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Exhibit is homecoming for artist, farewell for museum


When the Gulf Coast Museum of Art closes its doors on Jan. 30, it will be with a bang, not a whimper.

That's because its current and final show, "Christopher Still: Coming Home," will more than likely be its best received.

The museum has decided to abandon its place among the pine trees and palmettos at Pinewood Cultural Park in search of more visibility and foot traffic, said Michelle Turman, the museum's executive director.

Museum officials are considering a move to downtown Clearwater, she said, and the exhibition will allow them to "leave on a high note."

Although the museum is saying goodbye, the retrospective exhibition is one big welcome-back party for Still's renowned work, much of which has wound up in the hands of private collectors, some from out of state.

"To see it all in one place — that won't happen again," Turman said.

The show spans more than 30 years of Still's career with 57 pieces on loan from 42 collectors. It is arranged chronologically for the most part, beginning with a charcoal piece he created as a teen called Myself at 83.

Still, 47, who grew up in the Clearwater-Largo area and now lives in Tarpon Springs, credits the art center with putting him on his career path when he was a child in elementary school. The center has existed in the area since the 1930s under different names at various locations.

He began studying there at about age 7, when it was known as the Florida Gulf Coast Art Center and was in the Belleair area.

"The art center gave me one of my first scholarships that allowed me to take summer classes," he said.

While still a youngster, he'd move into the adult classes and build a portfolio that enabled him to receive a full scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Later, he would travel throughout Europe to study techniques of the old masters.

But his plan was always to come home, which he did in 1986.

"I always planned to come back to Florida and take what I had learned from different places around the world and interpret them in my home state," he said.

The result of his artistic education, coupled with instruction in biology, zoology, human anatomy and genetics, are works rich in detail, color and thought.

They are found in private collections, museums, city halls, universities, the Smithsonian Institution, and the House Chambers in Tallahassee.

Locally, Tampa International Airport and the Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater boast his murals.

One of the paintings in the current exhibition, Land of Promise, is a good example of Still's approach: making complicated compositions layered with color, meaning and imagery.

For instance, if one begins in the upper left-hand corner of the painting, the eye will wind its way around the painting, taking in citrus, cattle, pigs, fishnets, a hurricane lamp and the McMullen-Coachman cabin, now at Heritage Village.

Was he inspired by hurricanes? The pattern of a seashell?

Look closely at the other images: the locks of the girl's hair, the design of the wedding ring quilt, the design in the rattlesnake skin.

"This painting was about the early pioneers and the ways they survived," he said. "I was playing with the double helix, the shape of DNA. It was something I was studying at the time."

If you go

The exhibit

What: "Christopher Still: Coming Home" brings the painter back to his beginnings at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art.

When: Through Jan. 25.

Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-4 p.m. Sunday; closed Mondays.

Where: Gulf Coast Museum of Art, 12211 Walsingham Road, in Pinewood Cultural Park, Largo.

Admission: $10 adults; $8 seniors 65 and up; $5 college students and youth ages 7 to 18. 6 and younger are free

For info: Call (727) 518-6833 or visit

Exhibit is homecoming for artist, farewell for museum 11/13/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 13, 2008 5:08pm]
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