Tampa is home to many artists, and opportunities to explore the city’s creative side are everywhere. From trendy galleries in SoHo to eclectic co-ops in Ybor City, Tampa is full of unique local art pieces for viewing and purchasing.
One such unique opportunity is a gallery/workshop called Rustic Steel Creations. It’s located a little off the beaten path, but still just 15 minutes from downtown. You can’t miss the location; it’s painted bright purple and features an eclectic family of oversized metal creations that change over time, as items are moved and sold. Huge dogs, fire-breathing dragons, giant robots . . .
Check out this Rustic Steel creation on Tampa's Riverwalk — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers
Visiting this one-of-a-kind artist’s space is worth the effort, especially if you’re into metal and iron sculpture. At the back of the building is where the magic happens, and it’s fascinating to watch. You might run into founder and welding artist Dominique Martinez. He likes to show people his workshop and talk about the inspiration behind his creations.
Most of his sculptures consist of a collage of found objects, and studying his pieces you’ll find all kinds of leftover metal bits, from castors to motherboards. He hates to throw anything out and favors reusing old metal that can tell a story and preserve history. One of his current projects includes designing a sculpture reusing old gears taken from Tampa’s historic Platt Street drawbridge.
You can also find Martinez’s pieces as you tour around town. Two sculptures features adorable metal dogs can be seen at the bike rack in front of the new Ulele Restaurant on the Riverwalk. Many of his sculptures showcase a sense of humor and whimsy. Other fun examples include a Bud Light Lombardi trophy and a football player made out of pieces of an old grill and rusty car parts.
Martinez also has a reflective side, however, and in 2011 was commissioned to create a very special 9/11 memorial. This memorial is now installed at the Tampa Firefighters Museum and Steinbrenner Field. This project had special significance to the artist, as he is a previous resident of New York City.
Other public installations may not be as obvious, as Martinez is the talent behind many of Tampa’s most beautiful wrought iron railings and decorative metal gates. He and his staff of experienced welders create custom designs that are functional as well as beautiful. You can check out the trendy Oxford Exchange for an example of his exquisite railings.