It’s difficult to imagine today’s growing Warehouse Arts District without the relocation there of one particularly influential visual artist — Duncan McClellan. In 2010, McClellan made a huge investment to relocate his glass art-making business from Tampa to the industrial neighborhood in St. Pete, purchasing a 7,800-sq-ft warehouse and transforming it into an elegant gallery space and glass etching studio surrounded by tropical fruit trees, wooden party decks, and an iron gate adorned with “DMG,” the monogram of Duncan McClellan Glass.
Some artists had already populated the area before Duncan arrived — notably, Dan Painter, a sculptor of otherworldly figures who is McClellan’s next-door neighbor. And Mark Aeling and Catherine Woods, metal and glass sculptors, respectively, whose large-scale work often takes the form of public art. None of them had been as invested as McClellan in generating foot traffic from potential art collectors through the district — and none had rolled out the welcome mat in the way that McClellan did.
Last Saturday, when around 1,000 people showed up for the grand opening of McClellan’s new glass-blowing hot shop, St. Petersburg Hot Glass Workshop, the artist’s draw was clear. Spectators milled around the 2,400-sq-ft building — situated just outside McClellan’s main studio and gallery — sipping vodka cocktails blended with tropical fruit juices to match the hot shop’s flame-colored logo (McClellan’s idea) out of etched glass wine tumblers that looked like miniature Duncan McClellan vases. Inside the hotshop, Fritz Dreisbach — a pioneer of American studio glass and invited guest for the weekend — sculpted a red pickup truck out of hot glass as viewers looked on in rapt attention; outside, a juggler performed and a DJ spun party tunes as a fire-spurting cannon belched flames into the sky.
Sound intense? Call it the Duncan effect.
Since opening DMG for public events in late 2010, McClellan has built such an audience that it can be a challenge to find a parking space within three blocks of his glass estate on an evening when a new exhibition of glass art goes on view.
“Duncan’s space is the event,” says Michele Teugel, the owner of Michele Teugel Contemporary and former director of Florida Craftsmen, who joined the spectators watching Dreisbach in action on Saturday.
Part of the idea behind the Feb. 9 trolley tour (see below) is to assuage any concerns potential visitors might have about walking or parking in the still-gentrifying district, says WADA member and Craftsman House Gallery co-owner Jeff Schorr. Schorr, whose gallery is housed in a gorgeous Craftsman-style bungalow on a stretch of Central Avenue that was once less gentrified, has known the struggle of attracting customers to the up-and-coming parts of town where artists can afford to locate their businesses — like the Warehouse Arts District’s south side, home not only to McClellan’s space but several emerging artists’ studios.
“They’re getting the kind of attitude over there that we used to get seven or so years ago,” Schorr says.