Move over, Sal (Dali); take a break, Dale (Chihuly). The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art is St. Petersburg’s new ‘sheriff’ in town.
Photos: Courtesy of James Museum of Western and Wildlife
The Tampa Bay area may seem like an unlikely location for a museum dedicated to the American West; however, it’s probably not any more unlikely than, say, venues focused on Spain’s most avant-garde painter or a glass artist from Washington state. And those museums are attracting thousands of visitors each year to the downtown arts district in St. Petersburg. So, why not a Western-themed museum, especially when billionaire Thomas James, chairman emeritus of the Raymond James Financial Services Co., is willing to share his collection with his city.
Much of the art—which took decades to collect—once decorated the company’s corporate headquarters in St. Pete. When the new James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art opened earlier this year, director Bernice Chu said the collection was inspired by Thomas’ fascination with cowboy lore.
Thomas and his wife, Mary, frequently traveled to the American West to pursue her love of skiing. As art collectors since their college days, it was only natural for them to frequent galleries and shows when they were not on the slopes. Although they began collecting New England scenes as students at Harvard and Wellesley, their tastes eventually evolved to American Western art, primarily because they grew up on cowboy movies and the romance of the Old West.
The stories of the American West are told through 300 to 400 pieces of art, including paintings, sculptures and one-of-a-kind jewelry. The jewelry, which is Mary’s contribution to the collection, features a broad selection of contemporary Southwestern and Native American jewelry as well as bolos and belt buckles.
The 80,000-square-foot museum is organized into six galleries. The Early West Gallery features the oldest paintings in the collection, from the 1890s to the 1940s. Well-known artists include Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, and the Taos Society of Artists. The Native Life Gallery highlights visual stories of many American Indian tribes in the 1800s.
The Native Artists Gallery features The Jewel Box, a collection of Mary’s exquisite contemporary Native American jewelry. The gallery, dedicated to art by 20th and 21st century American Indian artists, is one of the most popular among women visitors.
The Frontier Gallery explores cowboy life and culture. Visual stories of expansion westward, the fur trade, and the adventurous Wild West are included in this gallery.
Other galleries are the Wildlife and New West. The Wildlife Gallery showcases paintings and sculptures of North American mammals and birds. The New West Gallery features Western subjects in unexpected styles and approaches. Pop art, cubism, and other modern movements inspired these canvases and illustrate the West’s independent spirit in new ways.
Daily admission to the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art is $20, adults; $15, students/military/seniors 65-plus; $10, youths (ages 7-18); and free for children under age 7.