WEDU Arts Plus


Episode 1013

Get a behind-the-scenes look at Fairgrounds, a new interactive art space in St. Petersburg's Warehouse Arts District. Potter Jim McDowell keeps the memory of his ancestors alive through his "face jugs." Artist Melissa Vogley Woods set up a public art installation in her home. Motor City Barrels is a family business that handcrafts art pieces and furniture from old whiskey and wine barrels.

AIRED: June 17, 2021 | 0:26:45

- [Narrator] This is a production of WEDU PBS.

Tampa, St.Petersburg, Sarasota.

Major funding for WEDU Arts Plus

is provided through The Greater Cincinnati Foundation

by an arts loving donor who encourages others

to support your PBS station WEDU

and, by the Pinellas Community Foundation,

giving humanity a hand since 1969.

- [Gabe] In this edition of WEDU Arts Plus.

Peek inside St. Petersburg's newest inter active art space.

- What we really are is a stage,

to just show a lot of the wonderful art

and the artists and creative things

that are happening here in St. Pete.

- [Gabe] A potter Conjuring the spirits,

to pay homage to his ancestors.

- My jugs reflect the scarification,

my jugs reflect the rite of passage,

my jugs reflect the struggle,

I'm doing it to honor my ancestors.

- [Gabe] An interactive installation.

- The vinyl, the windows, the pattern, the reflection,

the interaction,

people can see the work without having to be near anyone.

- [Gabe] And spirits inspired, furniture making.

- The best part about working with these products,

is it's one of a kind handmade, there's no pattern.

When you make it that, you made that.

- It's all coming up next on WEDU, Arts Plus.

(upbeat music plays)

- Hello, I'm Gabe Ortiz,

and this is WEDU Arts Plus.

St. Petersburg is an art lovers dream,

with its world-class museums, galleries and murals.

And the city's newest art space is taking things

to the next level.

Let's head to the Warehouse District

for a behind the scenes look, at fairgrounds St. Pete.

- [John] Well, first of all, you're about to leave reality.

Walking through these doors is a whole other dimension,

but it's up to you what kind of dimension that will be.

(upbeat music plays)

Hi, my name is John Michael Hines,

and I'm the Experience Manager for fairground St. Pete.

- So, it's an immersive art experience.

Which means it's an entire world

created by a bunch of artists,

mainly local artists, 64 of them,

collaborating to create an entire world

that we invite you in to come explore.

We're the anchor tenant of a larger cultural campus,

called The Factory.

And The Factory is, you know, a six and a half acre

big campus where there's many artists' studios,

and creative companies, and we're sort of

one of the big anchor tenants of the factory.

So our exhibition is about 15,000 square feet.

- Fairgrounds St. Pete is a time, ticketed experience.

So we're encouraging guests

to reserve their time slot ahead of time.

Once you arrive, our guest experience guides

will scan your ticket and give you a brief introduction

about what you're about to experience,

and from there, you will walk into the wonderful,

weird, wacky, world of Fairgrounds.

- What I think visitors don't realize yet

is it's going to be so different

than their normal art exhibition.

They're going to be walking in artwork everywhere,

from the ceiling to the wall, to the floor.

Everything's going to be art,

and it's going to be a totally immersive experience

and a different magical place.

- Early on, we really wanted to make

a very tangible digital playground.

COVID really forced us to think differently and pivot.

And so we started taking, touch less sensors

and creating our interpretation of what a button would be

if you didn't touch a button.

So there are many aspects where you kind of hold your hand

over something and you get lighting and sound feedback,

but you don't physically make contact with something.

So, it was a way to make things a bit safer.

We're also using things like foot pedals,

kind of little surprises,

that you can kind of step on things,

and then something happens, or it activates sounds,

or lighting.

It's a lot of traditional theater and stage craft,

meets art, meets storytelling.

And so the difference is,

is that you don't just sit back as a passive audience member

and watch things happen on a stage.

You are on the stage and you are in the story.

