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Workplace of Art

Raymond James CEO Tom James shares his vast and varied collection by displaying it throughout his St. Petersburg office building.

By LENNIE BENNETT
Published May 4, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Every weekday more than 3,000 employees file into the Raymond James Financial Center, a four-tower complex of about 850,000 square feet in the Carillon office park.

It's a handsome corporate headquarters but unremarkable, especially once you get past the multistory glass lobby to hallways and work spaces, large areas divided into pods broken up by the occasional conference room or private office.

But wait a minute.

Is that an original oil painting of water birds perched above the water fountains?

What's a huge work featuring psychedelic Beatles doing next to vending machines?

How does a colorful image of a kachina carver steal the show from its neighboring television monitor spouting the latest from Wall Street?

The short answer to all three questions is Tom James.

James is many things, first and foremost a brilliant entrepreneur who has built the financial services company founded by his father into one of the largest of its kind in the world. He and wife Mary are generous philanthropists. He plays tennis and the guitar.

And he collects art. Lots of art. So much art that it long ago took up all available space in his home. So much that now it also occupies every public area in corporate headquarters.

Many businesses collect art but few do it on the scale of Tom James. And this is not a corporate collection; it's paid for out of the Jameses' personal funds and owned by them. They just like sharing it. The general public can see it on prearranged docent tours that draw about 3, 000 people annually.

Saturday and Sunday, no reservations will be needed during the Wildlife & Western Visions Art Show being held at the headquarters; tours will be conducted throughout both days.

Having the collection in a non-gallery setting is challenging, says Emily Burts, the curator who oversees the 1,800-and-counting paintings, sculptures and prints.

"It was something I had to get used to," Burts says, adjusting a minutely crooked painting that was probably jostled as someone walked past in the hall. "The lighting took me a while."

True, conditions aren't ideal, what with fluorescent lighting, spaces designed for the efficient flow of human traffic and all kinds of distractions, like those vending machines.

But the unintentional juxtapositions are interesting, even fun, and the art is thoughtfully arranged. The first floors of all the towers are mostly devoted to Florida artists, with the light-filled lobby showcasing Duncan McClellan's dramatic glass sculptures and vessels. James is such a prolific collector of Tampa Bay area artist James Michaels, who works primarily in the style known as pop appropriation, an entire floor is dedicated to his paintings. One floor houses sports-related art and memorabilia. Another is reserved for nautical paintings. Yet another exhibits modern and post-modern art.

More than 50 percent of the collection is in the western and wildlife genres, and they are spread over the majority of the headquarters. It's the most well-known element of the collection, the one for which Tom James may found a museum.

His preference in collecting is for contemporary artists: "I like to support artists while they're still alive." James has some of the biggest names in western and wildlife art: Oreland Joe, Charles Rowe, Vic Payne, Glenna Goodacre, Kim Donaldson, Grant Hacking, Ernest Simmons, Ray Swanson . . . the roll call goes on and on.

James is running out of office wall space. Still collecting, though. Burts points a visitor to part of a floor - a large part - where new acquisitions are temporarily hung. The group would crowd a normal house. With more, always more, coming.

"He's a true collector," she says, and true collectors do not care if art fits somewhere. A place will always be found.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at (727) 893-8293 or lennie@sptimes.com.

 
If you go

Wildlife & Western Visions Art Show

The eighth annual show is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Financial Center, 880 Carillon Parkway, St. Petersburg. Show and sale are inside, so no pets, please. Admission is free. Tours of the Tom and Mary James Art Collection will be both days. Call toll-free 1-888-779-2240 or visit www.wildlifeartshow.com.

On the Web

Take a virtual tour of the Jameses' collection at www.raymondjames.com/art. The tour features photos of the works as well as short biographies of the artists.