The artwork of Boo Ehrsam is on display at the Complete Sweet Shoppe through April 22.
PINELLAS PARK – While the city has earned a reputation as a haven for all things creative lately, longtime resident Boo Ehrsam has spent the past few decades building a name for herself as an artist, author and performer.
She’s excited to see the rise of the Pinellas Arts Village, which has popped up within the 5600 and 5700 blocks of Park Boulevard with assistance from the city over the past year and a half.
In fact, art-lovers can check out some of her work – three-dimensional pieces made of polymer clay - at the Complete Sweet Shoppe, 5721 75th Ave. Her show will be on display there through the April 22 art walk.
Ehrsam moved to Florida with her family in 1963, landing in St. Petersburg, initially. She’s always been drawn to the arts, she said.
“I remember being very young and asking my father how to draw a nose from the front. I could draw it from the side, but not the front and he did not know how,” she said. “I had to sigh and go away.”
Eventually, she said, she figured it out. She took some art classes in middle and high school, but mainly is self-taught. She remembers utilizing her mother’s old art textbooks to teach herself new techniques. After high school, she went on to what was then called St. Petersburg Junior College to study art, but was “disappointed” in the curriculum.
“I’d learned a lot of it already in junior high,” Ehrsam said. “I found it frustrating and just went and did my own thing.”
After several years in Miami, she moved back to Pinellas County to raise her children. She purchased a home in Pinellas Park.
She became entrenched in the city’s arts scene, which, at the time, revolved around the Beaux Arts Coffeehouse on 60th Street North. She befriended the owner, Tom Reese, who inherited the property from his uncle.
Originally, the site was the Royal Palm Hotel. Reese’s uncle was known for throwing “soirees” on the weekend. Residents of nearby cities would take the train to Pinellas Park to attend them.
When Reese took over the property in the 1950s, he initially planned to run a boarding house, Ehrsam said.
“But the city asked him to do something more,” she said.
At first, he thought he might open a contemporary art school, but that business failed when military veterans were able to attend college for free on the GI Bill, she said. So instead he opened a coffeehouse.
She said a number of famous individuals found themselves at Beaux Arts over the years. Jim Morrison, who attended SPJC, read his poetry at open mics. Allen Ginsberg stopped by several times. Jack Kerouac, who spent his final years in St. Petersburg, hung out there and was thrown out “for possibly exposing himself.” Marilyn Monroe even purchased a painting there, she said.
As far as Ehrsam’s own artwork, she’s always created socially conscious work.
“It allowed me to make statements,” she said. “I do believe a picture is worth 1,000 words. You can get a lot across that way.”
For instance, one piece, “Lady Madonna,” named after the Beatles song of the same title, tackled the issues of toxins and overpopulation. Some of her work was even gifted to President Bill Clinton during a 1995 joint meeting of the Florida Legislature.
Her work has been exhibited in Beijing, China and Moscow, Russia, and her work can be found in private collections around the world. Among her collectors are Tropicana, Evander Preston and Adrien Arpel.
In 1996, her work was part of an exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Two of her prints are part of the museum’s permanent collection.
Ehrsam is also an author, and for many years was an arts columnist for local community publications, including the Bayside News.
She also hosted a segment for the cable show In the Park, which was produced by Billie Noakes, introducing artists from throughout Pinellas County.