St. Petersburg, Florida, may seem an unlikely hub for glass art, but the city that holds the world's record for the most consecutive days of sunshine is also soon to be home to a new museum devoted entirely to the material as a medium of sculpture. The brand-new Imagine Museum is currently being installed in a repurposed building just nine blocks away from the Morean Arts Center, which boasts a now-permanent collection of Dale Chihuly’s work. The Imagine Museum expects to have a grand opening before the end of 2017, but it is already hosting events even as it undergoes a major renovation of its building, which has in previous incarnations been a bank, nightclub, and, most recently, a charter school. The museum is in the process of installing signage and building out its museum store. The first floor is on schedule to be complete by the end of February, where it will host occasional activities and events before the museum officially opens.
The vision for the museum comes via its benefactor, Trish Duggan, a glass collector and artist in her own right. Duggan wanted to create a space with both aesthetic and civic significance, a cultural institution dedicated to her medium of choice: glass.
“I adore glass as a medium, and one day I had the idea of a museum here in Florida dedicated to studio glass,” Duggan wrote in an email exchange with the GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet. “I mentioned the idea to the artist who runs the studio in St. Pete where I cast and three weeks later he said, ‘I think I found you a building.’ The rest is history, and we are excited as we look forward to tremendous activity and expansion in this flourishing field.”
Imagine Museum’s director, Nate Jessup, joined the team when his wife, a friend of Duggan's, heard that the position was available. Although Jessup majored in fine arts at Yale University and has some experience in fine arts management, this is his first time as a museum director. In a telephone interview with GLASS, Jessup explained that the museum's collection is being acquired with the help of Corey Hampson, president and owner of Royal Oak, Michigan-based Habatat Galleries, who is acting as a "curatorial advisor." He also mentioned that the third-floor of the building will be a separate non-museum area where Duggan will exhibit her work and hold private events.
The Imagine Museum's permanent collection will be on public view on the first two floors, and includes glass works from the early 1960s to the contemporary moment. The opening exhibit will present well-known names like Harvey Littleton and Marlene Rose—mostly American artists, but Jessup hopes to expand the collection to incorporate additional international works.
“The Imagine museum will offer an educational experience following the careers of 55 artists who have worked or continue to work with glass as a means for expression,” wrote Hampson in an email exchange with GLASS. ”Fifty-five artists have been chosen to represent 55 years of studio glass in America. The Imagine Museum starts with the 'big bang' of Harvey Littleton and Dominic Labino in the infamous workshop on the grounds of the Toledo Museum in 1962."
The work in the collection is organized into a glass genealogy, which Jessup calls Hampson's "vision and life's work."
“The Glass Family Tree will connect artists with their roots and act as a genealogy for studio glass,” Hampson wrote. “Among the institutions involved with the growth that help tell the story of glass in American include: Penland, Pilchuck, Haystack and UrbanGlass. It has been an honor and incredible experience working with the Imagine Museum, which continues to both define my purpose to educate and stimulate my passion and love for studio glass.”
The 50,000 square-foot Museum hosted its first group of visitors—120 collectors and members of the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass—to take a hard-hat tour of the property in January 2017. Only a quarter of the permanent exhibitions had been installed at the time of the tour, covering works through the 1960s. But Jessup says the exhibitions will not be limited to glass art retrospectives, as he hopes to expand the collection with fresh talent every year.
According to the museum website, the collection is "curated from major private collections and, in many cases, directly from the artist." The website also states that the exhibits will contextualize American participation within the larger "worldwide glass art phenomena".
“The plan is to be a sort of hall of fame for artists,” Jessup said. “We plan to feature a new artist every year. We’re very interested in emerging glass artists and technology. We want to push the envelope.”
Duggan, Hampson, and Jessup will be hiring on more staff as the grand opening approaches. In Florida, humidity and heat make opening in the spring or summer unadvisable, so Imagine is slated to open its doors later by an unspecified date, sometime before the end of 2017.