ST. PETERSBURG — A new gallery feels right at home in the Grand Central District.
The Werk Gallery opened in February. It’s part white-box gallery showcasing local artists and part “object lab,” a cozy space with a homey vibe that serves as a design source and boutique.
Fritz Faulhaber and his husband Matthew opened the gallery after getting the space on First Avenue S through a family friend. Fritz is a longtime collector of antiques, having worked for a time for Jeffrey Hess of Hess Fine Art and Old Northeast Jewelers.
On the highly eclectic Object Lab side there are treasures to suit any taste. For example, there are blue chip works (high-value artwork by established artists), like a piece by Robert Rauschenberg, hanging in the same space with an animation cel (a celluloid transparent sheet) of the Care Bears.
An array of gemstones the pair have sourced sparkle in cabinets alongside statement and vintage jewelry. The works of contemporary artists, including many locals, hang on a nearby wall.
On a large table is a sticker bar bearing cheeky messages that also appear on patches, all made by artists. Greeting cards mix with original miniature one-of-one paintings, but you can also get a set of 200-year-old Japanese woodblock prints.
“It’s the ultimate gift shop in a way,” said Fritz.
Beyond that, the Faulhabers are warm hosts, offering guests espressos while sharing anecdotes about objects and artists. They’ll show you the Gabinetto Segreto, a room where work for adult eyes only hangs. It’s just off a back room adorned with a tranquil mural, where they envision folks relaxing to peruse a case full of art and design books.
Rotating community exhibitions hang on the gallery side. Currently, it’s “The Work of Jack Ellis,” featuring the intricate ink drawings and collages of the late, award-winning St. Petersburg artist.
Ellis died in 2022, but his wife Judy is the Faulhabers’ neighbor in Lakewood Estates, so she approached them about having a show. His works were being stored in his home studio, so some work had to be sent to a conservator.
The gallery is a wonderful setting for Ellis’ astonishing works. Many are large-scale, 40 inches by 60 inches, which is especially impressive given the amount of minute details. Often self-portraits, Ellis places himself in fantastical worlds with various critters, cartons of cigarettes, flora, architectural elements and unexpected locations for a date and signature.
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These works draw you in and beg to be inspected closely, time and again. It’s a promise that you’ll find some new detail each time.
Ellis’ work and method of working in ink and seamless use of collage impressed the scrupulous Charles Benbow, the former art critic of this paper when it was called the St. Petersburg Times. In the 1980s, Ellis won Best in Show at the Mainsail Art Festival and the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts when it was juried by superstar sculptor Duane Hanson. (Ellis’ award ribbons hang in the gallery.)
The gallery was set up to include some of Ellis’ tools, his last work in progress and clippings from the many articles written about him.
In the 1980s, Ellis did a joint art show with Ybor City artist and professor Jerry Meatyard. The Werk Gallery shows the artwork of Meatyard’s grandchild, Rhys. It’s the kind of full-circle connection that makes the gallery feel so comfortably familiar.
Fritz said his dream is to place one of Ellis’ works in a local museum. His works are certainly worthy.
But until that happens, visit them and the Faulhabers at The Werk.
What to know before you go to The Werk Gallery
The Werk Gallery. Free. Noon-5 p.m. Thursday-Sunday. 2210 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg. 727-289-8685. thewerk.gallery.