Wednesday, August 15, 2018

There's a trove of edgy local art inside Great Bay Distributors


Nestled in an industrial complex, invisible from any main road, sits the corporate headquarters of Great Bay Distributors. You'd never suspect that inside lies one of the edgiest collections of local art and murals in Tampa Bay.

As you step into the sleek lobby, Frank Strunk's sculpture of gears and machinery, painted in Great Bay's signature red, catches your eye.

Step up to the reception desk, and you're greeted by Derek Donnelly's black and white portrait of Claude Focardi, founder of Great Bay.

Beyond the lobby is the large community room, where an installation by Bask hangs on the wall, across from a large bar. Titled 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, numbered bottles of beer are painted on wood in various sizes, handled in Bask's signature, multilayered style.

It's a stunning display of modern art collected specifically for Florida's largest distributor of Anheuser-Busch products. And it's all local.

Installing an art collection was the brainchild of Focardi's granddaughter, Jennifer Petrini Lovelady, director of community and cultural affairs and human relations manager at Great Bay. When the company was building its new facility in 2015, she enlisted artist and former gallerist Chad Mize to curate.

Mize put together a selection of work from local talent, including many heavy hitters. The artwork didn't have to be beer related, but many of the artists used the libation and Great Bay as inspiration.

Much of the collection is in the hallways of the executive offices. A series of panels by Tes-One hangs on a curved wall. Resembling a hybrid of nature and circuitry, they were inspired by the building's solar panels. It's Florida's largest private solar array and provides about 80 percent of Great Bay's power needs.

Mize created a series of flat wooden beer bottles adorned in colorful patterns. A collage he created, composed of photos of the family and old Budweiser ads, hangs in president Ron Petrini's office, along with the 100th bottle of beer from Bask's installation.

Todd Bates took high-definition photos of beer in various incarnations, from barley and hops to the head spilling out over a frosty mug. Many of the shots were taken at St. Petersburg's 3 Daughters Brewing, whose beer Great Bay also distributes.

Chris Parks, who works under the name Pale Horse, riffed on Anheuser-Busch's eagle logo when he created his piece, a laser engraving of an eagle with a snake in its clutches, on layered sheets of metal. He knew he'd be creating it for the sales room.

"They were open to hiring us to create things we normally create, which was cool," Parks said. "I often work with birds in my artwork and have been exploring the dynamic of the eagle versus the snake. It's a common motif that you see in different cultures around the world. It's a bit of a powerful symbol as well, with the concept of good versus evil, kind of a heroic symbol."

Lovelady also hired the Vitale Bros. to paint murals and the Great Bay corporate logo throughout the building. Beyond the offices, in the hallway to the massive warehouse, they painted large murals that resemble retro beer ads to represent the four counties in Great Bay's distribution territory: Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus.

Great Bay's own team of artists, the graphics department, also got murals from the Vitales painted in their areas. They include old ad campaign mascots, including Bud Man.

Great Bay's previous location didn't feature an art collection, but rather, point-of-sale advertising pieces from Anheuser-Busch. Mize mixed a few of the pieces in with the art, but worked with Leslie Curran's ARTicles gallery to update their frames. For example, etchings of old-timey women drinking got a pop sensibility with modern red frames.

Corporate collections are a vital part of a thriving art scene. Raymond James' St. Petersburg headquarters has close to 3,000 pieces and was a starting point for the Tom and Mary James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art opening in 2018. Several law firms have art collections, including Tampa's Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick, whose collection features Florida artists. Bank of the Ozarks in St. Petersburg features murals and paintings from local artists.

In addition to the work commissioned for Great Bay, pieces from Lovelady's personal collection are mixed in, including a Rothko-esque painting her husband found on the side of the road. Her office is filled with edgy works she has gathered over the years, including whimsical ceramic sculptures from local artist Calan Ree and a painting by David Williams. Likewise, the workspace of executive assistant Lisa Weber is full of artfully arranged ceramic sculptures and other works from her personal collection.

The Focardi family has longtime ties to the local art scene. Claude and wife Nina began supporting the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg around the time they opened Great Bay. Their longtime support earned them a museum gallery in their name. The museum's membership group, the Contemporaries, organizes open house tours of the collection at Great Bay.

Claude died in 2002, but Nina, who is 103, continues to regularly go to work at Great Bay. When they moved headquarters, Lovelady felt it was time for the family business to reflect the family's identity.

"When we built this building, we decided we weren't going to brand beers anymore," Lovelady said. "We're going to brand ourselves."

Contact Maggie Duffy at [email protected]

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