Being an Artist Town

Being an ARTIST Town

One of my duties when I sat on the St. Petersburg Art Advisory Committee was to evaluate and vote on art grants.  The grants never went to Artists but only to not-for-profit art organizations and institutions.

I took it upon myself, whenever I had the opportunity, to say how important it is to have art grants for ARTISTS.  After all, our city, or any place for that matter, would not have art museums, galleries, art fairs, art walks, mural festivals, theaters, ballets, concerts, the symphony, the opera, book stores and libraries without ARTISTS and their art.

Last Saturday was St. Petersburg’s art walk.  There were hundreds of people out walking, biking, and driving the streets going to the galleries and to see the new murals.  They were going to the Morean, Studio@620, and the Arts Warehouse District.  They were going to see what the artists were doing – that is what got all those people to come out.  In the mean time, they were visiting the restaurants along Central and Beach Drive.  They were buying things in the shops, and, no doubt, drinking in the bars and the breweries.  All this excitement and economic boom because there are ARTISTS in St. Petersburg making and showing art.

Artists provide this buzz and opportunities for a myriad of economic development pathways, but we also provide what other active citizens provide.  We pay taxes.  We keep our homes and studios in good shape.  We participate in city committees and workshops for the betterment of our city and county.

Robert and I are engaged in September and October in a show at Blake High School’s Art Magnet curated by the Contemporary Art Museum at USF.  The show is about place-making, so it fits perfectly with the current focus of our art endeavors.  We are putting work in the show, interacting with the students at opening night, and participating on a panel.  We are doing this because we recognize the importance of teaching talented young people what it is to be a professional artist.

We recognize that the quality of our art cities and counties directly corresponds to the quality of our artists.

In the show at the Art Magnet, we are including photographs, a large working drawing, and a video of the making of our installation Breath of Cypress Moon that the Selby Gallery at the Ringling College of Art and Design commissioned us to do.  Here is a photograph, sculpture details, and a short description by Richard Matthews, the editor of The Tampa Review, that he wrote when he feature the sculpture on the cover of that journal.

Breath of Cypress Moon      (front) .  Florida cypress & paper.  8’h x 24’ diameter.  2013.   Commissioned by :  Selby Gallery, Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, FL.   Description :  “ Breath of Cypress Moon  is a room-size installation shaped like a wheel with eight spokes.  For half of the wheel, rows of white paper strips hang gracefully from the white-washed spokes overhead, creating scrims between segments of the moon’s lighted face; on the other, dark side, golden cypress slates create a lattice like roof, plunging the interior into shadow.  A walk through and around the sculpture gives the visitor a sense of waxing and waning, of choosing to explore or dwell in the light or dark side of the self as one chooses one’s position in the world.” (Richard Matthews,  Tampa Review )

Breath of Cypress Moon (front).  Florida cypress & paper.  8’h x 24’ diameter.  2013.

Commissioned by:  Selby Gallery, Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, FL.

Description:  “Breath of Cypress Moon is a room-size installation shaped like a wheel with eight spokes.  For half of the wheel, rows of white paper strips hang gracefully from the white-washed spokes overhead, creating scrims between segments of the moon’s lighted face; on the other, dark side, golden cypress slates create a lattice like roof, plunging the interior into shadow.  A walk through and around the sculpture gives the visitor a sense of waxing and waning, of choosing to explore or dwell in the light or dark side of the self as one chooses one’s position in the world.” (Richard Matthews, Tampa Review)

Looking Back To Look Forward (August 31, 2016)

Here we are working in our studio for a painting show earlier this year in Richmond, VA.

We are working side by side but soon I’ll be working on the waterfall and he’ll be working somewhere else.  Our collaboration is extremely intermingled.  

Here are the paintings finished before they are mounted.

As you can see, they are rather literal – well, expressively literal.  These paintings are an outcropping of the image we did for River Song, the mosaic that is part of our Gateway Trio project in Richmond, VA.

The more literal paintings have evolved into a series of Idea of Water paintings which emerged for the Richmond show and which we are now developing further.  Here are two paintings that were in the Richmond show.

