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James Museum to be one of few in south devoted to Western art

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

When the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art opens in about a year, it will help cement St. Petersburg’s place as a destination for art lovers from around the world.

The prospect has caused a buzz in the art world and Thursday morning, Emily Kapes, art collection curator at Raymond James Financial, gave a short preview of what’s coming to local art lovers. The event was sponsored by the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance.

Tom and Mary James, the donors whom the museum will be named after, began collecting art while they were dating in the 1960s, Kapes said. The collection at first concentrated on modern art but as the Jameses traveled out west to go skiing, they became more and more familiar with and enamored of modern Western art.

Now they have about 3,000 works of art that’s housed in office space at Raymond James Financial in the Carillon area of Pinellas County. The bulk of that — about 1,800 pieces — is Western art. The “gallery,” which comprises all walls of the office space, is open to the public for tours.

“They’ve never sold a piece in over 50 years of collecting,” Kapes said. “We have it all.”

It’s that collection that will be the basis of the James Museum, which will be located on two floors at 100 Central Ave. in downtown St. Petersburg. Between 400 and 500 pieces of art are expected to be transferred from Carillon to St. Pete. Also coming will be a collection of Native American jewelry.

The new museum will be about 130,000 square feet and will not only have gallery space but also a sculpture court, classroom space, a theater, café, museum store and rental space for weddings and other events.

When complete, Kapes said, the James Museum will be one of only a few art museums in the south that’s devoted to Western Art. The nearest is in Georgia.

“We’re excited to bring Western art to Florida,” Kapes said.

The new museum was not the only good news for art lovers at Thursday’s get together. The other good news — the art that will be left at the Raymond James Financial Center will remain on display to the public, even after the museum opens.

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