Folk art to eye and to buy

Published May 19, 2007

St. Petersburg's newest art gallery will be shuttered in just under two months, but its fleeting existence is by design.

It opened a few weeks ago in conjunction with the exhibit "Compelling Visions: Florida Collects Folk Art, " and will close with the show on July 8.

In it, the Museum of Fine Arts is offering the work of living folk artists. Some of the pieces for sale are creations of people represented in the exhibition: Roger Lee Iven, Woodie Long, Reuben "R.A." Miller, Mary L. Proctor, O.L. Samuels, Jimmy Lee Sudduth and Purvis Young.

Additional artists include Ruby C. Williams, whose produce stand and open air gallery are on State Road 60 in Hillsborough County, and Chicago's "Mr. Imagination."

The gallery is next to the museum store.

"It's an experiment. We've never really tried this before, " store manager Ellen Holte said.

The works are much more affordable than, say, a painting by Claude Monet. Prices range from $40 to $2, 100.

"It's not just about sales, " Holte said. "It's about education."

"We thought people would go through the main folk art show and be excited about collecting, and then would come in the gift shop and realize, 'Oh, gosh, here's a folk art gallery that I could actually purchase things from, ' said Katherine Gibson, a Tampa art consultant who directed the installation of the works.

"So it was a nice link between seeing a show and then wondering how you could start a collection and wondering how you might get a piece of your own like that."

The works in the exhibition are borrowed from private collections; those in the retail gallery are on consignment, with most of the proceeds from the sales going to the artists, Holte said.

She and Gibson also worked with Jeanine Taylor of Sanford, owner and director of Jeanine Taylor Folk Art, who provided most of the inventory.

"It was really a wonderful team effort with Ellen and Kathy and I, all three of us working together, " Taylor said. "I had the art, and Kathy was free to put it all together, and Ellen and her directors had the space."

Often known as "outsider art, " the works featured in the exhibition and in the retail gallery are those of artists who are, for the most part, self-taught. Some paint on found materials, such as corrugated board or plywood; some use repurposed materials such as bottle caps.

"The artists are very widely collected, " Taylor said. "Still, they're affordable at what most people think of as original-art prices."

"It's an experiment, " Holte said of the retail gallery. "We've never really tried this before. We'll see how well received it is."

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Today, as a part of St. Petersburg's Free Museum Day, no admission will be charged. Taylor will be at the museum that day to talk about the folk art.