Factory comes alive with art

Published September 29, 2007

TAMPA - Linda Sturm eyed the bottled specimen from the right. Then from the left.

"I've eaten cow tongue before," she said, without breaking her gaze. "It's similar to that."

"Sepulcressic Vessel," the only name given the mixed-media sculpture featuring strands of curled hair and a painting of a bird on what looked like a cow tongue suspended in liquid, was among the many works on display at Nueva Evolucion, the first event at the rechristened West Tampa Center for the Arts on Friday night.

Although the top two floors of the historic Santaella Cigar Factory at 1906 Armenia Ave. were converted into an art gallery, patrons and artists described what they felt was an organic art space, one with a promising future for the West Tampa art community.

"I can see big happenings for this place in the future," said Sturm, 57. "I can just feel it."

While bay area jazz quartet Denise Moore and Then Some entertained on the third floor, guests sipped from $3 martinis and $2 cups of wine, discussing current events and the colors in Cuban artist Guillermo Portieles' work.

In one room off the second-floor hallway, resident artist Tom Land sat in a director's chair in the corner, hunchedover a canvas and camouflaged by his soulful portraits of musicians, surfers and nudes on canvases arranged across the antique brick walls.

Many of the 20 resident artists, like Land, have been here for years. Tonight, the walls belonged to about 30.

Upstairs, photographer Maida Millan, executive director of the center, beamed through the soft light of her incense-filled studio. On the walls, black-and-white figures cupped pomegranates in toned gelatin silver prints. For two months, she had been scrambling with building owner J.D. Van Pelt to make this night happen.

"For me, as an artist, it feels like I'm at home," she said of the building, once one of the larger cigar factories in the city. "I feel safe. I feel approved of by the hard workers who labored here for so long."