Art to delight every taste and pocketbook covers walls, fills display shelves and lines the floors of Art at the Plaza. Works range from vividly colored handblown glass animals from Russia for $35 to a large bronze work for $35,000. The latter is The Sea Creates by celebrated sculptor M.L. Snowden, whose work is in the permanent collection of the White House.
Other artworks of note at the gallery are former Foreigner drummer Dennis Elliott's wood sculptures and paintings by Michael Vollbracht, a former fashion designer and Bill Blass artistic director who now lives in Safety Harbor.
Despite the times, art lovers are still buying but with more thought, said art consultant Tracy Stanich, who owns and operates the business with her mother Tina Basel-Smith.
Italian-born Basel-Smith, who lived in Europe and the Far East before settling in Florida in 1962, co-owned a gallery for five years in the same Belleair Bluffs neighborhood before opening Art at the Plaza 14 years ago.
"I started with quite a bit of art," she said. "I wanted to be innovative and grow the business, deal directly with the artists rather than just buying. It's a very creative business. Even today, it has an ever-evolving focus."
Many of her international clientele are Europeans who have homes in Florida. However, she adds, this is not a tourist business. She works with both homeowners and businesses in adding to or starting art collections.
Basel-Smith's daughter joined her six years ago.
"I wanted to help her and do something involved in the art world," Stanich said. "I came to pay attention and learn the business."
"She has worked as an apprentice," said Basel-Smith. "You can't learn it any other way. To get educated in art is one step at a time. You can't get it from a book because it comes from so many directions."
In addition to selling artworks, the business has a large collection of frames, many of them handmade, and offers museum quality custom framing. Appraisals, restoration work and custom mirrors also are available, as well as free consultations at residences and businesses.
Can customers commission artworks through the gallery?
Tracy: Yes. We do a lot of commissions. Unless the client has an artist in mind, we help them find an artist for the commission. Tina: If they don't like the commission when it's finished or it doesn't work for them, I take it back and refund the money.
Has the economy had an impact on sales?
Tina: Business reflects the economy. Because art is a luxury item, many people are just holding on to things right now. But there are different parts to the art market and this is just one part. The economy has not had an impact on auction prices. That art, from $200,000 to several millions, has been doing well.
Chris Cosdon can be reached at [email protected]