ST. PETERSBURG — In many ways, St. Petersburg seems an ideal place for a museum that celebrates the intricate, skillfully-crafted furniture, pottery and metalwork of the American Arts and Crafts Movement.
City neighborhoods have a diversity of well-preserved Craftsman-style bungalows built at the apex of the artistic movement in the 1920s, exemplifying characteristic detail etched into columns, gables and trim.
Downtown has gained international notice from visitors who come to see world class art exhibitions at The Dali Museum or the Chihuly Collection.
More recently, a growing community of business owners and artists has revived the spirit of the 100-year-old arts movement, eschewing all things mass-produced in favor of quality handicrafts made by individual craftsmen.
Rudy Ciccarello’s collection of more than 1,300 objects include everything from intricately carved oak chairs to copper beer steins, some made by leaders in the artistic movement that ran from the 1900s to the 1930s.
He recently acquired a parcel at 333 Third Ave. N. where he plans to invest more than $35 million to build a 100,000-square-foot museum expected to be open in about three years.
“I looked at other possible sites for the museum but for a number of reasons I felt St. Petersburg was the ideal location,” Ciccarello wrote in an email.
With St. Petersburg hailed by travel publications as one of the nation’s top arts destinations among midsized cities, Ciccarello says his multimillion dollar collection will be situated perfectly, “close to the MFA [Museum of Fine Arts], The Dali, Chihuly, fine dining, and a great community that is very supportive of the arts.”
While his career led him into the medical industry as the founder of Florida Infusion Services, business success has bolstered Ciccarello’s lifetime love for the arts.
His Palm Harbor-based Two Red Roses Foundation has amassed an impressive collection of rare finds, such as a trapezoidal-shaped China cabinet made in 1901 by famed craftsman furniture maker Gustav Stickley.
To design a worthy showcase for these precious works, Ciccarello has teamed with Tampa architect Alberto Alfonso.
The duo plans a four-story, modern building that embodies the simplicity and design quality exemplified by the craftsman movement without merely imitating it.
In addition, extensive gallery space, a restaurant, café, museum store and library are among the features envisioned for the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement.
An early rendering shows a multitier rectangular building with long, sleek lines and windows spanning one side.
It bears no real semblance to the historic bungalows in nearby neighborhoods like Kenwood or Old Northeast, and that’s the idea.
“We both came forward with the idea that the objects themselves wanted to be displayed in a very clean and beautiful way, so we did not want to get into the idea of a style, in other words, an Arts and Crafts style,” said Alfonso, who also designed the Chihuly Collection space on Beach Drive.
“The building is a reflection of our time, but it also shows the arts and holds the art up as the pre-eminent idea. “
The city’s Development Review Commission approved a variance to build a large, multilevel parking garage set to begin construction in March. The museum is expected to open in 2017.
While St. Petersburg seems a natural fit for the museum, this is actually the second location Ciccarello has seriously considered in the Tampa Bay area.
In 2012, a plan to build the museum on downtown Tampa’s Riverwalk fell apart when the city balked at his foundation’s request to contribute $1 million a year for five years.
Ciccarello expects to invest at least $35 million in the St. Petersburg museum, but he says gathering outside support from corporate, public or private sources will be critical to keeping it financially viable.
The arts and crafts collection has special ties to St. Petersburg’s past and present.
The city’s boom years that ran into the 1920s coincided with the prominence of this national design movement.
“A reaction to the new machine age,” the craftsman style lives on in many of the city buildings that have endured for nearly 100 years, and especially in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown, said Emily Elywn, president of St. Petersburg Preservation.
The impulse among many city homeowners to restore and emphasize their old home’s unique design features is reflective of the period that “really celebrated the artisan and the craftsman,” something that’s also apparent in each of the unique pieces in Ciccarello’s collection, says Alfonso.
“You walk by and each one is beautifully individual and has an individual quality to them,” he said.