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St. Petersburg landmarks to feature sculptor's ironwork gates

ST. PETERSBURG

For the first time, Terry Krogmann has a storefront gallery. The local metalworker and sculptor also has a larger work studio, and soon his distinctive curly iron gates will adorn two local landmarks.

All of which belies the fact that business at his small company, Divine Steel, is slower than ever. But that's fine with Krogmann.

At the height of Florida's building boom, around 2005, Krogmann had a staff of 15 churning out scores of projects across the state. Most of the work was for lavish homes in Miami: elaborate ironwork that added low six-figure value to new homes. Those customers, many of them wealthy South Americans, liked Krogmann's outlandish style, inspired by the Rococo movement and the Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi.

With the housing bust, most of that market vanished, almost overnight.

Now, he works differently.

"I can taste my own cooking," he said. "It empowers you. It makes you more creative."

Krogmann, 56, puts in 80 hours a week, doing the heavy physical labor by himself. He fires the steel like blacksmiths of yore, hammers it out on an anvil, uses forklifts to hoist his gargantuan designs. His wife, Lisa, is the only paid staffer. She helps polish the finished objects, which include gates, doors, staircases, bed frames, sculpture and custom artistic orders. He also has four unpaid interns.

His studio is in an old industrial building at Fifth Avenue S and 22nd Street, which is far less glitzy than the space he once occupied at the historic Piano Exchange building at 232 Second St. N.

For a former student of the prestigious Parsons The New School for Design in New York whose father was a commercial blacksmith, the grittier work environment and simpler work schedule represent a return to his roots.

Krogmann has been working on two local projects that are fetching considerably less money than he demanded a few years back, even if they are of historic significance for the city. One is for the Crislip Arcade building at 645 Central Ave., the other for the St. Petersburg Tennis Center in Bartlett Park at 650 18th Ave. S.

For the Crislip, he's creating two sets of gates, for the front and rear of the building. Krogmann agreed to do the project in exchange for the cost of materials, about $10,000, and for a year's rent on what will be his first gallery space.

Krogmann, who lives in Lakewood Estates with his two daughters, said he was inspired by the 600 block of Central Avenue and its recent transformation into an artists' enclave. He was given free rein on the gates' design. He found inspiration in the way that light beams through the arcade and decided to take advantage of shadow effects.

"The artistic silhouette you can create can actually draw people in to the center," he said. "If you're going to put artists in there, you've go to celebrate art."

For the tennis center, Krogmann was chosen by the city's public arts commission to create a tennis-themed entrance gate for $20,000. He's calling the 8-foot tall, 15-foot wide project Match Point. It features hollow steel tennis balls made furry by laborious etching. Krogmann's much more stylized design was turned down by the city, he said.

In between, Krogmann is also focusing again on evolving as an artist. He is scouting high-end customers who want his baroque style. Those customers still exist, he said, but they are fewer.

"I want to take it to the next level. I want to go way out there."

St. Petersburg landmarks to feature sculptor's ironwork gates 03/30/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 4:28pm]
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