Florida CraftArt Permanent Collection
of Fine Craft
Through August 27
Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art
If Tarpon Springs brings to mind only sponges and baklava, you need to take a trip up the road a ways to visit the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art. It is “a modern and contemporary art museum featuring works from 20th and 21st century masters as well as contemporary artists working in Florida and the Gulf Coast regions.”
What’s on exhibit now is an unusual sharing of work that showcases the traveling Permanent Collection of Florida CraftArt (formerly known as Florida Craftsmen) alongside the museum’s permanent collection. Much of this collection contains the work of the museum’s namesakes, Allen Leepa and Abraham Rattner, as well as works of other celebrated Florida artists.
Florida CraftArt (FCA) is the only statewide nonprofit that represents Florida’s fine craft artists. Headquartered in St. Petersburg, it is a member-supported organization that helps mentor and advance artists whose practice is in ceramics, fiber, glass, jewelry, sculpture or wood. It has operated the Gallery at 500 Central Ave. for 1995 years. [Disclaimer – I am a longtime member, volunteer and former board member of this organization and was a 2017 Emerging Artist. My work is in this exhibit.]
What’s very interesting is that many artists in Florida CraftArt’s permanent collection are also in LRMA’s collection. You are seeing double – works from the Gulf Coast Museum of Art (housed in Largo until 2009 when it closed at what is now the home of Creative Pinellas) are part of the collection. So when perusing the galleries, you’ll see objects by artists featured in both collections.
What’s even more interesting is the seamless merging of the two collections accomplished by Curator Sara Felice who recently relocated to Pinellas County from Syracuse NY. In fact, I discovered later that many items that I presumed were in Material Mastery were not!
These pieces were in LRMA’s Florida Collection – their “look and feel” (and their well-known Florida makers) connected as “fine craft” to me. Call it serendipity. The work enhanced my viewing experience.
Felice, an adjunct professor of museum studies and design at Syracuse University, also served as director of a small art gallery there. This is her first curated show in Florida.
LRMA’s 3,300 square feet is laid out in 10 galleries. The two spacious front galleries feature the bulk of the Material Mystery exhibit. There is plenty of breathing room around each FCA artist’s work.
Felice was impressed by FCA’s collection (47 works are in the show) for its variety, breadth, scope and professionalism – and how the two collections blended so well together. She first did a layout of the galleries after unpacking the work, made adjustments and moved pieces around.
FCA’s pieces were placed to “have a conversation with our collection,” Felice says. “We designed a visual conversation” matching objects by color, texture and design. “A wonderful juxtaposition of the (loaned) work with our tapestries.”
You’ll see thematic relationships, similarities between artists’ work, and surprising and pleasing pairings of paintings, tapestries, sculptures and other objects.
A few examples –
Duncan McClellan’s Alchemy and Step Up paired with Abraham Rattner’s Moses and the Tablets.
Anybody who knows anything about art glass knows Duncan McClellan who owns the gallery with his name. McClellan is credited for creating an art glass mecca and community in St. Petersburg with exhibitions showcasing nationally and internationally recognized glass artists.
The wall of art with Charles Hewitt’s woodcuts, Dog Fish Head and Red Fish and Legs flanking Paul Eppling’s metal animal sculpture, Pablo’s Pup.
Paul Eppling was among the first “recyclers” to make art out of metal junk. He’s well-known in Florida for his metallic animals, usually made out of auto parts. One of his easily recognizable pieces is the lizard on a building you pass on 275-N in St. Petersburg. It is Security Lizard atop the police department’s car garage.
Michele Tuegel’s Water Village and Chimayo alongside Clint Griffin’s Untitled drawing and collage.
Michele Tuegel was among the first artists I met at art festivals as I was very interested in her hand paper-making from naturals. She has 20+ years of experience as an arts administrator, exhibition curator, art gallery director, juror and educator. She was Florida Craftsmen’s founding executive director.
Jean Yao meticulously weaves each palm inflorescence into her unique baskets. She lives in Fort Lauderdale, her “harvest” collected by friends, gardeners and lawn maintenance workers.