Memory of Wate r

Memory of Water

This is the new direction in our painting studio work. 

And for research, here I am at the “Beach” at Amalie Arena in Tampa.


The last two weeks have brought a flurry of activity around our Richmond project, Gateway Trio.  In my last blog, I had a photo of the Hine family sitting in its sculpture, Clear Passage.  Now I know that our friends Rene and Richard are going to stay in Richmond overnight on their way back from D.C.  They had seen photographs of our project, and now they want to see it “in the flesh.”

Photographs of our work are a tricky business especially for a project such as Gateway Trio since in has three parts which all work together but are each very large.  It is really impossible to photograph the entire project and get any sense of its scale and up-close impact.  So, we appreciate when people actually visit.

Mayer of Munich, with whom we did the mosaic, River Song, requested photographs to put in their fall catalogue.  Since the mosaic is 73’ long and in five parts, it is difficult to get a good photograph of the whole thing.  So, Bob Clark, CEO of Clayco, who commissioned Gateway Trio, quickly put his team to work and delivered beautiful photographs to Mayer of Munich.  Sure, everyone wins, but we so appreciated that our work garnered such action.

Victor Cassidy, an art writer who lives in Chicago, is writing a book about artists who collaborate and is including Robert and I in his book.  We have been in correspondence with him since 2014.  He, and his artist wife Donna, have even visited us in St. Petersburg earlier this year.  He, just this month, visited Gateway Trio in Richmond.  He, too, wanted to see it “in the flesh” before writing about it.  After his visit, we received an email with a list of his comments and questions and that was followed by an at-least-2 hour phone conversation.  And, yes, then a Dropbox full of photographs were sent. 

To have a seasoned art writer visit your work is a gift and can give one pause.  This person looks with an experienced eye and a grand background of knowledge.  He told us that he sat in the sculpture for quite some time and asked himself what would he have done differently.  He did the same thing with the mosaic.  In both cases, and it might have surprised him, he concluded that he would not have done anything differently.  Wow!  Our work was appreciated.  But more than that we appreciated the he took the time to really look at what we did and really saw what we were aiming to accomplish.  What greater compliment is there to an artist or, for that matter, anyone.

So, here is a photograph of one partial view of Gateway Trio taken by Ben Boozer.  I am choosing this photograph because I like it but also because Ben works in Gateway Plaza, the building whose lobby and exterior house Gateway Trio.  So, he lives with our work and took the effort to photograph it.  We are most appreciative.

Gateway Trio, 2015 (River Song, Clear Passage, Capitol Flow)

Gateway Trio, 2015 (River Song, Clear Passage, Capitol Flow)

Recognizing Paradise

Robert and I (and, now our friends,) have been reading Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache novels.  In fact, I am now re-reading them.  The novels center around a fictitious place called “Three Pines.”  Three Pines is Brigadoon-type place set in Quebec close to the Vermont border which cannot be found on any map and only stumbled across by those who are meant to be there.  Robert and I have joked that we’d like to move to Three Pines. 

Yesterday, I think it was, Robert insightfully said, after reading an article about the theatre and Harry Potter, that the Harry Potter books (all of which we have read) are akin to the Gamache books.  In both of them, the authors have created a place where we want to be.  It is “being” in that place that keeps bringing us back to read the next book.  (Note:  Robert discovered to his glee that today, July 31st, is J. K. Rowling’s birthday because it is Robert’s too.)

Clara, one of the Penny characters, an artist, who lives in Three Pines, responds to the question “What are you afraid of?” by replying, “I’m afraid of not recognizing Paradise.”  I must say that that stopped me in my tracks.  I realized that searching for Paradise or peace or joy or love or plain ol’ contentment moves me but what lurks in the background is the wondering if I’ll every find it or, worse yet, that I have but, not recognizing it, have moved on. 

I guess this is why Robert and I (well, at least, I) create places.  To make a place where there is some joy or peace or simply a quiet place to sit is one of the goals we have for our commissions.  This was certainly the goal for our Gateway Trio in Richmond.  We wanted to create (in this case an entire lobby and some of out doors) a place that welcomed people and made special the place where people came every day to work.

