Explore the ways of the West
The West isn’t nearly as far away as you think. Spend a few hours at The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art and you’ll feel you’ve landed in the heart of western life.
You’ll see paintings, life-size sculptures, sketches, jewelry, photos and etchings depicting Native Americans, cowboys and cowgirls. You’ll see sultry landscapes, stampeding horses, and life as it was, and still is, in the West.
The museum building is artistic itself, with mesa-like sandstone walls inside and out, evoking western landscapes. Featuring 350 artworks and 100 pieces of jewelry, the permanent collection is one of the largest of its kind on exhibit in the country.
Art on display is just a sampling of 3,000 pieces owned by collectors and museum founders Thomas A. James and Mary James. For years, some of their art was exhibited at Raymond James Financial headquarters in St. Petersburg, where Thomas James served as CEO for 40 years and is chairman emeritus.
Now, the art is available for all to see in the museum that opened in 2018, thanks to the James’ $75-million initial investment.
On the first floor are larger-than-life sculptures. Visitors are lured upstairs by a bronze sculpture called “The Wild” of frontiersmen Kit Carson and John Fremont riding a canoe through roiling waves. Vast galleries feature paintings by Charles Russell, Frederic Remington, Ernest Blumenschein and others. There’s also Native American pottery, paintings and sculptures; contemporary Western paintings and more.
A glass room called The Jewel Box features Mary James’ Native American concho belts, rings, necklaces and bracelets. Another gallery is filled with wildlife paintings and sculptures of animals from around the world.
The museum gift shop sells books, jewelry and other items. The Canyon Cafe is temporarily closed.
Museum membership offers rewards. The biggest reward, though, is being able to see some of the best of the West, slightly more than an arrow shot away from Tampa Bay.
The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art
Where: 150 Central Ave., downtown St. Petersburg. Parking is on Levels 3 and 4 of the South Core Parking Garage at 101 First Ave., S. The first hour is free; $1 an hour after that.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily, except Tuesdays, when hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Cost: adults, $20; seniors, active military and students, $15; ages 7 to 18, $10. Discounts given on Tuesdays. Tickets can be purchased at the door or at TheJamesMuseum.org.
Covid-19 restrictions: As of mid-July, masks are not required for vaccinated visitors but are required for unvaccinated visitors. The museum is temporarily not accepting cash. Canyon Café is closed, but free tea and coffee are available. Please check to see if there are any changes to these restrictions.
By Karen Haymon Long
Note: This is an edited and updated version of a story that originally appeared in The Laker/Lutz News on Jan. 15, 2020.
Visit a ‘palm paradise’ in St. Petersburg
Tom St. Peter, a volunteer at Gizella Kopsick Palm Arboretum in downtown St. Petersburg, has always been attracted to plants and trees.
When he was in the corporate world, he often spent his lunch hour buying plants in local nurseries. The palm park is a special place, he said.
“It’s like my cathedral. There’s an aura about it.”
The 2-acre park once was a city-owned miniature golf course that closed due to increased costs.
In 1976, resident Elva Rouse suggested a palm arboretum for the spot overlooking the bay. The St. Petersburg City Council agreed and Gizella Kopsick, a longtime palm admirer, contributed stock to establish the park.
It began with 60 palms, representing 10 species. Now it has 500 palms and cycads, totaling 150 species apiece, and every palm species is native to Florida.
Volunteers and city workers maintain the park.
Volunteer Phil Stager, who leads free tours, said he’s not aware of another place like it in the Western Hemisphere, even though palms are nearly universal.
“Palms are native to every continent, except the Antarctic,” he said. “Cycads are native to every continent except Europe and the Antarctic.”
Cycads, he said, are the oldest seed-bearing plants on the planet. They go back about 300 million years, while palms are about 60 million to 65 million years old. Sago palms and other cycads are labeled by green signs in the park; palms are designated by gray ones.
Tours are just one way to enjoy the park. Some visitors exercise there, push baby carriages along the winding paths, take pictures, or merely sit on benches to enjoy the tropical views.
When Sager moved to Florida, he recognized two types of palms – coconut palms and all others. Then he planted a few palms at his home and joined a local chapter of the International Palm Society.
“That’s the best way,” he said, “to learn about palms.”
Gizella Kopsick Palm Arboretum
Where: 901 North Shore Drive, N.E., St. Petersburg
When: Open daily 30 minutes before sunrise to 11 p.m. for self-guided tours
Cost: Free admission, parking and volunteer-led tours
Info: For volunteer-led tours, make reservations at 727-893-7441; more details at StPeteParksRec.org.
By B.C. Manion
Note: This is an edited and updated version of a story that originally was published in The Laker/Lutz News on April 19, 2017.
Stop by for beauty and tranquility at Sunken Gardens
Birds chirp, as breezes stir through trees. Beauty abounds around every bend in this tranquil place, so different from outside its walls just off busy Fourth Street. There’s plenty to take in at Sunken Gardens, which dates back more than a century.
Described as St. Petersburg’s “oldest living museum,” the botanical gardens boast waterfalls, meandering paths, demonstration gardens and more than 50,000 tropical plants and flowers, some of the oldest in the region.
Where else within walking distance of a busy downtown can you see flamingos, koi, tortoises, orchids and palms all in one place?
Here, moms push strollers, or walk along, clinging to small children’s hands. Friends chat as they make their way through. Couples, families, photographers and nature lovers share the experience, too.
Sunken Gardens dates to 1903, when George Turner Sr., a plumber and gardener, bought the site that included a shallow lake 10 feet below sea level. He drained the lake to form his private sunken garden and grew papayas, citrus and exotics in the rich soil.
By the 1920s, he had opened a nursery and sold fruit, vegetables, roses and other plants. He charged a nickel to stroll through his gardens. In the fall of 1935, he fenced his gardens off and upped admission to a quarter.
Over time, Sunken Gardens became one of Florida’s most popular attractions. Turner’s sons, Ralph and George Jr., carried on after he died in 1961. Ralph’s sons sold the attraction to the City of St. Petersburg in 1999.
Today, near a bench made of fossilized limestone rock, known as the Sunken Gardens Growing Stone, a sign proclaims: “Legend has it that, ‘He who sits upon the ancient stone shall be granted tranquility, inner harmony and the talent to make things grow.’”
Where: 1825 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg
When: Open Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 4:30 p.m. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Cost: adults, $12; seniors 62 and older, $10; children 2 to 17, $6. Parking is free.
Covid-19 update: As of mid-July, no events or programs were scheduled. Call the gardens to find out the latest news.
By B.C. Manion
Note: This is an updated and revised version of a story that originally was published in The Laker/Lutz News on Aug. 8, 2018.
Published July 21, 2021