St. Petersburg, Florida -- From the moment you step inside, The James Museum instantly sends you to the American West. Yann Weymouth, a famed architect, designed the space to feel like you're traveling through canyons.
Founded in 2018, the James Museum is comprised of about 400 works of Western and wildlife art, including bronze sculptures, paintings, and fine art.
"I believe art is really the shortest distance between person to person. It is a way that we express, that we communicate, that we feel, that we can create empathy between others," says executive director Laura Hine.
The collection was assembled over the past 50 years by Tom and Mary James. Some people may recognize Tom as the chairman of Raymond James Financial. Tom is a native of St. Petersburg, but they would spend their summers and winters out West. Tom and Mary loved filling their home with artwork representing places they spent time. And one of the most important things to them was to purchase art from living artists.
"They value the idea of purchasing art from living artists so that they can continue to make art," Hine says.
Because of this, the museum is primarily a contemporary collection. That can be a surprise because when many people hear American West, they think of iconic artists like Charles Marion Russell and Frederic Remington.
The bonus of featuring contemporary artists is that they have the chance to tell their story first hand. We learn why an artist painted what they did or what they are representing with their art.
It also allows artists to participate in person at the museum's events and performances. The museum's artist talks bring in both local and Western artists to speak about their art. And the exhibits are just the beginning of what the museum offers. They have family events and entertainment programming beyond their artist talks, such as live music and whiskey tastings.
With 30,000 square feet of galleries, it is truly a journey through Western life.
The museum starts at the Early West gallery, goes into Native Life, Native Artists, Frontier, Wildlife, and ends with a New West gallery. They also have a 6,000-square-foot Special Exhibition space where they can feature other artists and collections.
A special exhibit called "Away from home, American Indian Boarding School Stories" has been featured in the space most recently. It tells the tragic history of the forcible removal of American Indian children from their homes, putting them in boarding schools, and cutting their hair to assimilate them into white culture.
It is essential to Tom and Mary that the stories depicted are told through the eyes of all those impacted by the United States expansion. So to ensure this, 25% of the collection is from Native Artists.
The museum's mission is to provide experiences that inspire human connection and transformation through art, depicting the people's landscape and history of the American West and wildlife of the world.
This fall, they are gearing up for their next special exhibition, "Black Pioneers: Legacy in the American West." Leading the way is curator Carolyn Mazloomi to help to share the story of the Black experience in the American West. Sharing the voices of those who aren't often found at the forefront is one of the core values of the James Museum.
"I hope when people come and visit The James Museum, they experience our shared history and our shared future, and when we can experience that in beauty, it resonates even more," says Hine.