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Couple open Sun Gulf Art in Pasco's Gulf View Square mall

PORT RICHEY — He's a jazz trombonist and former Christian Dior sales manager from Ireland. She's a painter and former window dresser from England.

"Bless him, he's 80," she said. "And I'm 71."

Albert and Patricia Watt are husband and wife — and longtime business partners. Their latest venture? They have opened Sun Gulf Art, an art and framing shop between Macy's and Starbuck's at Gulf View Square mall.

The new store represents an expansion for the couple, who have sold artwork at the USA Flea Market since 1984.

Starting any business is not for the faint of heart these days. But the Watts, who came to New Port Richey as retirees back in 1982, are tough-minded about their prospects.

"It is scary but, don't you know, we've been in business all our lives," said Patricia. "We back ourselves to win, and we don't accept anything less."

At the new shop, the Watts sell everything from miniature van Gogh prints to oil paintings that look like tapestries to Patricia's own works, which include Monet-inspired scenes of Giverny in France and her popular shell art.

Patricia buys most of the pieces for sale directly from artists she meets everywhere from Fort Lauderdale to New York.

Prices run as low as $5.99 and as high as $200. "We've always been keenly priced," Albert said.

If there is a typical path to opening an independent business at a mall, the Watts certainly did not take it.

In Ireland, when Albert was in his 20s, he played trombone in a band — called the Wild Al Stompers — that once opened for Louis Armstrong in Dublin. He became a salesman, eventually handling the United Kingdom-based hosiery division of Christian Dior.

"I have a fairly good eye for hosiery," he said. "I say it modestly, I'm somewhat of a salesman."

He later ran a hotel pub in England's Lake District. One day, a group of people came in.

"She was one of them," he said, pointing at his wife, "on holiday."

Patricia had started her artistic career as a window dresser in London after going to a college for display art. They started talking. And talking.

A week later, he decided to find her in London.

"She was surprised. 'The barman?' " he said. "But to cut a long story short, we were engaged seven days later."

She started painting in earnest after they were married and were running two pubs together. She had teachers from the Slade School of Art in London and the Royal Academy. She sold her paintings, still wet, at their pubs.

In 1982, the pair retired and came to Florida. In one year, Patricia painted 76 paintings, many of them of classical, romantic landscapes. Her best-known include her scenes of historic homes along the Pithlachascotee River.

She later developed pictures made of seashells, which sold in Busch Gardens gift shops and which later provided the couple with enough revenue to get through the tough days of the early 1990s.

This isn't their first time at Gulf View Square mall. In 1993, the Watts opened an art shop where Chocolates by Michelle is currently located. The couple ran it for more than six years, closing only after Patricia broke her ankle and the couple needed to cut down on their workload.

Late last year, the Watts were walking through Gulf View Square mall and ran into the manager, who remembered them from their last stint. He asked them if they would come back.

Patricia said she felt a sense of duty to say yes. She said she thinks that people should do what they can to get the economy moving up again.

"We're being patriotic," she said. "We're doing what anyone with skills should do."

The couple, who say they got a good deal on their space, used money from their retirement fund to set up shop. On Wednesdays at noon, Patricia will offer a free class on how to make her shell art. The couple will also continue to run their location at the flea market.

Retirement is on hold, again. Luckily for the Watts, they are in excellent health.

"We both work out at the Y to stay fit," she said. "I do Jazzercise." "The gym is essential," he agreed.

This year, the business partners will have been married for 36 years. "It doesn't seem a day too long," he said. "Oh," she said, with a sigh, "I think he's great."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Fast facts

If you go

Sun Gulf Art is located by Macy's at Gulf View Square mall. Every Wednesday at noon, co-owner and artist Patricia Watt will offer a free class on how to make shell art. For more information, call (727) 848-8181.

Couple open Sun Gulf Art in Pasco's Gulf View Square mall 03/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 6, 2009 10:21pm]

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