In recent months, what once was simply an antique shop has been updated with exhibit and sales opportunities for local artists, and it also has a new name — Gallery of Arts & Antiques.
Owner Robert G. Smith, a glass artist for some 35 years and a part-time painter, said of the 35 artists now exhibiting, "They came to me. I haven't looked for any of them."
Eclectic displays spill into every room — including two spacious bathrooms — in the 104-year-old, 4,000-square-foot Southern home that Smith remodeled for his enlarged enterprise just north of downtown.
The artwork includes paintings in oil, acrylic, pastel and watercolor; photographs of Florida landscapes and wildlife; carvings in wood and stone; home decor ceramics: and etched glass. The art shares space with stunningly unique antique furniture and handmade tools, works of art in their own right, as well as glass, china and pewter.
The shop, more akin in size and scope to a supermarket than a mere cottage emporium, is a worthy tourist destination and joins the Rising Sun Cafe as a downtown draw for art seekers.
Of the better-known artists, all Hernando County residents, Smith points to: acrylic paintings by Connie Townsend, a teacher at Floral City Art Gallery; Collette N. Bortolin, an oil and acrylic painter and a student of Townsend's; Joseph Bastasich, a painter of palm fronds; and 55-year-old Theresa L. Cangelosi, a mixed-media artist who has an entire room in the home dedicated to her paintings and prints from the originals. She also teaches painting at Smith's gallery.
Smith, 79 and eagerly approaching 80, describes himself as a former junk man. Truly, he insists, since he's known to be quick with attention-getting one-liners. His late wife, Dorothy, was the antique aficionado, first finding some pieces among his junk, Smith said.
It was she who acquired what many consider the gallery's signature antique, a "gentleman's wardrobe," a late-1700s Scottish armoire — an 8-foot-tall, 8-foot-wide piece made of unknown wood with a hanging closet and various-sized drawers and slots, and nary a single nail. Tucked away in a safe are the original 38 hand-carved ivory drawer pulls. Its price tag isf $30,000.
A flat-top grand piano, 6 1/2 feet long and made in Boston by the Chickering & Co., also tempts a visitor to graze a palm across its satiny surface.
"Older than old," Smith said. "If it's got a date, it's somewhere inside, and you'd have to tear it apart to find it."
Also worthy of building a room around it is a gilt-framed, body-height mirror, made in 1861 and bearing a provenance signed, with the purchase dates, by its four owners through the years. The mirror should sit atop an ornate marble and gilt mantle piece. But Smith said he heard from his upstairs bed one night a terrible crash. He came down to investigate and found the entire piece on the floor among what amounted to a double handful of plaster bits and pieces that had broken from the frame's baroque top piece.
"I'll repair it someday," he said, showing off the box of bits, adding that he has the $2,000 worth of gilt to finish it.
Bridging the gap between art and antiques, Smith has built several side tables, shaped and lathed with curlicues in an old style with his etched glass as tops. The gallery also carries a full line of artists' supplies, including 33,000 paintbrushes.
The stately home to which Smith has given new life stood empty for two years, variously squatted in by homeless people, who built a fire on a front-room floor. He purchased it in a short sale for $150,000 and spent a similar amount on restoration.
"It took nine months to bring this baby to term," he said.
With like dry humor, when asked why he would undertake a new business at his age, Smith said, "It keeps an old man off the street and chasing women."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Artist Theresa L. Cangelosi is 55. Her age was incorrect in Sunday's story about the Gallery of Arts & Antiques in Brooksville.