Uniquely Original Art celebrates grand opening

By Joyce Nanette Johnson

ST. PETERSBURG – Uniquely Original Art Studio is celebrating their second anniversary this Saturday, June 11.  The celebration is the official grand opening, but more importantly it is an ancestral homecoming for the artist/proprietor Catherine Weaver.

She has re-established her latest artist enclave in a home, 915 24th St. S, a home that has been in her family since 1947 when her grandfather, Harrison Tunsil, opened up a grocery store there. Years later her uncle McCortha Tunsil operated a TV repair shop for 35 years at that location followed by her brother, Arnold Wilson, who housed Arnold’s Air Control there.

The area was previously a bustling black business district, but that was halted as the construction of Interstate 275 snaked through the neighborhood and businesses were lost and families relocated. Still reeling from that cultural assault, there are now signs of growth and rebirth, and Uniquely Original Art Studio is one of those signs.

Catherine Weaver

Catherine Weaver

The art studio has been in several locations throughout the area. From the quaint town of Gulfport, to the 16th Street Business District, to the Wagon Wheel Flea Market, Weaver’s vision has remained consistent: to bring art to the community.

At most locations Weaver has held art classes and sold African American imported products, including scented oils, African clothes and jewelry, elaborate African masks and the popular leather animal life-sized statues.

Weaver comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. Aside from her grandfather, brother and Uncle McCortha, she had another uncle, Dr. Benjamin F. Jones, who was a dentist and cousin to George W. Jones, former owner of Blue Star Cab. That same spirit of independence has rubbed off on her, and she’s helping other entrepreneurs get a start in business.

The founder of Empowerment Center for Young Enterprisers Inc., she uses her family’s entrepreneurial know-how to help young people start a business.

“This is an incubator for young people to start their own business,” she explained. “I want people to go with their passion and turn it into a career.”

The program is for ages 10-25 years old and offers classes in business finance, career assessment, introduction to business and marketing and advertising.

“I promote generational wealth and ownership,” she stated.

Married to her husband Charles for 15 years, she calls him her soul mate, best friend and support system.  The two of them transformed a separate building on the property into an art studio and a small retail shop that sells unique t-shirts, jewelry and African art.

Outside they have developed the space into a tranquil setting that invites quiet reflections and good times. There is a small gazebo garden area with wicker chairs accented by red cushions and a few large leather animals playing peek-a-boo amongt the strategically placed tropical plants.

The studio has been utilized by the community for Kwanza celebrations, private birthday parties and drum circles. A Fall Art Camp for Youth program, in partnership with the Front Porch under the directorship of Lolita Dash Pitts, was also held there.

No stranger to working with children, at age 14 she was an assistant art teacher during summer camp at Bartlett Community Center, and when she turned 18 she became a full-fledged art teacher.   Recently she taught after school art classes at the University Preparatory Academy Charter School under the Arts Conservatory for Teens Program.

Weaver is now on a mission to bring her latest endeavor to the forefront, which she calls Cultural Art Painting Parties with Friends.  Patrons will combine wine and art supplies for an evening of relaxed fun.

“I want other people to create their own art,” stated Weaver.

This Saturday will be her official ribbon cutting ceremony and will be officiated by the City of St. Petersburg’s Director of Urban Affairs, Nikki Gaskin- Capehart.

A wearable art fashion show featuring emerging visual artists will be the highlight of the evening. The celebration starts at 5 p.m.

“I feel like I have come full circle, said Weaver. “Born, raised and now I’m home. I’m glad to be home. I’m more comfortable and at peace. I can express myself without boundaries.  I’m a free spirit.”

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