Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement dazzles in St. Petersburg6 min read
ST. PETERSBURG — For years, residents of St. Petersburg and beyond have been waiting for the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement to open. On Sept. 7, it was revealed to the public — and it is stunning.
Founded by collector Rudy Ciccarello, the museum is the world’s first dedicated to the Arts and Crafts movement, which happened between about 1890 and 1930 and revived and elevated handcraft in the wake of the Industrial Revolution.
More than 800 works collected personally by Ciccarello are showcased, culled in part from the Two Red Roses Foundation, of which he is the president and founder.
Designed by Tampa-based architect Alberto Alfonso in close collaboration with Ciccarello, the five-story, 137,000-square-foot museum is a triumph. While the design is modern, it was built in keeping with the movement’s ideals of high-quality craftsmanship.
When you approach the museum through a courtyard featuring fountains and tiles from the period, then enter the vast Grand Atrium, unique architectural details reveal themselves.
Wood walls recall joinery found in the collection’s furniture. Ships, a 600-tile mural from Rookwood Pottery circa 1914, is an introduction to more impressive installations. A grand spiral staircase clad in Venetian plaster and outfitted with rich wood, metal and lighting offers an easy climb with photo-worthy views.
The egg-shaped structure protruding from the museum’s exterior, called an ovoid, becomes curved interior gallery spaces on the top four levels. In one of those spaces, the carved furniture of Charles Rohlfs takes command. The museum’s use of natural light and a minimal color palette allows the objects in the collection to shine.
The museum is rich with informational panels that provide fascinating context and detail about the artists, architects and companies associated with the movement.
A gallery dedicated to prominent architects of the movement includes members of the Prairie School, including Frank Lloyd Wright, George Grant Elmslie and George Washington Maher. Their shared philosophy was to create an American style, with form and materials integrated with nature.
Maher’s arched Poppy Windows from the Winton House in Wisconsin circa 1905 are at the entrance of the gallery.
Wright’s leaded glass skylights from the Arthur Heurtley House in Illinois are installed at the center of the gallery, where natural light showcases furniture, lighting and glass panels.
Rooms from houses of the era have been relocated to the museum, including the warm, wooden Culbertson House Entry Hall from Pasadena, California, designed by Charles and Henry Greene in 1902.
A 1912 floor from Arthur Curtiss James’ Aloha Landing boathouse in Newport, Rhode Island, was conceived by Addison LeBoutillier, chief designer of the Grueby Faience and Tile Company. It can be viewed at the ground level or from a floor above.
Lamps and lanterns shine in the Lighting Gallery. Coinciding with the increased use of electricity in the early 20th century, designers, including Tiffany Studios, consciously incorporated natural elements like wood and made the fixtures have a warm glow rather than a glare.
Arts and Crafts tiles decorated American homes in the early 20th century, adorning walls, floors and fireplaces. Ceramics firms including Rookwood, Grueby, Marblehead and Newcomb produced decorative, customizable tile installations. A gallery dedicated to tile showcases stunning examples.
Pottery got a makeover by Arts and Crafts artists, who favored handmade, simplified designs. Women got the opportunity to become career artists, especially with the company Newcomb Pottery. Born from the women’s college at Tulane University, Newcomb College offered women courses in china painting, glazing and pottery making. Newcomb Pottery went on to become a leading firm in the movement.
The Collector’s Gallery features Ciccarello’s favorite pieces, including an array of paintings in Arts and Crafts frames, as well as pottery and metalwork.
Two temporary exhibitions are on display. “Love, Labor, and Art: The Roycroft Enterprise” showcases more than 75 works made by the Roycroft community, including books, furniture, metalwork and leaded glass.
“Lenses Embracing the Beautiful: Pictorial Photographs From the Two Red Roses Foundation” features more than 150 pictorial photographs from American and European photographers who strove to push the medium in an artistic direction.
More discoveries include a Furniture Gallery with handcrafted works by Gustav Stickley, Byrdcliffe Colony and Roycroft Shops. The Children’s Gallery showcases tile murals depicting fairy tales.
On the top floor, George Nakashima’s Arlyn Table and Conoid dining chairs gleam from the interior of the ovoid. While these pieces were built in the 1980s, Nakashima’s values of expert handcraft and simplicity align with those of the Arts and Crafts movement.
This museum, and all the care and craftsmanship that have been put into it, is proof those ideals hold up.
If you go
The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. $25, $23 seniors, $20 active military firefighters and police, $10 youth ages 6-17, free for kids 5 and younger. Memberships are available. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday and Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday, noon-4 p.m. Sunday. 355 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. 727-440-4859. museumaacm.org.