Museum of Fine Arts preserves antiquities with beer

St. Pete Catalyst

By Bill DeYoung

As the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts’ fourth annual Beer Project approaches, its motto – “Drink With Purpose” – has never seemed more appropriate.

Proceeds from the July 19 and 20 fundraisers will be funneled directly into the conservation and preservation of the museum’s five mosaics from the ancient city of Antioch – in what is now modern-day Turkey. The largest of these colorful stone mosaics, which date from 100-300 C.E. (in the vicinity of 2,000-3,000 years ago), measure approximately 8×6 feet.

The mosaics were acquired 50 years ago from Princeton University, which had possessed them since the 1930s.

Because they’re so large, two of the mosaics were actually buried in the museum lawn.

Adding beer to the equation is the museum’s way of putting the “fun” in “fundraising.”

“Over the last four years, we’ve asked brewers to look at the art in our collection, and be inspired by a painting, or a piece of sculpture,” explains Margaret Murray, the MFA’s associate curator of public programs. “We’ve probably done this with close to three dozen pieces of art in the collection, but this is the first time that we have something that’s so massive, and so important, and so timely that we’re able to let everyone – all of the brewers, all of the students – be inspired by it. So it’s a wonderful opportunity to see how everyone interprets these mosaics.”

The students are part of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Brewing Arts Program; the local brewers are Green Bench, Mastry’s, 3 Daughters, Rapp and Flying Boat. And the St. Pete Home Brew Club, including Right Around the Corner owner Tommy Rockhill and former Beer Project winner Andrew Palumbo.

Murray has created a “flavor book,” to document the ingredients Middle Eastern and Mediterranean brewmakers – a lot of dates and honey – might have used at the time.

“The brewers were asked to pick a style of beer,” she says. “They decided and said ‘This is how we will excel, knowing about these mosaics and the flavors we want to use.’”

So these will be small batch, one-of-a-kind craft beers, with recipes on July 19 created by the St. Pete Home Brew Club. On July 20, the student-created recipes, crafted by the other breweries, will be featured for your tasting pleasure (Jennifer Sedillo, director of the USF program, has been in on the project since the start).

“I even found a grocery list that a refugee organization gives to refugees and host families, so we have a lot of flavors to pull from there,” Murray explains. “Everyone was working from the same palette. It was this wonderful, collaborative experience from beginning to end.”

Which leads Murray back to the importance and timeliness she mentioned earlier. “We’re so far removed from it, but there’s a way of life that’s being destroyed there,” she says. “There are certainly buildings and monuments and cultural artifacts that have come under fire. And no one knows what’s going to happen to them.

“So we take it very seriously that we have these artifacts, these pieces of history from the area, that we’re conserving.”

Admission to either night includes a tour of the museum’s mosaic conservation lab, beer talks, craft chats and more. Click here for details and reservations.




About the author


Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung was a St. Petersburg Times correspondent at the age of 17. He went on to a 30-year career at newspapers in Florida and Georgia. He is the author of Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay's Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought it Down and Phil Gernhard, Record Man. He loves the Beatles and is, more or less, a cat person.

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