Glass art shines at St. Petersburg's new Imagine Museum


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Maggie Duffy
, Tampa Bay Times Staff Writer, Tampa Bay Times


The bay area's thriving glass art scene adds another member to its ranks today when the Imagine Museum officially opens in downtown St. Petersburg.

Dedicated to the movement of studio glass, the museum is the brainchild of benefactor Trish Duggan. The art collector had been interested in opening a museum for some time, but it wasn't until taking glass casting classes from Clearwater artist Marlene Rose that she decided what the museum should hold.

Rose introduced her to Corey Hampson, president and owner of Detroit gallery Habatat, the oldest and largest gallery in the United States dedicated to glass art. Hampson curated Imagine Museum's collection, which is a comprehensive survey of the history of studio glass.

And that is what sets it apart from other glass collections in the area.

"What's unique about this museum is that it's just the 1960s up to now, and it's just the American movement," said Jane Buckman, the museum's deputy director. "It's fun to have a small focus because we get to delve into something truly American."

Studio glass is a fairly recent movement in the scope of glass art. It was pioneered in the early 1960s by Harvey Littleton and Dominick Labino, who took a page from ceramics and manipulated a kiln to act as a furnace. They wanted the ability to create glass in a personal studio, rather than in large factories as was the norm. Pieces from both artists are on display, appropriately positioned in the first of many galleries.

The museum guides you through the history of the movement in America, showcasing developments. The collection includes work from the genre's superstars. There's early, surprisingly tame pieces by Dale Chihuly, work from William Morris that looks like it was unearthed from an archaeological dig, and Toots Zynsky's feathery vessels. There's examples of blown glass, cast glass and flamework, exceptional examples of the latter being Brent Kee Young's chair and sphere encapsulated in a square.

Duggan tapped local glass artists to help with the museum. St. Petersburg artist Chuck Boux scouted out the location at 1901 Central Ave., which had previously been a bank, a nightclub, and, most recently, the Imagine Charter School.

The name stuck, and the building was painted Duggan's favorite color, a bright sky blue. The three-story building is 35,000 square feet, with the museum display on the first floor.

Artist Sam Brewster etched an elaborate scene on a set of the museum's windows and doors that includes images of sea life, as well as two hands meeting, clearly a nod to Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam. Both artists have pieces in the collection and Boux also has items for sale in the gift shop.

In the future, the museum will exhibit international glass, because it would be myopic not to include those influences on the genre. There's also plans for a maker's space to hold workshops, but instead of a hot shop where glassblowing happens, participants will use 3D printers to create molds for casting glass.

The museum is committed to showcasing emerging artists and for the bay area being a place where the movement can continue to thrive.

"We really want this to be the glass coast," said Buckman. "We have Duncan McClellan's gallery, the Chihuly Collection, the new glass pavilion at the Ringling Museum, and now the Imagine Museum. And what really supports it are the glass collectors."

Contact Maggie Duffy at mduffy@tampabay.com.

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