Cultural Odyssey in Florida

by Peter Morrell on 07 February 2014, 12:02PM

Peter Morrell, on his four part cultural tour of the Sunshine State, starts in style with St Petersburg

It’s before 10:00am on a December morning and I am strolling next to Tampa Bay. The sky is blue, it’s well over 70 degrees, the locals are bidding me good morning and I am looking forward to seeing three world class art galleries all within a walk of each other. St Petersburg is a cultural hotspot in Florida and it is one of the legs of an odyssey I am taking through the southern part of the state to appreciate the richness of its arts.


The Museum of Fine Arts
My first stop was The Museum of Fine Arts.  This elegant gallery, designed by John Volk and built in 1965, houses a comprehensive and wide ranging collection covering 4500 years of art and artefacts. The works are categorised by type and there is a good representation of exhibits from both Europe and America. I was particularly taken by the portrait of Paul Robeson painted by Randall Davey c 1920-1925. For me the painting captured the very essence and strength of the man who was an entertainer, athlete and civil rights activist.  For lovers of European art there are works by Renoir, Monet, Rodin, Cezanne and Morisot, and many much earlier works.


As well as this rich permanent collection, the museum is host to an array of temporary exhibitions. When I visited there was a fascinating collection of paintings associated with golf. The Art of Golf was jointly organised by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the National Galleries of Scotland, spanning four centuries and featuring 90 artists. 


The St Petersburg Museum of History
It was an encouraging start to my tour to find the St Petersburg Museum of History literally across the street. Sadly, time pressure didn’t allow me to pay a visit but this is another major asset to the city. Here you will find the history of the local area as well as numerous exhibits. For art lovers the exhibition of paintings by a group known as the Florida Highwaymen will be of interest. There were 26 African-American artists who painted from the 1950s to the 1980s and used vivid, bright colours to portray the untouched Florida landscape.


The Dali Museum
A stroll along the bay took me to an iconic building designed by Yann Weymouth that opened in January 2011. The Dali Museum is the latest addition to the St Petersburg waterfront cultural scene and is impressive not just for its content but for the ‘Enigma’. This is a glass geodesic bubble which erupts from the side of the building and is in homage to the dome on the Dali Museum in Spain. The surreal theme continues in the building which has 18 inch thick hurricane proof walls. For example, the spiral staircase recalls Dali’s obsession with the double helical shape of the DNA molecule.

I joined a tour led by a docent, who is a volunteer guide.  These enthusiastic individuals emerged as a theme during my trip. All are extremely knowledgeable and can bring an exhibition alive with their commentary. This was no exception, as the docent took us on a life journey of Dali, from young talented artist painting rural scenes of Spain to anti-establishment rebel pushing the very bounds of human thinking. There are many iconic works in the collection from the ‘Lobster Telephone’ to huge canvases littered with symbolism and trompe d’oeil effects. This was a well guided exhibition and I felt for the first time that I understood some of Dali’s motivations for the work he produced.


The Chihuly Collection
Back along the bay I visited another body of work which has its own sense of surrealism but this time the medium was blown glass. The name Dale Chihuly may not be familiar to many of you but he is a master glass blower who studied his craft in Murano, Italy and then took the form to new, unimaginable heights. Despite personal adversity: he lost an eye in a car accident in the UK and dislocated his shoulder while surfing; his imagination and his team’s skill are still producing the most exquisite glass sculpting.
Examples of his work are the chandelier under the main dome of the V & A museum in London and a huge work in the Atlantis Palm Dubai. The Chihuly collection in St Petersburg, which is run by the Morean Arts Center, really does put into context Dale’s skills. It is difficult to believe that the pieces have all been made with molten glass. The exhibition was a riot of form and colour with chandeliers which are his signature, a full size boat filled with glass orbs and the most surreal garden that you will ever see. This visual stimulation was again enhanced by the very enthusiastic and well-informed docent who didn’t just show us around but described the techniques used to make the pieces and talked about where Chihuly got his inspiration for this really unique collection.


