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Artist, teacher, mentor, philanthropist – All these and more, are adjectives that describe prolific artist and community advocate, Duncan McClellan. His three-decade body of work has become synonymous with excellence and beauty, coveted by collectors around the world. The Duncan McClellan Gallery, operating and ever expanding since 2009, has become the must-see destination of all who come to explore the Warehouse Arts District.
Among the myriad of talented artists and eclectic galleries that call the district home, Duncan McClellan was a driving and pioneering force in its creation and subsequent success. Now, Duncan has turned his attention to mentoring emerging artists, showing children, through art, the importance of all academics, and collaborating with other top tier glass artists to bring our community a perpetual, constantly changing, feast for the eyes. And it’s all happening right here in St. Petersburg.
“I grew up in Tampa”, McClellan recounts, “But when I started to think about creating a space to support my work and the other ideas I wanted to explore, I found the governance and general atmosphere at that time somewhat uninviting. After meeting Chuck Books in New York, he told me he was opening a gallery in St. Pete. As I spent more time here, I found that I was crossing the bridge up to four times a day! That’s when I knew that St. Pete was where I belonged. I loved the people here, the city layout and the overall vibe. Soon after, at an event for one of the many charities we support, I was speaking with an attendee about how interested I was in moving here. I didn’t realize at the time that it was St. Pete City Councilman, Herb Polson. The next day, I received a call from the Mayor’s office, inviting me to a Rays game to talk about the possibility of coming to St. Pete. I have to tell you, it was really impressive.”
McClellan credits artists Mark Aeling and Catherine Woods as being instrumental in helping him find the building that would become Duncan McClellan Gallery. Aeling is the owner of nearby MGA Sculpture Studio at the SoftWater Studio complex, alongside his wife, Carrie Jadus of Carrie Jadus Fine Art & Portraiture. He has been a consistent and longtime leader in the growth of the Warehouse Arts District – a future story to be sure.
The building McClellan purchased, located at 2342 Emerson Ave. South, was formally a tomato packing plant, long abandoned and site of various and sundry “illegal activities”. In the short time since taking procession of the property in 2009, a total transformation has taken place. Visitors enter the expansive 8,000 square foot campus directly into gallery space that houses, not only Duncan’s work, but the art glass of some 90 masters of the craft from around the world. There are several rooms filled with breathtaking pieces that make it difficult not to whisper “WOW”. I say, don’t resist the temptation. The colors, the lighting that plays perfectly off each piece, and the sheer quality of the work appeals to all who come in. How much you know about art, glass making, or design is irrelevant. The appreciation and effect on the senses is universal and lasting. The studio opens out to a very inviting and comfortable patio space where patrons can lounge, listen to music, take glass etching classes, or just be part of the crowd enjoying the wildly popular “Second Saturday ArtWalks”. The venue is even available for private events. Sounds amazing, I know, but there’s more! Beyond the patio is a path that winds through an immense outdoor space lined with art glass, sculpture, Florida flora and fauna, and some of the most beautiful orchids you can find outside of a nursery. During his three days off a month, McClellan is delving into horticulture, another passion, as he works to perfect a means to help orchids literally grow ON trees. I could tell you more, but it’s top secret…
Did I mention that McClellan and his beautiful wife, Irene live on the premises? “It’s either a gallery, a home, an educational complex, or a three-ring circus. We’re still trying to decide.”
Several years after acquiring the original building, Duncan purchased the property next door and, along with right hand man and good friend, Jacob Stout, they designed and built what became the very first hotshop in St. Petersburg. The magic happens here as a team of artisans, led by Stout, work in precisely timed tandem to oversee each phase of the glass blowing process. McClellan compares them to a “surgical team working in concert”. “Timing is critical to glass blowing as any cooling can make it impossible to move to the next phase.” Interest in the workings of the hotshop grew so much, that McClellan and his team have developed a mobile hotshop that travels to schools and events in our community to demonstrate how art glass is made.
That leads us into the next phase of Duncan’s vision to expand the gallery’s mission well beyond the creating, showing, and selling of art glass. The DMG School Project was conceived and developed to share the art of glass making with school age children as well as to mentor and support emerging glass artists. The mobile hotshop is deployed to schools in underserved neighborhoods where the students not only learn about glass blowing, but how many other subjects like chemistry and algebra are applied. “They learn that many subjects are relevant, not only to glass blowing or art, but to most real-world endeavors. Our only rule is that every student in the school participates.” Needless to say, the program is wildly popular with up to 400 students attending at any one visit.
The Residency Program is another active concept in the DMG School Project. Emerging artists that are not yet established, or perhaps new graduates, apply and are selected to train with Duncan and his team for over a month. It covers not only the technical process and design of art glass, but other vital elements in the business of art, like marketing, managing, and successfully showing. They receive this invaluable mentoring tuition free as well as a stipend to cover living expenses during their time here. Upon completion of the program, these proteges are given a show, “Hopefully, they either make enough revenue to reinvest in themselves moving forward, or leave with a body of work that helps them break into the field successfully. It’s one of the most vitally important and, frankly, expensive things that we do here at DMG.” So how are these programs subsidized? “We do not have fund raisers.” McClellan is very clear on this point. “We depend on grants and all revenue from event rentals goes to pay for these programs. We are also very fortunate to have incredibly generous patrons who, upon learning about what we’re doing, want very much to help.”
There are even fun opportunities for us non-artists to turn glass into art. Etching classes are held every third Saturday on the patio from 10 – 2 at a cost of $35. It’s a great opportunity to get your friends together and enjoy the lovely space that is the Duncan McClellan Gallery.
The current exhibition, which opened April 14th, is called “Northern Neighbors: Canadian Artists Working in Glass”. It features the work of such artists as Paul Rodrigue, Laura Donefer, Susan Edgerley, Susan Rankin, Naoko Takenouchi, and Stephen Pon. It runs through June 4th with gallery hours Monday through Saturday, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm.
Duncan epitomizes the spirit of collaboration and a great desire to showcase his contemporaries. “We have grown to become one of the largest glass galleries on the East coast. That is due in large part to our artists.” McClellan, clearly taught to share in his formative years, is thrilled with the advent of more glass art in St. Pete. The Morean’s Chihuly Collection has been a stunning success adding another hotshop in the ‘Burg, and the newly opened Imagine Museum is causing more great glass buzz. “St. Pete is clearly a true destination for glass art and we’re so happy to be a part of it.”
Duncan says that the DMG motto is “More than a gallery”. It’s easy to see why that qualifies as a candidate for understatement of the year. Thank you, Duncan McClellan, for helping to plant the seeds that have made the entire arts community of St. Petersburg bloom.
You can schedule an event, tour, or educational experience by calling 1-855-436-4527. Or visit www.dmglass.com. You won’t be sorry.
Written by: #HeliumRadio