Tampa’s ArtsiPhartsi is back in crafty business
By Times Correspondent,2023-06-04
It’s hard to tell who’s more excited to see the revival of ArtsiPhartsi — collector-owner Carmen Barkett or the contemporary craft devotees, ecstatic that the gallery is back 16 years after she closed to focus on family and community service.
People popped in constantly during the renovation, said Barkett, standing amid beautifully crafted mosaics, ceramics, glass, jewelry, metals, wall art and furniture displayed in a 102-year-old bungalow, a former South Tampa hair salon, at 4002 S MacDill Ave.
“Every day I heard there is nothing like this in Tampa,” said Barkett, who selects fine, fun and funky works from artisans throughout the United States.
“I’ve missed this happy place. Everything is handmade. You feel the energy of anyone who had an idea and turned it into a unique art piece,” she said. “It’s something special I’ve always felt and can’t describe, but people get it.”
Inevitably, when Barkett falls in love with something, so do the clients.
“When I buy things, my criteria is, if I had to close tomorrow, would it be perfect in my house,” Barkett said. “Not a great business model, but it’s the truth.”
Prices range from $7 for stationery cards to a pair of $28,000 ceramic vases.
“I’ve always liked pretty things,” she said, flashing back to buying fine linens with the money she earned from her newspaper route at age 11.
“I feel like I’m surrounded by friends when I come inside,” said Barkett, pointing out a few favorite pieces: a lion’s head crafted of agave fibers by St. Petersburg’s Anne Andersson; a beaded, mosaic penguin and a bejeweled owl wearing bronze baby shoes by Cassie Edmonds of Tyler, Texas; and Sticks Studio furniture made of tree trunks painted with vivid imagery and whimsical sayings.
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The original ArtsiPhartsi opened in 1991 in a small cottage a few blocks north of the current location, “despite being told I couldn’t say ‘Phart’ in public,” Barkett said with a wink.
By 1998, the gallery had expanded into a 12-room Victorian home on Kennedy Boulevard, west of downtown Tampa. The American Craft Council and Niche magazine took note of Barkett’s creative merchandising, promoting the store as a national destination for fine craft.
“Anyone who knows me knows ArtsiPhartsi was my baby,” said Barkett, who holds a business degree from Eckerd College.
Closing in 2007 was difficult, but Barkett wanted to travel with husband, Harry, president of Amalie Oil Co., and serve on the boards of the Florida Aquarium and Moffitt Cancer Center, among others.
Still, she kept in touch with the artisans and squeezed in time to judge several fine craft shows and take classes in ceramics, drawing and jewelry making.
“When I first walked into the original ArtsiPhartsi, I discovered many of the things I’ve collected from galleries around the country were right here,” said Karen Kruglick, a customer who became a close friend.
“Carmen is one of a kind and so is ArtsiPhartsi. Each room is a work of art.”