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Salt Creek artists say goodbye to a best-kept secret

All's quiet at Salt Creek Artworks except for the sound of a paintbrush stroking the canvas.

St. Petersburg artist Lance Rodgers (above) concentrates on his latest project behind the thin walls that separate him from other artists' studios. He squirts white paint from a tube onto his palette, then dabs his brush in it.

An electric saw echoes in the corridors.

"You hear that?" Rodgers asks, referring to another artist working nearby.

"A lot of beauty has been created underneath this roof; in this whole building, you know. It's just pretty awesome."

Rodgers was Salt Creek's first art tenant, in 1992. International photographer Herb Snitzer came next, followed by others. Four years later, Snitzer's girlfriend, Carol Dameron, set up shop.

She recalls Snitzer telling her: "Once you move to Salt Creek, well, this relationship is serious."

They married.

For the artists who have studios there, it didn't matter that Salt Creek floods during major storms, or that the pipes and ducts lay exposed, or that rats and pigeons — and even a hawk — occasionally creep in.

"This is my artistic home," Snitzer says.

Salt Creek has been a community fixture over the years along the Fourth Street S corridor, where it blends in with the nearby fast-food joints, a bait shop and an industrial marina.

Patricia Burgess' grandfather, Roy Bishop, bought the property in the 1940s. It was first a furniture store during the second half of the century. Her parents, Claude "Azell" and Dorothy Prince, turned it into an artist collective, starting with 10 studios. Now there are 42.

"The people down here are like my family, and I wouldn't do anything to hurt somebody in my family," says Burgess, who manages the property.

If someone couldn't pay rent that month, that person wasn't evicted.

After her father died in 2005, Burgess decided to continue his vision.

But now the family is selling the building, which will be razed, and a parking lot will take its place.

The artists are packing up artwork, paintbrushes, saws and easels. The collective will close Aug. 10.

They recently hosted one last show. Posed for one last group photograph. Offered one last tour of their studios to the public.

"I've sold stuff all over the world, and this was always a great place to show stuff off," says Rodgers, who curated the exhibits there. "It didn't have the most bells and whistles, and didn't have the cleanest drywall. I don't care.

"It was still this best-kept-secret kind of thing."

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Salt Creek artists say goodbye to a best-kept secret 07/14/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 14, 2012 4:30am]
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