Joyce N. Johnson, Carla Bristol, Jade, William Kwanena-Poh & Wanda Stuart at the opening of Gallerie909 on Thurs., April 17
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — The Deuces were alive last Thurs., April 17 with the opening of St. Petersburg’s newest art gallery. Situated just down from the Warehouse Arts District, Gallerie909, 909 22nd St. S., will be a force to reckon with on the art scene.
As the champagne flowed and the live jazz music filled the air, owner Carla Bristol worked the room with her high energy and effervescent smile. Numerous times traffic came to a halt because people would stop in the street to peer at the large crowd spilling out onto the patio area that connects her gallery to the soon-to-be Cajun restaurant.
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Featured artist William Kwanena-Poh spent the evening showing and explaining his works to the rather large crowd. This self-taught artist focuses on paintings of people and scenes from his native Ghana, Africa.
He started painting as a child, not because his young soul yearned to be fulfilled by the brush and canvas, but to receive gifts from his father.
“I didn’t take it seriously. For me it was something to get out of my dad. So if I wanted something I would just start acting like I was drawing and he would get excited. I would tell him what I wanted and he would say, ‘OK, I’ll get it for you,’” Kwanena-Poh’s laughed. Perhaps his father encouraged so much him to explore his talent because his father too was an artist.
He immigrated in 1980 when his father accepted a Fullbright Scholarship to teach African history at Talladega College in Alabama. He too attended the historically black college and graduated with a degree in sociology.
Kwanena-Poh never put the paint brush down while hitting the books; in fact, he sold his first painting while still in college. He also started participating in art shows across the country while getting his degree. One particular art show in Florida, where he won an award, he received some advice that made him the artist that he is today.
“I asked the judge what art school he thought I should attend, and he told me that art school would destroy my talent and they would teach me how to paint like them. So I listened to him and I kept on doing what I did,” said Kwanena-Poh. “I was self-taught and just developed talent over the years.”
After graduating, he worked in galleries in Washington, D.C. and Chicago. In 1993, he opened his own gallery, Osibisa Fine Arts in Chicago. He later moved that gallery to Savannah, Ga., where he resides today.
His works have graced the sets of the “Cosby Show,” the motion picture “Losing Isaiah” starring Halle Berry, “Living Single,” “Martin,” and “Moesha” just to name a few. His works can also be found in corporate collections such as Amoco, Ford Motors, Disney and in other prominent and private collections of well-known public figures throughout the States and abroad.
Old friends, Kwanena-Poh met Bristol at St. Pete’s Mainsail Arts Festival years ago. She bought some of his work and continues to collect.
With such a fantastic grand opening, Bristol’s naysayers will have to rain on someone else’s parade. Gallerie909 is currently 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.