BY JOYCE NANETTE JOHNSON, Staff Writer
The renaissance of the 22nd Street corridor, also known as the Deuces, continues to build up steam. Once the hub of the African-American community where business flourished, now finds itself scratching and clawing its way back to prosperity.
Sunday Market on the Deuces is bringing in crowds of people ready to spend money, and with help from the rehabilitation efforts of Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy, commercial buildings are no longer vacant.
For example, on the corner of 9th Avenue and 22nd Street there are three distinct new businesses: a thrift store, an ice cream shop and now Gallerie909, an artist gallery.
Featured artist William Kwamena-Poh with gallery owner Carla Bristol
Gallerie909 is the brainchild of owner Carla Bristol. She envisions her gallery being an environment that will stimulate the senses by offering diverse art forms. Born in Guyana, she has traveled extensively and plans to showcase her many finds throughout the gallery.
“I definitely plan to have art from around the world,” Bristol stated excitedly. “When I travel I bring back art and textiles. It’s [art] around me all the time. Each piece has significance when I buy it. It calls to me.”
Gallerie909 will host traveling exhibitions and have guest artists and speakers. Bristol hopes to eventually incorporate her love of jewelry making and art by offering classes. At the moment the gallery is showcasing the works of artist Sharon Norwood and painter Marian Howard. Their works and others are displayed among sculptures, textured quilts, unique pottery and antique postcards while perfumed candles fill the air.
“My gallery will be the only shop in Pinellas County to have Linda Rollins dolls,” Bristol stated. Rollins lives in St. Petersburg and is renowned for her craftsmanship in creating African-American dolls in elaborately designed African attire.
Bristol has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. She began working in her family’s catering business in New York and that blossomed into her own marketing and event planning venture that produces, among other happenings, the Ultimate Game Night series at the Carter G. Woodson Museum. However, it was art that she was surrounded by all of her life.
Growing up, her parent’s home was a depository of art. Even their bed sheets were a work of art. Her mother would take white sheets and stenciled them with vibrant colors and picturesque scenes. She was taught to value the importance of art and she passes that lesson on to her two children, son Afi and daughter Jade.
“People believe what image they see.” Bristol explained. “Exposure to the images of one’s self is positive. Art is an expression. Art to me is any type of self-expression whether it be art, music, dancing or acting.” She encourages her children to follow their artistic leanings in whatever endeavor that may be.
This evening, Thurs., April 17, Gallerie909 will have its grand opening. The featured artist will be William Kwamena-Poh, a transplant from Ghana, Africa, who has made Savannah, Ga. his new home.
Kwamena-Poh’s work has been featured on “The Cosby Show,” “Motown 30,” “Living Single” and the movie “Losing Isaiah.” His works also graced the halls of some of American’s largest corporate dwellings including Prudential Insurance, Amoco and Ford Motors.
One of Bristol’s prized paintings from her private collection is one by Kwanena-Poh called “The Contemplation.” It is a visual experience that bursts forth with the gold colored batik fabric of an aged woman’s dress while her head is wrapped in an aqua blue head scarf. The elder woman’s eyes are closed, deep in reflective thought.
“I have always hung this painting near the entrance to my home,” Bristol stated. “It seems like she is there to protect or look after me and my children. I honor her age and her wisdom.”
Despite detractors trying to dissuade her from opening the gallery, Bristol is on a mission to bring upscale art to the Deuces.
“People have been warm and supportive now that they know that I’m here,” Bristol said. “Things are happening here on the Deuces.”
Join Bristol and meet Kwamena-Poh this evening, April 17 at 6 p.m. Gallerie909 is located at 909 22nd St. S. Refreshments will be served.