Six months ago, Susan Gott began searching for all things Tampa. A sheepshead fish, fresh from the bay. A tobacco-stained wood cigar press and a storm drain cover imprinted with a ship. A mask from the entry of the Tampa Theatre. Gasparilla beads. American Indian artifacts and a ceremonial key to the city. She wanted "things that tie the community together." She used them to make imprints for molds to fashion glass tiles.
Gott was one of several artists commissioned for the Zack Street Promenade of the Arts — a $1.2 million project converting three downtown blocks. The initial phase stretches from Franklin Street to Ashley Drive, leading to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. The city has been talking about the art project since at least 2005.
With the Republican National Convention inching closer, officials are working to get the artwork in place by the second week of August.
Gott, an acclaimed glass artist, will host a preview of her piece this weekend at her Phoenix Studio in Seminole Heights where visitors also will see glassblowing demonstrations.
Telling the story of Tampa was important for the piece, Gott said, as she positioned her finished art over lights to create a glowing effect in the Seminole Heights studio. "They all tell a story, the story of Tampa."
After collecting the items in February and creating molds of sand, she cranked up her furnace to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. She added a mix of soda ash, lime and sand and left it to melt overnight. The next morning she ladled out a golden glowing syrup.
As always, the next part went fast. She poured the melted mix over the mold imprints. The syrup then dries into solid glass tiles. The tiles weigh about 50 pounds each and fit into three vertical panels 8.5 feet tall. The glass tiles are in shades of cool greens and blues to buffer a parking lot between Ashley and Tampa streets.
Pedestrians can touch the raised glass outlines of Tampa relics. At night, a backlight will glow through them.
Robin Nigh, city manager for arts programs, calls it an urban solution to soften craggy cityscapes with the cool greens and blues of the glass.
The panels holding the tiles are framed in orange, so the Tampa-themed art will "pop beautifully," Nigh said.
The city of Tampa commissioned Gott for the $30,000 project. Along with works by other artists, the total cost to date for artwork along the promenade is $180,000.
Gott has been working with glass for 30 years and specializes in casting one-of-a-kind sculptures.
"In a word," Nigh said, "she's amazing."
The other artists are Tampa's Kevin Brady, creating ornate seating, Michelle Weinberg, from Miami, designing sidewalk and crosswalk imprints inlaid with textured glass, and Andrews LeFevre of New York casting metal medallions in bronze relief.
The medallions showcase Burgert Brothers photos of Tampa, the Tampa Theatre and the Jackson House, which sits farther east along Zack Street. The medallions, however, may not be in place before the convention, Nigh said. Zack has been narrowed to allow for wider sidewalks with trees and plants.
Gott's works typically incorporate mythological imagery and symbolism from ancient cultures. She has been commissioned for several other public art projects including stained glass. The Zack Street art is more literal, she said.
Take her historic Jackson House tile. Spindles from over the door are outlined along with a washboard, two spoons and a harmonica. The former boarding house once hosted performers Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown and Ray Charles.
A lasso and whip and branding irons reveal Tampa's early days on the "Cracker" tile. Another tile displays the architecture of the Plant Hotel's iconic minarets.
Nigh said the city plans to extend the art walkway along Zack Street from Franklin Street to Nebraska Avenue.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.