With a new website on its palette and increased interest from the 600 Block’s success, St. Petersburg’s Second Saturday Art Walk feels bigger than ever for some of its artists.
Thirty galleries across the city open their doors to the public on the second Saturday of every month to show off their latest works for free. The walk began over 20 years ago, when it was only held once annually at Christmastime. It became a monthly event after a group of artists formed the St. Petersburg Downtown Arts Association in the ’90s.
Mary Klein has been involved with the art walk since the beginning. Klein works with enamel and silver wire at her picturesque second story corner studio at the Art Lofts on Central Avenue. She began working with enamel in college when her professor, who taught enameling and jewelry making, gave up teaching to get married. The professor’s regional reputation for enameling intimidated Klein, but when the professor left she felt free to pursue her interest, even making it her major.
That was over 35 years ago.
“The only reason I can still do it after all these years is because I was smart enough to know that this stuff can kill you if you do not treat it properly,” Klein said.
Enamel is a powdered form of glass that must be fired in a kiln at extreme temperatures. Breathing the dust can damage an artist’s lungs, so Klein wears protective gear while she is working.
Creating art from enamel involves both experimentation and magic, Klein said, as small changes in variables like heat, time and the piece’s location inside the kiln can have a huge effect.
“Every time you stick something in the kiln it can turn out entirely different than you think it will,” Klein said.
Joe Walles, her neighbor down the hall, looks at his photography the same way.
“You push the button down and you think you got something good but you’re not sure,” he said.
That’s the mystique of film photography, he said. Touching the negatives and working with gloves and liquids in his dark room in the second floor of the Art Lofts add a further emotional aspect to it all.
Walles, who was a picture editor at the St. Petersburg Times, didn’t pick up photography because he wanted to make “fine art.” It was so he could get out of class.
“I’d love to stay here in history class but I have to go shoot a picture for the yearbook,” he said, remembering what he told his teacher.
His studio is filled with hundreds of relics from the 50 years since then, ranging from vintage cameras to the old equipment from the St. Petersburg Times’ dismantled dark room.
He said the St. Petersburg art scene has grown a lot because of the 600 Block, which until just a few years ago it was all just “junk shops.”
Walles spends his second Saturdays debating the merits of digital and film photography with art enthusiasts and showing them interesting artifacts he has found—such as a score of late 19th century photographs his friend picked up from a yard sale. At the end of the night, he said, he does something hundreds of other people do every second Saturday—he goes to Duncan McClellan’s massive gallery in the Warehouse District.
“His is the place the artists go when we’re done here,” he said.
The second Saturday art walks take place from 5 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. every month. To learn more about galleries that participate in the walk, visit artwalkstpete.com.
Photo by Ren LaForme