How Tampa Bay art galleries and museums prepared for Hurricane Idalia

Big efforts are made to protect the fragile artwork.
The Duncan McClellan Gallery crated up glass artworks in preparation for Hurricane Idalia on Aug. 29, 2023.
The Duncan McClellan Gallery crated up glass artworks in preparation for Hurricane Idalia on Aug. 29, 2023. [ Courtesy of the Duncan McClellan Gallery ]
Published Aug. 29|Updated Aug. 30

Empty shelves and bare pedestals were the only things on display through the large glass windows at Florida CraftArt on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.

Gallery staff spent all of Monday removing the works in glass, ceramics and other delicate materials in anticipation of Hurricane Idalia. They were moved to a storage area and offices.

The effort was worth it, said director of advancement Liz Cooper. After all, they have to protect the work of the 200 artists the gallery represents.

Throughout Tampa Bay, local galleries and museums hurried to prepare for the storm while also taking care of themselves and staff before they closed.

Related: What's closed or canceled because of Hurricane Idalia in Tampa Bay

The Duncan McClellan Gallery carries thousands of works in glass by artists from around the world, including McClellan’s own. The gallery and compound on Emerson Avenue South in the Warehouse Arts District features a labyrinthine garden of lush fruit trees and plants, accentuated by sculptures, many of them glass. They would all have to be packed up and stored safely.

McClellan has been through this before. His gallery has been in that location — which is in a non-evacuation zone — for more than a decade. So he has the drill down.

First, he and the team bring in the glass sculptures from outside and strap down the furniture. Next they go into the gallery and start crating up the artwork, sometimes using reinforced pedestals that double as crates. Cushions from the outdoor furniture protect the works and make the process of putting everything back go faster.

Glass artworks are stored in reinforced pedestals in anticipation of Hurricane Idalia at the Duncan McClellan Gallery in St. Petersburg.
Glass artworks are stored in reinforced pedestals in anticipation of Hurricane Idalia at the Duncan McClellan Gallery in St. Petersburg. [ Courtesy of the Duncan McClellan Gallery ]

The most delicate works get packed up first. McClellan packs up his own work last, because if it gets broken, the loss wouldn’t be as great financially. But in the event of damage, he’s fully insured.

Also, he’s so confident in the building’s structure — with hurricane-rated doors and a solid roof — that he and his wife, mother-in-law and six cats will be riding out the storm at the gallery.

“We’re in good shape,” he said.

At the Morean Glass Studio in downtown St. Pete, manager Tim Soluna considered what would happen if the power goes out. If the temperature of the glassblowing furnace — which runs at 2,100 degrees all the time — drops too quickly, it will break. Soluna must get it prepared to cool down to about 1,900-1,800 degrees and hold it there.

“That’ll make it a little more resilient if we do lose power and start to drop temperature,” he said.

Before the temperature can be lowered, Soluna must remove 400 pounds of molten glass from the furnace. To do so, he uses a steel ladle that is about a foot in diameter with a 6-inch bowl and ladles the glass into water. The water gets dumped out, and once the furnace is back up to temperature, the glass goes back in to be remelted.

Should the power go out and the furnace cools to 1,000 degrees, Soluna will have to bring the temperature back up gradually over a few days.

But if the power doesn’t go out and the storm passes without incident, Soluna will be able to put the glass back into the furnace on Wednesday and can get back to giving glassblowing demonstrations on Thursday.

“I’m hoping ... we don’t lose power,” he said. “Knock on wood. Here’s hoping we’re good to go on Thursday.”

The Dalí Museum on downtown St. Petersburg’s waterfront was famously constructed to withstand a category 5 hurricane, with its 18-inch-thick walls and geodesic glass bubble with a steel frame known as “The Enigma.” An emailed statement from the museum said that all of the artwork is kept on the third floor and can stay on the walls. Generators ensure the climate-controlled environment necessary to keep the artwork safe should power go out.

The new Dalí Dome that houses the digital “Dalí Alive 360″ was also built to withstand floods and hurricanes. Still, in preparation for the storm the museum installed flood panels at the doors, “removed all ancillary items around the Dome and turned off and secured the interior electrical components for the Dalí Alive 360 experience.”

Last year, The Dalí Museum’s beloved Wish Tree — a Florida ficus — was removed after it had been uprooted multiple times by storms as a safety precaution following Hurricane Ian. A new Wish Tree has been planted in a new location in the Avant-Garden. It’s a royal poinciana, which has a root system that is better suited to this weather, so the museum doesn’t anticipate it uprooting.

Beth Gelman, senior director of arts and cultural programming at The Gallery at Creative Pinellas in Largo, went into the emergency mode that she learned while working for art museums.

Even though the space was built to withstand hurricane-force winds (it was formerly the Gulf Coast Museum of Art), Gelman worried about a few pieces from the “Keepers of Heritage: Hidden Tales” exhibition that could get broken if the building were to shake. So those were taken down, as well as some works on paper that are especially delicate.

“I always feel like it’s best to overprepare than underprepare,” she said.

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