So Fairgrounds is a choose your own adventure

type experience.

So there is a, a storyline underlying of why,

you know, certain things are where they are.

It's up to you to experience that

and try to find out the storyline,

or just walk around and enjoy yourself.

So, you know, the last part of our loose narrative,

is that we're going for the old school,

a retro Florida motel vibe.

So we do have a hundred percent

Fairgrounds branded motel room

with some cool gadgets in there

that you can play with or experiment with,

or just, you know try to help find the storyline with.

And then other rooms, are nothing like a motel room

'cause they've been taken over by an artist

but they are, still have a Florida theme to them,

or you know, whatever kind of thing

that you might think it is.

- So Fairgrounds St. Pete

is a celebration of all weird, wacky, wonderful, Florida.

And when we put out the open call to artists,

we knew that what we wanted was for artists to celebrate

the weird, wacky, wonderful, world

that we live in here in Florida.

- I feel like Fairgrounds gets me, you know

they know that I'm more than just an artist.

Like they know, I love to collect seashells.

I like to just have like a vibe, you know

so that's what it is.

- Well, what stands out most to me

is the Florida Rama room.

That's where we have our small tiny worlds

that artists have created, based on our loose narrative

that we provided for them.

So they all brought their individuality and their ideas,

and they were able to put it in a little box.

- I do these customized train cars,

and I like the G scale model, train cars,

and I'll paint them and make them look like they're grungy,

like they have graffiti all over the side of them

but this time I knew I was going to have this opportunity,

so I didn't want to just put a train in the box,

so I've made this entire, almost a dream like landscape

with this train going into this water

and it has a speaker and lights in it,

so you can change the mood of it.

So, more 3D, more interactive artwork, for sure.

- So for Fairgrounds St. Pete,

I'm doing a large site-specific installation,

it's going to be covering the whole ceiling.

It's going to be something you can walk under

and truly feel immersed in the artwork.

- I'm super excited to experience it myself,

you know, as the artist,

seeing it through everyone else's eyes.

I've heard the concept.

I have not seen it yet

but I know there's going to be a mermaid room.

And that's where my art will be.

And so I'm so excited to see it.

So you guys come out and see it.

- So our tagline is Art for all, Play for all, Joy for all.

So it's really about everyone coming to enjoy

this weird, wacky, wonderful, world that we've created

with 64 artists.

- What we really are, is a stage to just show

a lot of the wonderful art and the artists

and creative things that are happening here in St. Pete.

It's really just playful and fun,

and there's a lot of humor and adventure.

And I think it's a great place

to just have fun with your family

or on a date, or just to go explore yourself as an artist

and to see great works.

- For ticket information, visit

Potter, Jim McDowell is working his craft

to keep the memory of his ancestors alive.

McDowell creates what are called face jugs

that reflect the history and culture

of his African-American roots.

(nostalgic music plays)

- I'm a storyteller.

So I tell the story and I tell the story in my jugs.

My jugs reflect the scarification,

my jugs reflect the right of passage,

my jugs reflect the struggle.

I'm doing it to honor my ancestors.

I'm The Black Potter.

(nostalgic music continues)



There we go.

And we will sit it over here.

I call myself a gypsy potter.

You know, I've never had a studio of my own like this.

I've always had a garage or something like that,

but this is the first time I've had a studio

and it's going to be my studio.

And I'm going to work in there the way I want to do it.

It's like a potter named Hamada from Japan said,

"Moving pottery is like moving a mouth."

(somber music plays)

Now the history of the face jugs is that,

in Africa they had ancestor worship.

When they took them into slavery,

they took them to the islands to acclimate them.

They pick the voodoo and all that, hoodoo stuff.

And then when they got the United States,

the missioners quickly tried

to convert them to Christianity.

So they amalgamated all those three religions,

ancestor worship from Africa, voodoo,

and Jamaican Christianity.

And they came up with the ugly jug.

And the ugly jug premise is,

anything that you possess,

your hat, your clothing your pots

and pans, your spirit resides in it.

