Carrie Boucher’s Nomad Art Bus is changing lives, one t-shirt at a time.
When Tampa Bay native Carrie Boucher returned home from art school in Chicago, she made her way in part by teaching art in the public school system. But she got frustrated by how low a priority art sometimes seemed – her classes would be canceled for standardized test prep sessions, or troubled students would be pulled out as a form of punishment.
To Boucher (pronounced, in the French style, boo-SHAY), that seemed silly, since art was so valuable for the most troubled students. “Art would give them another avenue to explore. [And] a lot of time the kids who were being pulled out were the kids whose families wouldn’t have the resources to seek out extracurricular art activities.”
Eventually, she decided that she could reach more kids if she were mobile, instead of stuck in a classroom. She’d seen the Bluebird Books Bus, a mobile library started by Creative Pinellas Executive Director Mitzi Gordon – and she ran with the example.
“I put it on the bus so that we could go into the neighborhoods and reach people.”
A little over a year later, Carrie devotes herself full-time to the Nomad Art Bus – a full-length bus, packed with art supplies and kid-sized work surfaces. The bus travels between schools, festivals, organizations, and events around the Bay Area, giving kids a chance to get in touch with their creativity. Nomad provides after-school enrichment at underperforming schools and art therapy for recovery programs, while taking time to drop in at events like Localtopia, Pops in the Park, and First Night.
For Boucher, dedication to the Nomad has meant working hard and living a leaner lifestyle. She’s constantly developing funding sources and partnerships, but also teaches private metalworking workshops on the side when she needs to. “There’s often such a big gap between what we do for money, and what we do to make our lives better . . . I’m kept alive by the generosity of other people. I have an amazing network of people who want me to keep doing what I’m doing.”
T-shirts are one way people support Nomad’s mission. At first Boucher provided them strictly to volunteers, but people liked them so much she started selling them. “People want to support what you’re doing, but they want to walk away with something, too.” Boucher designed the funky ‘seal’ design herself, at first putting it on kids’ shirts – but it wasn’t long before adults clamored for it.
Carrie hopes St. Pete Threads will help make Nomad’s merchandise more accessible – while making sure plenty of the revenue returns to Nomad. “The exposure is going to be so much more,” she says. “We have [shirts] on our little tiny website, and at events,” but as the name implies, it’s tough to find Nomad in the same place twice. “It’ll be nice to have a place where I can send people . . . if someone got one, and wanted one for a friend, they’d know where to go.”
“I’m what you call a sign geek,” says Todd Bates. Bates, this month’s St. Pete Threads Artist of the Month, has travelled all around the country photographing old signs for his Vintage Neon Project. But he came back home to St. Pete for the first t-shirt in what he hopes will be an ongoing series.
Todd’s passion is particularly fitting for St. Pete. Vintage neon evokes the city’s unique Midcentury Modern legacy, as well as a little bit of the kitschier side of Old Florida. “My favorite is definitely the Thunderbird [Resort],” Todd says, of the striking art deco hotel on Treasure Island. “There’s also the Sands, which is just a gem. It’s a little two-story beach hotel, and they have a great sign.”
Beyond his striking photographs of existing signs, Todd also uses image editing software to create re-imagined versions tailored for some of his favorite cities, in what he’s dubbed the Re-Sign series. So far, the series includes designs for St. Pete, Tampa, and Seattle, where he spent eight years before returning to St. Pete in 2010. The arrow-shaped St. Pete sign is based on the sign at China City on 4th street. “I’m told it’s the oldest Chinese restaurant in St. Pete,” Todd says.
Todd wants to make more city-centric signs, but he says the process is labor intensive. That’s thanks to a meticulous attention to detail – the entirely imaginary neon lettering on his St. Pete sign casts precise, realistic shadows, and the letters of the Tampa sign are weathered with amazing exactness. (Full-scale prints of the work can be found on the Vintage Neon Project’s Etsy Store.
After nearly a decade in Seattle, Todd couldn’t be happier to be back in St. Pete, and getting involved in the community. “I’ve seen an amazing transformation from when I left to when I came back. I love the art scene, and just the general vibe. There’s a lot of pride in our city. I love being a part of that.”
“I just think St. Pete is an amazing place.”
For chronicles of Todd’s neon-fueled travels, follow him on Instagram at @vintageneonproject. And watch St. Pete Threads for more t-shirts from Todd and other exciting St. Pete designers!
Preserve the ‘Burg – St. Pete Preservation’s Monica Kile on Building Awareness through T-Shirts!
