One of the keys to making art people will buy, Oren Estell says, is mirrors. Put mirrors in the art.
"People look at them, see themselves, and they love the piece," said Estell, 62, a St. Petersburg sculptor who makes art from antique furniture. "They don't even know why."
As he spoke Saturday afternoon, Estell looked lovingly at The Dragon, one of the pieces he displayed at the 43rd annual Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
Estell was one of 245 artists at the festival, expected to draw more than 100,000 people this weekend. Admission is free, and the festival will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.
Now, back to The Dragon.
When he was a child in Toms River, N.J., Estell's father often came home lugging blonde-wood television cabinets. He took them apart and used the wood to build tables, chairs, desks, anything. It pained him to see good furniture sitting along the road on his way home from work as an engineer.
"Look at this," he would say, Estell remembered. "How can people throw away a perfectly good piece of wood?"
Estell thought of his father when he spotted a 1948 Stromberg-Carlson blonde-wood television cabinet at an estate sale. It came with a curious Asian-themed plate on the front ("Stromberg-Carlsons were like the Cadillacs of TVs back then, maybe they were trying to make it look fancy," Estell said).
The Asian plate inspired The Dragon, which had yellow eyes (old movie theater lights), fire-proof teeth (the metal onyx cut into arrowheads) and an elaborately scaled back and tail (made from other antiques).
Two 75-pound dumbbells sat in the chest. They had no artistic significance; it was windy and Estell was concerned about what a strong gust would do to his winged creature. Above the dumbbells, filling the spot where the television went back in 1948 — many tiles of mirrors.
The Dragon goes for $9,800. Despite a design maximized to prey on vanity, it had not been purchased by Saturday afternoon. Estell had sold two other pieces, though, including a $10,000 cubist-surrealist table.
"This is the most spectacular event around," Estell said of the festival. "They really treat you like an artist."
After the conversation ended, Estell wandered back over to The Dragon. A couple seemed to really like it.
Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.