And so when you die, they put it on your grave.

You weren't allowed to have a grave marker

because they did not consider you a person.

You were chattel.

And so you put the grave marker on the on the grave,

and it scared the devil away so your soul could go to heaven.

That's what they believed.

The thing about the face jug for me is

to tell the story of what was going on at that time

when the lynching was going on in this country.

So, I got a jug inside there where,

Emmett Till,

a young boy that was killed, I think 1954

It's two sided.

One side, looks like a normal child,

and the other side looked like, you know

all the kinds of bad stuff.

Now slave potter Dave was a slave who

was owned by some people in, Estill, South Carolina

and Dave, as a young boy grew up on the plantation.

So one day, they asked him, "Would he like to

learn how to throw?"

So the person that owned him, they taught him how to throw.

But also they taught him how to read,

and write, and set type.

They had a newspaper company called, The Hive

and Dave could set, type, read, and write.

The one thing that I do now in honor of slave potter Dave,

I write things on my jug like, "I can reed".

Now they were, they could write and read

but sometimes they would spell read,

R E E D instead of R E A D.

And sometimes they would write things

that were, phonetically.

And he would write things on them like,

"I belonged to Mr. Miles where the pot boils in the oven",

"give me silver, give me gold,

they're not good for your soul".

So he would write all kinds of things on the jugs.

And then he would sign it L M,

that was the people that owned him,

and then he would put Dave and he would put the year.

So I think what I'm going to make now is a face jug body.

So I usually make about four or five bodies,

and then the revelation,

or the inspiration of what I'm making,

comes later.

I'm more concerned with trying to stay

with the African tradition, in everything that you do,

of joining it together, is also a design.

And also when I, when I take this to the kiln,

I can put glass here and have it run down.

I'll put scarification, I'll put the scratching,

I'll do all kinds of other things to it later

but I want to get it together today right now.

So that it will be ready to go,

when I get to that point.

Because different things come to me at different times.

I just, I gotta be aware and ready to

ready to work when I get an idea.

I'm not striving for realism, no.

I want to approximate and do what the slave potters did.

And I think I'm a continuation of what they did.

So I make things that refer to the,

the Black experience, you know.

I'm trying to keep the story alive

because if we don't keep the story alive,

we're doomed to do it again.

- For more of his work, go to black

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic,

artist, Melissa Vogley Woods set up a public installation

at her home that allowed viewers to connect with art

at a safe distance in Columbus, Ohio.

(buoyant music plays)

- So this was back in March when I started the work.

It's just called Always.

I really wanted to do a piece that was in the public eye

that addressed the very fresh condition

of dealing with the pandemic.

And I realized that I really wanted

to talk about getting past this moment.

I started to look at art from different eras,

after certain plagues and the pandemic that was the closest

in relationship was the Spanish flu

what they called the Spanish flu.

So I started to look at work that was made

in the exact year when it ended, which was 1920.

I found a piece by Raoul Dufy,

that was a pattern

like a fabric pattern that he had designed,

which I felt was perfect.

And it would block the window, and block the view

but also accentuate the space in between public and private.

We were stuck at home.

I had to do with what I had at my house,

and I just happened to have this high reflective vinyl

that I had used on a similar project in 2010.

The vinyl itself is just like a very neutral gray.

And you can't really see it, unless you use a flash.

So the work itself can be seen in the daylight,

but it's most effective at night,

when you bring your cell phone and turn on the flash.

Now because it's high density, reflective vinyl,

it flashes back the equal intensity of the light.

So when you do use a flash on your camera, on your phone,

all of the pattern lights back at you.

And so, that just came naturally.

It was like the vinyl, the windows

the pattern, the reflection, the interaction.

People can see the work without having to be near anyone,

you can activate it from your car.

- So over my shoulder is a really exciting piece

by Melissa Vogley Woods.

And it's called Always CMA.

And it's actually a piece that has a pattern

that was extrapolated from a work from our collection.