Roddy Reed was known for his preoccupation with what I’d call “mark making” on his bowls and (non-functional) containers. Dots, lines were all precisely painted on his pots that were truly a marvel. Presenting his work was as important to him as making it.
Mary Klein, one of the first FCA members that I met and, I believe, the organization’s first board president. She still works in cloisonné, but has rediscovered her love of making jewelry – silver work with semi-precious stones.
What? Nancy Cervenka‘s pointy, claw-like objects made from movie film!
Color expert Laura Militzer Bryant delights knitters and other needlework enthusiasts with her exquisite, shimmering hand-dyed Prism Yarns and knitting designs.
The youngest artist in the FCA Collection, Nneka Jones became known when she was commissioned to create Time magazine’s August 2020 cover. She embroidered an image of a black and white American flag on canvas in a record 24 hours. It usually takes her a week to a month to produce her intricate work.
Christy Fisher, formerly of Tampa, moved to Arizona and became a knitwear clothing designer. Currently she is an award-winning singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.
Eva Walsh specialized in meticulously weaving hundreds of beads into intricate designs for neckpieces and bracelets.
Jack King was president of Florida Craftsmen, as it was known at the time, when I also was on the board. He worked in ceramics.
Katie Deits, FCA’s former chief executive director, is an award-winning artist and writer known for her photography and figurative sculpture.
The Oiseaux Sisters‘ whimsical paintings and charming mixed media sculptures are fun and remind me of a nostalgic, fantasy childhood. Perhaps 15-20 years ago, I took an altered book class with the Sisers – Susan Andrews and Carolyn Fellman. It was fun, and I started a book. Not completed… but it started a seed.
The preciousness of their work and the thought of making art out of stuff, discards and found objects, inspired me, I believe, seven years ago. I now create art out of trash. I save odd things, bottle caps, metal tabs to use as embellishments.
Every day when I’m at my studio, I see two framed postcards of paintings by the Sisters on a shelf. Girls having fun. Subliminal inspiration?
Sue Shapiro is known for her carvings from ancient cultures, geometric patterns found in Native American Art, Art Deco, Mid-Century Modern Design and contemporary architecture. She is also a co-owner of Shapiro’s fine crafts gallery in St. Petersburg.
Material Mastery also features FCA videos by 13 artists – Leeann Kroetsch, Fiber; John Mascoll, Woodturning; Eric Folsom, Jewelry; Taylor Robenalt, Ceramics; Duncan McClellan, Glass; Kianga Jinaki, Fibers; Laura Bryant, Knitting; Kristin Holeman, Jewelry; William Kidd, Ceramics; Mark Peiser, Glass and Nneka Jones, Fibers.
A case that you will be ogling displays pieces from the Gulf Coast Museum of Art Collection by artists well-known for showing at art shows. Unfortunately, my photos show too much reflection from the acrylic display boxes. It’s best to see all these works in person.
• The painstakingly delicate 18 and 22k gold and cloisonné enamel work, Dreamscape, by Gael and Howard Silverblatt.
- Tom McCarthy’s (b. 1969) copper, sterling silver and nickel hairpin (1990)
- Carol Jenrette’s sterling silver, pearl and dendritic graphite Raven Brooch, 2007
There’s much to see and enjoy. In the 40+ years that I’ve lived in Florida, I’ve met many of the FCA member artists at indoor and outdoor festivals, followed them through the years. I have personally worked with some of them in my various careers. All the work in the FCA collection, a result of their art practice, has been and is still inspiring to me.
Some of them are no longer living, but they are still here, represented in their work. My photos don’t do the art justice, so I sincerely suggest you visit LRMA before the show closes August 27.
If you’ve attended art festivals in the past, you’ll recognize the names of the artists. If not, you’ll become acquainted with those who have given the name “fine craft” to art work.
Through August 27
Free – donations welcome
Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art at St. Petersburg College
600 E Klosterman Rd.
Tarpon Springs FL 34689
10 am-5 pm Tuesday-Saturday
10 am-8 pm Thursday
noon-5 pm Sunday