?
Artist, writer and CP Contributor Eva Avenue moseyed to The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art before its grand opening this weekend.
BY EVA AVENUE, APRIL 27, 2018
Reckoned I’d saddle up for the big press conference in my bolo tie — the official tie of Arizona — and my $200 red-brown leather cowgirl boots from a boot outlet in Texas. Looked around for a holster or some straw to hang out my mouth but Florida grasses are juicy green this time o’ year.
The tenderfoot James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art located on yonder 150 Central Ave. launched a soft opening earlier this month, and is readying for the grand opening Saturday, April 28 and Sunday, April 29. Y’all city slickers better git — they even built an extensive parking garage to park your rig!
And gosh darn it if the museum isn’t as big as the Grand Canyon itself, with tons of room to get satisfyingly lost within the art collection and wander around till the cows come home. When you first mosey in like a sheriff at high noon, squint yonder to your left and there shines a mighty fine saloon with an original heavy-wood bar that Tom had shipped from San Francisco. It’s like something out of a Vanity Fair photo shoot. It’s also the gift shop.
Once inside, you’ll find the museum weaves through six sections: Early West (1890s-1940s including work from the Taos Society of Artists), Native Life (as depicted from the 1800s), Native Artists, Frontier, Wildlife, and New West. They’ll have regularly scheduled events, classes and music performances.
Tom and Mary James, of Raymond James Financial, have lassoed their personal collection of Western Art into a museum. Tom, who seemed pretty jazzed to be wearing one of his many bolo ties that night, relayed a story about going out for a stroll somewhere out West with a self-allotted $15,000 budget for art acquisitions and ended up spending $30,000. Whoops! I took a shining to how casually he describes his art collecting, like he’s going out to wrangle a few things from the grocery and will be right back.
Mary, an avid jewelry collector, helped inspire Tom’s own appreciation for handmade Southwest jewelry, which you can see in the room called the Jewel Box, with that same stunning fiber optics lighting the Museum of Fine Arts uses in their glass-art room.
Most of the work is realistic sculpture and realistic nature paintings, all gorgeously rendered high-quality scenery with a complementing contemporary pop-art section upstairs featuring work by Andy Warhol and prominent Native American artists as well as American-born artists.
Many of these artists are still alive today, and some are not, such as Navajo-born R.C. Gorman (1931-2005), who was one of the most successful Native American artists – the New York Times in 1979 called him “the Picasso of American Indian artists.” His oil pastel piece Lazy Girl hangs in the New West section, along with a piece by an artist who had worked in Andy Warhol’s factory. And surprisingly, you’ll learn the Chinese played an important role in settling the West when you come upon several paintings by current Chinese American artists rendering the experiences of 19th-century Chinese immigrants in California.
I was having so much fun with the varmints that I forgot the writing assignment I was supposed to finish that evening after the conference, forgot the $86 I was supposed to pick up from a bar-owner he had waiting to pay for an ad in S.P.A.M. and I spent the rest of the night wetting my whistle at the James because so many friends happen to work there now and they were having a second non-press hoedown for staff! I barely remember getting home and don’t remember going to sleep, but I woke up on my couch in my underwear and the bolo tie — pretty sure Frances Recheungel skedaddled me home in her tractor. Look for her smiling face at the James next time you go, maybe she’ll show you the ropes.
Editor’s note: The museum also has a theater, shop, cafe catered by Datz, special events space for up to 750 people and events and educational programming for all ages. The museum can be found at 150 Central Ave. and will be open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily and Tuesdays from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.