It's Louis Bouche's, still life with flowers

that was painted in 1919 during the Spanish influenza.

And Melissa had the wonderful idea

to kind of remind everybody

that we are in a very difficult moment,

but that it will pass.

With this work it was the same concept

to make the same point

but it really leveraged art history in a different way

because it is at an institution.

And she took the pattern

from this more traditional looking still life,

with a big, beautiful, energetic grouping of flowers.

And she made a very abstract geometric pattern

which she then tiled into this beautiful wallpaper

to cover this whole glass canopy.

- This is the first piece

that I've made that I didn't make with my hands.

It's been really, really collaborative.

The museum, they did a lot of work

to find this vinyl and I believe it's 130 feet.

It's something that you're going to be able to experience

in any different kind of condition.

If there's a second wave, if it's cold, if it's rainy,

if you can't see the museum, if it's off hours,

that's just, it's always going to be there.

- And it creates a really beautiful entranceway

to the museum especially as we'll be reopening

after a long period of closure.

- [Melissa] Also, if you put a little piece

of colored cellophane on top of the flash only,

it'll turn the entire piece to color.

Then you own that piece at the end.

- [Anna] This museum, which was founded in 1878,

has survived two world wars, the great depression,

the Spanish influenza pandemic

and we will survive this too.

And that basically was the message that Melissa's piece

was also reflecting at the same time.

- Something about the light

being brought to the piece from within

that you have that light on you.

And this piece is just a reflection

of what you already hold in yourself.

And I felt that was really important,

shining this kind of beacon of hope

back to the people who came to see the work.

We are at Hammond Harkins Gallery,

and this is my exhibition called out of the blue.

(melodious music plays)

It's a series of 36 cyanotype photograms.

So a cyanotype is like a photographic print

because it uses light.

When you block the sun, those areas don't expose

and it just happens to expose to blue.

So there's some really direct context

between the Always installations and this work,

which is visible in this pattern.

And that pattern is pulled directly

from a combination of the Always pattern at my house,

and the Always pattern at CMA.

The idea of this show really came out from the shadows

that I see on the inside of my house,

when people take photos.

I started to think about,

well what is the internal view

of this external piece that I made?

And it became really important that I did a process

that was photographic, that was based on light

because the other piece was based on light,

which then connects to my ideas

about like history and erasure.

And what is brought to the light and what is suppressed

- To learn more, visit

It's a family affair for Motor City Barrels,

a company that creates unique, handcrafted art pieces

and furniture, out of old whiskey and wine barrels.

Take a look.

(melodious music plays)

- I think that rustic refurbished stuff is big.

You know, people are just drawn to it.

- A lot of people like the look of it, the darkness,

it just kind of like pops.

- I think it's a novelty.

There actually is the younger generation,

I've noticed over the past 10, 12 years that,

they've gotten into like the bourbon,

and scotch, and whiskey, and they've gotten away

from like bud lights and Budweisers.

So I think that's a lot of the customers of the that we get.

- I was always good with my hands.

I mean, attention to detail.

That's a lot of people tell me

that I always put in the extra effort

to make it look nice, you know.

Rob got married, and he had a bourbon bar and a cigar bar.

We used the barrels and made tables out of them.

Then we didn't know what to do with them.

So we started creating different products.

And I thought it was going to be a hobby.

They're all about recycling and reusable products,

and so we started getting into that

and we were with the whiskey barrels.

That was probably maybe six months after we had gone.

We said, you know, there's something here.

And then we were already like, wow, we are,

this is a functioning business now.

And it's just going crazy.

It started out just with two people.

Now it's, you know, seven people,

with me and the wife, my nephew

and he's married to my niece, you know?

So it's, everyone's pretty much a family.

- Darrell and Nancy have literally been my second parents

since I was about 10.

Darryl's so creative and cool to be around,

and you learn so much.

- When we started,

like just some of the stuff we were attempting to make,

I was like, I don't know how we're going to do that

because you know, working with wood

and things that are square and level and flush and plum

it's a lot different working with the barrels.

