Traveling along a sometimes bumpy, bottleneck-riddled road towards completion, the Museum of the American Arts & Crafts Movement (MAACM) in St. Petersburg, Florida, has at long last entered the home stretch and will make its public debut on September 7. The opening marks the arrival of a major new presence in St. Pete’s buzzy Waterfront Museum District. Project architect Alfonso Architects, a Tampa-based firm led by Cuban-American architect Alberto Alfonso, was tapped in late 2013 and, initially, the museum was slated to open in early 2016—construction ultimately didn’t commence until January 2017.
Two years ago, a firm opening date for the long-stalled 137,000-square-foot museum, which is the first institution of its kind dedicated to the British-born decorative and fine arts movement that blossomed across Europe and North American in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, remained a giant question mark (more recently in part to the COVID-19 crisis).
As detailed by St. Pete news platform The Catalyst in June 2020, the $90 million project at that point had been “more or less ready for occupancy” for half a year although a substantial amount of interior work had yet to be completed.
“[…] given what’s going on, we felt it would be not a good idea to onboard staff, get them trained, bring them in, and a few weeks later, a month later, have the possibility of having to let them go,” MAACM executive director Tom Magoulis told The Catalyst. “There’s nothing more important to us than getting this thing open. But we don’t want to open and then have to close.”
Although the pandemic isn’t exactly in the rearview (especially in Florida), the daily vaccination rate is on the rise and most cultural institutions across the country have reopened their doors over the past year or are on the cusp of opening their doors for the first time, as is the case with MAACM, with health and safety precautions in place.
At the long-awaited MAACM, visitors will find 40,000 square feet of gallery space along with a destination restaurant, education and graphic studios research library, theatre, retail store, cafe, and large banquet space spread across the five-story museum building at 4th Avenue and 3rd Street South. As described in a recent MAACM press release, the building is envisioned as a “work of art itself.”
Alfonso’s museum building, a markedly contemporary structure built from concrete, glass, and steel, stands as an iconic new work of architecture for the city. (Nearby neighbors of note include the HOK-designed Salvador Dalí Museum and Alfonso’s Chihuly Collection at the Morean Arts Center.) Designed in harmony with the sun-drenched trappings of Florida’s Gulf Coast, it’s an intriguing if not sly venue in which to house a sizable collection of fine and decorative art—furniture, tiles, paintings, pottery, photographs, metalwork, and more—that was produced from roughly 1900 to 1930 during the American wave of the Arts and Crafts movement. Originating in late Victorian-era England, the craftmanship-focused trend emerged as an antidote of sorts to the mass production that defined the Industrial Revolution. Over 800 American-made works, many rare, will be showcased at the museum, curated from both the MAACM’s own collection and the holdings of the Two Red Roses Foundation (TRRF), museum founder and president Rudy Ciccarello’s educational nonprofit organization dedicated to “the acquisition, conservation, preservation, exhibition, and interpretation of the American Arts and Crafts Movement.”
As Alfonso, who designed the building in close collaboration with Ciccarello, explained in a statement, the museum’s design was“inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement in its detailing and customization of material and joinery. The building will serve the collection in its presentation of precious objects in a modern, functional, and didactic way. The spaces will embrace natural light and respond to the different scales of the objects they hold. It will be a building of our time that celebrates this immensely important period of art, architecture, and American history.”
As detailed by the museum, TRRF’s 2,000-plus-object-strong holdings were personally collected by Ciccarello, a local philanthropist, collector, and pharmaceutical supply giant, over a more than three-decade span and comprise the most important private collection of the American Arts and Crafts movement in the world. Works by vanguards of the movement—Gustav Stickley, Charles Rohlfs, the Byrdcliffe Colony, the Roycrofters, Tiffany Studios, Dirk van Erp, Grueby Pottery, the Saturday Evening Girls, Rookwood Pottery, Newcomb Pottery, Frederick Hurten Rhead, Adelaide Alsop Robineau, and Arthur Wesley Dow among them—can all be found in the museum’s permanent galleries and a trio of special exhibition spaces. Centered around a soaring central atrium with a dramatic spiral staircase, MAACM also features several singular period installations including a complete wood-paneled room designed by Greene and Greene, a custom-tiled bathroom and boathouse floor by Grueby Faience & Tile Company, and a 600-tile mural from Rookwood Pottery.
Exhibitions opening alongside the museum include Love, Labor, and Art: The Roycroft Enterprise, which display over 75 works produced by the reformist Roycroft community of Western New York, and Lenses Embracing the Beautiful: Pictorial Photographs from the Two Red Roses Foundation, which features more than 150 photographs and rare books. “These carefully composed, camera-generated images mimic the appearance of paintings through hand-manipulated effects, reflecting the larger Arts and Crafts context,” the museum explained.
Following its September 7 opening, the MAACM will be open to guests Tuesdays through Sundays. For enthusiasts of the movement whose future travel plans don’t include the Tampa Bay Area, a first-look video of the new museum can be viewed here.