This is our challenge for the Central Avenue Art-In-Transit project.  How to create transit shelters that create a place that provide necessary shelter but also provide special place for both the ridership and the neighborhood.  We want to create a place to which people want to keep coming back.  We are steadily working on some designs and making some positive headway.

We are pleased that our St. Petersburg friends are beginning to make a detour into Richmond to visit our “place” during their journeys north.  Just today we received the photo below from the Hine family sitting and waving in Clear Passage, an element of Gateway Trio.   (Laura must be taking the photo.)


Hine family sitting and waving in  Clear Passage,  one of three elements of  Gateway Trio (2015)  in Clayco's Gateway Plaza building in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo: Laure Tillinghast Hine)

Hine family sitting and waving in Clear Passage, one of three elements of Gateway Trio (2015) in Clayco's Gateway Plaza building in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo: Laure Tillinghast Hine)


Robert has had surgery on his left foot for fraying tendons that caused a cist that was weakening a bone.  He has to be non-weight bearing for at least 3 weeks but the first week has past, and he is doing fine.  He has a knee scooter and crutches, but since we live upstairs, he is confined inside for now.  Good quiet, reflective time for him and, of course, the drawing pad is not far from him.  He does zoom around on his scooter.  For me, extra duty, but I’m finding I am out in the world more and am thriving with the engagement. 

This past week I did a presentation to CAC (Central Avenue Council) about our discussions with the City of St. Petersburg about the Central Avenue Art-In-Transit Project.  There was, what I would call, a “vigorous” conversation about the change in the scope of the project and the role CAC has in overseeing the development of Central Avenue.  This is a conversation that is ongoing and necessary to balance the City and the interests of its constituents.

I participated in a good example of balance this past Friday (7/15/2016) when members of the Edge District and City staff walked from one end of the district to the other observing and talking about parking, green space, bicycle sharing stations, bicycle racks, and, yes, transit shelters, benches and the Trolley stops.  We were out there for hours and engaged in thoughtful conversation.  Everyone listened and contributed.  It was a great example of city and citizen engagement that looks to have positive results. 

During the CAC meeting and the working-walk through the Edge District, it stuck me how often the inclusion of Art was mentioned.  This week it was especially striking since Friday was the memorial for Ron Mason.  When Robert and I first moved to St. Petersburg in 2002, the art community and its arts institutions were not what they are today.  Then Mainsail was the major event.  Now, it still is a major event, but one among many others.  Ron and his wife Pat were (and she still is) instrumental in developing the arts in St. Petersburg.  Mainsail was one of their projects - as was the Art Center and First Night and participation in the various state, county and city art councils. 

The other thing that Ron Mason was passionate about was collecting art.  He and Pat were one of the first, if not the first, to collect contemporary art from artists who live in Pinellas.  Michelle Tuegel told me that the Masons bought the first piece of art she ever sold and that it made a huge difference for her as an artist.  The Masons have a stunning collection of paintings, ceramics, glass and sculpture.  They have set an example on so many levels.

We are often too focused on the now and getting things done right away without pause to consider where were have been and to take a wider view of where we are going.  It is important to have a vision of the whole.  Thinking about the Masons and their passionate and laborious commitment to how art contributes to making a full-fledged City, make me reflect about what Central Avenue can be and what Robert and I can contribute.

Summer Studio

Robert and I have moved into our “summer” studio.  Air-conditioned office space in our building now is the home of paints, design plans and activity.   In the past, we always had tenants in this space, but now we are claiming it as our won.

June, and I’m sure most of the summer, is being a time of reflection and exploration.  It’s feeling good to step back and, at the same time, to move forward in our work.  It’s a different sort of being in the studio when there are not immediate deadlines looming overhead.   Then “necessity is the mother of invention” and completion is the goal.  Deadlines create a fast moving and rewarding time.  Now, we have some quiet and process takes over.  The key is listening and trusting for that will lead to the next body of work.   

Of course, we are researching and ruminating about Central Avenue – that never stops - but key players are on vacation and there are many details to work out.