Even just getting the right barrel,

making sure the bands are lined up,

like some bands they might be off, a half inch

and you want it to line up and be uniform.

- We make a A-frame wine rack,

and we take the whiskey and we put wine bottles on it.

And then there's bottle openers,

We make a stave bottle opener,

with a magnet that's behind the opener,

so when you open your bottle, it sticks.

Only that you can't see it, it's buried underneath the wood,

but it sticks to the, um, piece of wood

when you open your bottle.

So um, kind of creative, you know,

people really like that

and we've got the half barrel hideaway,

and then we've got the hallway table,

and we have a stave with lasered

like, "bourbon made me do it" on it,

and different sayings.

Or the dog dishes.

We can make them any size, any height.

But if you have a cat, we've made some for cats.

And then we make a half barrel, quarter barrel for pet toys

and we make dog beds.

There's a lot of things.

It's, it's never ending.

- We do um, wedding barrels with the cards

and a slit at the top.

And we make a door on the side

and we made a a dancing barrel

for like Irish dancing.

And we put like hardwood tops on the barrels

and they danced on top of the barrels and stuff like that.

And we made grape crushing barrels.

- We make the wine bottles,

that hold the thing with the glasses fit on it.

It's a nice centerpiece,

and like a lot of women have been buying those

and putting them right in their table.

The best part about working with these products

is it's one of a kind handmade, there's no patterns.

When you make it that, you made that.

And the worst part about it, is it's one of a kind handmade

there's no patterns.

You know, so it's a catch 22 there.

There is a good process.

- First we take a barrel apart

and then, that's always a mess.

So we clean that up and then take it in here,

and we mark what we have to make

and how many we have to make of it.

And then I usually fill on all the cracks

like drilling the holes,

and kind of prepping it for the sanding process.

Usually I make the smaller type of products,

like the bottle openers and the bottle towers.

(machine revving)

- It's a ton of fun.

It really is like, when you get done with it,

like no one else has done that. And you take a lot of pride,

you walk out of here, with a sense of fulfillment.

- It makes it special to make it and see how it goes

and them telling you that it worked out perfectly.

And it just makes everyone happy.

- It's the smiles of the customers.

They come in here and go, wow, that's really cool.

That's what I do. I mean, I love to see that,

people come in here and praise our work

and they love our stuff and they,

that's a word of mouth that is powerful, you know

or they'll come up their house and see the dog dish

and they have to have one, so

it's going good that way. - We have a lot of fun here,

it's not always a work thing

that there's a lot of laughs

and it's fun to make the products that we make

and the vision that Darryl has for everything,

how organized he is.

So like, just being around those kinds of people

always make you better anyways.

- You feel at home, really.

And I've known these people like,

pretty much my whole life so,

we all want to make everything as good as it can be.

- When I'm building stuff,

I always think, would I put this in my house?

Like, would this go right by my front door?

And if it wouldn't, then we'll take it apart

and reuse it for something else

or, you know, try to make it better.

And so that's kind of my a hundred percent guarantee

that the customer will be satisfied with the product.

- You know, we all kind of look after each other and say,

" Hey you know, do this, do that, or whatever",

trying to make a better product.

We gotta make it work, you know,

cause you're trying to support everybody

and take care of everybody.

So, you know, it's something that drives you

because you don't want to fail,

and, you know, have everybody else fail along with you.

So that's the drive, right there.

It makes me um, proud.

Proud to do this, you know.

Finally, um you know,

after doing a job so long

this is like giving me more of an enjoyment.

- For more information, go to

And that wraps it up, for this edition of WEDU arts plus.

For more arts and culture,

visit plus.

Until next time, I'm Gabe Ortiz.

Thanks for watching.

(upbeat music plays)

- [Narrator] Major funding for WEDU Arts Plus

is provided through The Greater Cincinnati foundation

by an arts loving donor who encourages others,

to support your PBS station WEDU

and by the Pinellas Community Foundation,

giving humanity a hand since 1969.