The St. Pete Preservation Society has played a key role in making the St. Pete we know and love today – or, more precisely, preserving it. It was SPP who helped rally support in the 1980s to save the Vinoy Hotel from demolition. They’ve recently notched important wins by earning historical landmark protection for the Detroit Hotel, built in 1888 and located next to Jannus Landing, and the Lang’s Bungalow Court neighborhood.
Much of St. Pete Preservation’s success is based on a program of education that includes Porch Parties highlighting historic buildings or neighborhoods, educational forums and tours, and the much-beloved Movies in the Park series drawing attention to St. Pete’s unique waterfront parks system. According to SPP Executive Director Monica Kile, these programs have helped St. Petersburgers appreciate their city’s unique built environment, even in the face of constant development.
“We have some pretty distinctive architecture,” says Kile, “Particularly our Mediterranean Revival buildings.” The style was developed in Florida, and intended to evoke the feeling of being on the Mediterranean, without having to travel there. St. Pete also has more than its share of Midcentury Modern homes, a now-revered style associated with the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Without the efforts of St. Pete Preservation, we’d have a much different city. “Think about St. Pete without the Vinoy,” says Kile, Or the Open Air Post Office. They’re built for the environment here, to be open.”
Kile credits a lot of the success of St. Pete Preservation, not to a politician or activist, but to an artist – Carrie Jadus. Jadus, who works out of Soft Water Studios in the Warehouse Arts District, is responsible for the impressive art on SPP’s popular and eye-catching Movies in the Park posters. So much so, in fact, that SPP put them on a series of t-shirts. More recently, the group launched its “Preserve the Burg” campaign, which features not only on t-shirts, but on stickers and posters.
All of St. Pete Preservation’s t-shirts have been strong sellers. Strange as it may sound, successful t-shirts have made it easier for the group to get things done – not just by raising money, but by raising their profile.
“You see people wearing them around town,” Monica Kile explains, “And it lends credibility to an organization, when people choose to put your logo on their chest.”
The message and mission of those t-shirts is simple, says Kile. “We’re trying to maintain the incredible sense of place that St. Pete has.”
St. Pete Threads is proud to be part of expanding the visibility of groups like St. Pete Preservation. Monica Kile and her dedicated team provide an important reminder, as development in our big little ‘burg heats up – preserving the past is a huge part of keeping St. Pete a place we love to live.
Jeff Schorr is the founder of Craftsman House Gallery, located in the Grand Central districtll of St. Pete’s Historic Kenwood neighborhood. Craftsman House sells handcrafted decor and art from nearly 300 American artists, housed in the 1918 Arts and Crafts-style bungalow that served as the original model home for the Kenwood development.
But Craftsman House isn’t just a gallery – Schorr says his real goal is to create community, so when he founded Craftsman House ten years ago, he made a café part of the plan. And once or twice a month he brings in big-name folkies and singer-songwriters to perform in the gallery space – including everyone from Janis Ian to Tom Paxton to Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane.
Before starting the Craftsman House, Schorr did a lot of work in the clothing industry. He helped start both Grenade Snowboard Gloves, and Tony Hawk’s personal clothing line. Snowboard and skate clothes might not be what you’d expect from a guy now running a serene craft-art gallery, but his attunement to the power of image and quality have carried over as he’s mellowed out.
For Schorr, t-shirts are about getting the word out, and to do that, they have to be comfortable. “My philosophy is, put it on the best quality t-shirt you can find, otherwise nobody’s going to want to wear it, no matter what the design.”
He used buttery-soft top-tier cotton shirts to create his Craftsman House Gallery t-shirts (sold here on St. Pete Threads), and it’s paid off. Every musician who comes through Craftsman House gets one of the shirts, and they’re so comfortable they can’t help wearing them – which is why the Craftsman House name has been seen on stages across the country, including at the Newport Folk Festival.
In addition to founding his own gallery, Jeff has done tons of work on the ground to improve conditions for artists in St. Pete. This includes the grueling, four-year process of getting Artists Enclave designation for Historic Kenwood, which allows artists to post signage in front of their residences, sell art from their homes at certain times, and gives the neighborhood special flexibility on quarterly events.
And he’s been amazed at the change he’s seen in St. Pete in the decade since he founded Craftsman. Across the Grand Central district there’s been the arrival projects like the Painting with Fire workshop and Grand Central Stained Glass. And though Craftsman House was a bit lonely for a while, way out on the 2900 block of Central, the block has recently welcomed the new Engine Rose restaurant, PomPoms sandwich shop, and a midcentury antique shop on the same block. All, no doubt, in part a return on his own hard work.