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Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement now scheduled to open by year's end

Work continues on the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. The museum is now scheduled to open in December. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
Work continues on the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. The museum is now scheduled to open in December. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Jul. 3, 2019

The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, the newest addition to St. Petersburg's flourishing museum scene, has been a long time coming.

It's now set to open Dec. 10, months behind schedule. And that followed delays in breaking ground and construction.

Wayne Atherholt, cultural affairs director for the city of St. Petersburg, said everyone behind the project is "focused on making it absolutely perfect, from the fixtures to tile to the bathrooms."

"Rudy," he said, "will not open that museum unless it is perfect."

Rudy would be Rodolfo "Rudy" Ciccarello, who owns the collection and is funding most of the museum.

Ciccarello, via e-mail, said some of the delay came from the decision to expand, midway through construction.

"It became obvious that the permanent gallery space was inadequate," he said.

A new floor was added, bringing the gallery space to 137,000 square feet. The auditorium was enlarged and amenities added, such as a fine arts event gallery. Upgraded materials also were used throughout the building, he said.

The museum is rising up at 355 Fourth St. N.

The $90 million project will house Ciccarello's collection of more than 2,000 objects from the early 20th century. Pinellas County's contribution has remained $6 million.

The museum was originally planned for 90,000 square feet and a price tag less than half its current price. Ciccarello purchased the 3.2-acre parcel from Synovus Bank in 2014. In 2015, ground was broken on the now-complete, 300-space parking garage. At the time, the museum was projected to open in 2017. But construction didn't start until January 2017, a year later than expected.

Tom Magoulis, the museum's executive director, said a project of this size typically has delays, but construction has gone smoothly. The five-story building was designed by Tampa architect Alberto Alfonso and Gilbane Building Company is handling the construction.

Ciccarello made a fortune as the founder of Florida Infusion Services, a distributor of drugs and medical supplies to doctors, clinics and pharmacies. He started the collection in 1997, beginning with a furniture piece by Gustav Stickley, one of the movement's leading artists. He started amassing so many objects that he started the Two Red Roses Foundation, which owns the collection, headquartered in Tarpon Springs.

His holdings contain some of the rarest objects from the movement and is considered the most important private collection in the world. Ciccarello has gone so far as to have tiles from entire bathrooms and floors from houses of the period painstakingly removed to preserve them. They will be installed in the museum. His knowledge of the period is scholastic. The entire collection has been catalogued with a series of seven manuscripts.

The Arts and Crafts movement started with artist William Morris in Great Britain in the 19th century. As a reaction to industrialization, Morris believed that an emphasis on craftsmen, designers and artists could enact social change. His design firm Morris and Company blended craft with fine art. The movement spread to the United States, becoming more of a philosophy rather than a distinctive art style. It included architecture, furniture, pottery, tile, lighting, woodblock prints and photography. A notable amount of female artists were associated with the movement.

There is an air of mystery around the museum. Ciccarello won't sit down for interviews, even over the phone. In an e-mail exchange, Ciccarello said a chef, a curator and curatorial staff, a director of education and an IT/graphic designer had been hired, but he hasn't released any of their names. The museum doesn't yet have its own website; it's still just a page on the Two Red Roses Foundation's website.

But, according to Magoulis, they have been getting the word out in St. Petersburg through presentations. They have been well-received, he said, getting offers of help from arts leaders, neighborhood associations, the city and interested citizens.

Watching the museum's progress certainly piques interest. While not reflective of the architecture of the Arts and Crafts movement, the goal was to represent the ideals of the period, which focused on craftsmanship and quality. Gleaming granite panels from Brazil accentuate the exterior. The protruding spherical object houses the spiral staircase in the lobby.

Inside, there will be a grand atrium, illuminated by "Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired" skylights, according to a museum press release. A 67-foot tile mural, featuring various ships, will be installed on the mezzanine of the atrium. The quartersawn white oak flooring, across 60,000 square feet, pays homage to the movement's use of natural materials. The ground floor will house the museum store, a cafe, the Ambrosia restaurant and a research library. There will be 40,000 square feet of permanent gallery space and 10,000 square feet of space dedicated to changing exhibitions.

Museum plans also include an auditorium, a graphic studio for print making, an education studio, event space and a park with working antique fountains.

Atherholt said that the museum is a cultural boon, not just for St. Petersburg or Florida, but the entire Southeast.

It will undoubtedly bring a new group of tourists to the area.

The Arts and Crafts movement has a knowledgeable and loyal following across the U.S., Magoulis said in an e-mail, and those people are excited about the museum.

Ciccarello seems eager to share his passion.

The education department will have robust public programming, he said.

"Our goal," he said, "is to provide a learning and entertaining visitor experience."

Contact Maggie Duffy at mduffy@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8572. Follow @maggiedalexis.

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