Summing Up
St Petersburg was a great start to my cultural odyssey.  As well as offering a wide range of world class art exhibits all in close proximity it is a very equitable place to spend some time with lots of pavement cafes, eateries and specialist shops to browse around. If you are looking for a piece of local art to take back as a souvenir there is a wide choice and, if you have very deep pockets, you can even buy a Chihuly original. Even if you are not an avid culture vulture I would recommend that you take a break from the beach for a day and enjoy the arts that St Petersburg has to offer.

For more information about holidays to Florida, call 0845 543 6615 or visit

To find out more about Florida go to

Author bio: Peter Morrell is editor of &

5 Photos That Will Make You Want To Visit Peru

Read More

The Ultimate Guide to Japan: 8 Reasons to Visit

Read More

Must See Festivals and Carnivals in Mexico

Read More

3 Maldivian Dishes to try on your Maldives Holiday

Read More
Post of the month
by Tourism Australia More

Email sign up

Register to receive holiday offers, cheap flights deals, hotel offers and more.

Travelbag Travel/Leisure London

Discover something new and uncover the traditional charm and modern culture of Penang from only £479pp. For more information - All our holidays are ATOL protected
26 Oct 19:17 Read More
Travelbag's Twitter
Common Tags
3 days in 48 hours in 5 Reasons abseiling Abu Dhabi UAE Activities adrenalin Adventure Holiday Africa Alamo Alaska Alec Stewart America Antigua Architecture Argentina art arts asia Atlantis The Palm Auckland Australasia Australia Backpacking bahamas Bali Bangkok Barbados Beach Holidays Beaches beer Birdwatching Bora Bora Brazil Building bungee jumping Byron Bay Caibbean California Cambodia Canada Cancun Cape Town Caribbean celebrity Celebrity Holidays Chicago Chile China City Breaks cocktails Coffee Competition Corfu cowboys cricket Cruise Holidays Cruises Cuba culinary holidays culture cycling Darwin Days Out Dining Dining Abroad Dominican Republic Drinks Driving Dubai Dubai Hotels east coast eating EdgeWalk England Europe Events Exotic Holidays Explorers Way Family Holidays Festivals Fiji Fishing Flights Florida food Free gastronomy Girlie holidays Gold Coast Great Walks Greece Hanoi Hawaii helicopter Ho Chi Minh City Hobbit holiday reading holidays Honeymoon Hong Kong Hua Hin India Indian Ocean Indian Ocean Luxury Holidays Indonesia Ireland Italy Jamaica Japan Jordan Journey Jumeriah Beach Kenya Khao Lak kids holidays Kiwi Koh Samui Krabi kuala lumpur Langkawi asia Laos las vegas last minute Legendary Pacific Coast Literature los angeles Luang Prabang Luxury Holidays Macau Majorca Malaysia Malaysia Airlines Maldives Map Mauritius Mauritius Hotels Melbourne Mexico Miami Middle East Middle East UAE money Montreal motorhome holidays Movie museums music Myanmar Nature New York New Zealand nightlife Norfolk North America North New Zealand Northen Territory Northern Ireland Oman Oregon Orlando Patong Pattaya Perth Perth Beaches Philadelphia Phuket Portland Quebec Queensland Queenstown quiz Rail Rail Travel Reading on holiday Relaxing holiday Relaxing on holiday religion rollercoaster Romance Royal Jubilee Safari Samoa Samoa Hotels scenic Scotland Scuba Diving Self-Drive Seychelles Shopping Sightseeing Trip snorkelling South Africa South America South Australia South New Zealand Southern Spirit Spain Sports Sri Lanka St Lucia sun city Surfing survey Sydney Tahiti Tasmania temples Texas Thailand theater theme parks Things To Do Tips Tokyo Top 10 Top 5 Things to Do Toronto Toronto Dining tour Train Travel Travelbag Trip of a lifetime Tthailand TV TV Advert UAE UK United States USA USA Roadtrip Vancouver Vietnam Vietnam Beaches Vineyards Virginia Wales Wedding Wellington west coast Western Australia whale watching whales What to see Wildlife Win Wine Wineries Winnipeg Winter Sun With you all the way Yucatan Caribbean
Please Wait...