"We Are Central"

Robert and I are happily back in discussions with the City of St. Petersburg about the Central Avenue Art-In-Transit project.  Many people, including many involved in Central Avenue itself, have expressed to us how pleased they are that the City has endorsed our ability to do this project.  We, of course, have always seen this project in a special light:  it is in our hometown. 

Still there is work to be done before we can start.  In all art projects, even with a gallery show, there is a contract to be signed.  Contracts with public entities such as cities and states are typically more complex and demanding than contracts with museums or private and corporate entities.  Tax payers’ money (our money) is involved and needs to be protected.  We all get that.  Our job, in contract negotiations, is to protect our interests and to make sure we don’t end up having to dig into our personal funds to complete the project or open ourselves up to any type of lawsuit.  Too many artists have lost significant money on projects. 

Also artists have to make sure that their work is preserved, maintained, and not altered.  Artists have to ensure that they retain the rights to their art.  Museums recognize this but public and corporate institutions are doing so less and less.  For example, I have heard that some artists that were chosen for the new Tampa Airport renovation have backed out because they were unwilling to give up their rights to their work.  It is imperative that we find a better compromise on this issue to ensure that we get the best art in our public spaces.

At this point, we are reviewing with the City (with Wayne Atherholt and India Williams) how to approach this project and the contract parameters.  Our conversations are going well, and we all are optimistic that we shall come to some agreement. 

Involved in this process is the Central Avenue Council (CAC).  This is a City recognized group of representatives from the seven business districts along Central Avenue from the East to the West.  CAC is a body of dynamic and involved citizens and business owners who have been supportive of our project.  They are most keen on the visual unification of Central Avenue that also recognizes the individual nature of the districts. 

Robert and I have been Central Avenue focused for a long time.  We are now re-embarkingon our research and pursuing lots of ideas for how to make this project work.  We are happy to be back.  We are Central.


Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse

Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse have worked collaboratively for over sixteen years. Their practice includes painting, printmaking, and large-scale, site-specific sculpture all of which is focused on creating places that bring some joy to others. Their work is included in museums, and many private and public collections.

Mickett came to the collaboration from a background in philosophy, visual art, film, radio, poetry, and theater. Stackhouse followed a traditional visual arts path, and his individual work can be found in museum collections around the world including the Museum of Modern Art, and the National Gallery in Washington, DC, and The National Gallery of Australia. Both hold PhDs: Mickett in philosophy and Stackhouse has an honorary doctorate in art. 

Their most recent work includes Gateway Trio (2015), a privately commissioned ensemble for the lobby of the new Gateway Plaza Building in downtown Richmond, Virginia, which includes a 72 foot long mosaic and a 43 foot long glass and stainless steel walk-through sculpture, Breath of Cyprus Moon (2013), a 8’H x 27’ Diameter installation at the Selby Gallery at the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL, Breath of Water (2012), a 8’H x 38L’ x 18W’ installation, at the Lab Gallery in New York City, On Board (2011), a series of five paintings, located on the USFSP campus and commissioned by the Florida’s Art in State Building Program and Place In The Woods, (2010), a bronze and brass walk-through sculpture, 14’H, 28’L, 14’W, commissioned by the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Benwood Foundation, and the Art in Public Places Project in Chattanooga, TN.

A significant portion of their work explores water both two dimensionally and three dimensionally. Their explorations are not literal representations, but look at water and its ways-of-being metaphorically. Of their installation Breath of Water (Lab Gallery, NYC), Jonathan Goodman wrote in Sculpture Magazine: “It was abstract and did not show water, or its movement in any directly recognizable way, but the idea of water, its ability to change subtly, was beautifully portrayed.” The “idea of water” allows them to explore how structure or environment or an imposed conceptual scheme shapes both us and our world, and how, in these structures, we are nevertheless always in flux – in the constant flow of life. 

In the blog for our Rapid Returns individual artist fellowship, we shall focus on the importance of our assistant Thaddeus Root, on the process of engaging in new projects, and on setting up a new studio. We cannot, of course, predict what adventures life may present, so the blog reader may be taken down an entirely different path: a state of affairs not unheard of in our lives.