The Kapok Tree - A Symbol of St. Pete's Rich Arts History
Updated: Mar 10
The Kapok Tree outside St. Pete's Museum of Fine Arts is in bloom...and so is the city's vibrant arts!
St. Petersburg has always enjoyed a rich heritage involving the arts. Of course, it’s known for the world-renowned Dali Museum, boasting over 2,400 works of Salvador Dali. St. Pete also showcases over 100 city murals with contributions from both local and international muralists. But few realize as they pass by the beautiful Kapok tree located outside St. Petersburg’s Museum of Fine Arts its significance to the arts as well. A piece of magical art itself, the Kapok tree is truly something magnificent to behold.
Also known as the Bombax tree, its deep red blossoms this time of year cannot help one think about Weirwood tree from the Game of Thrones. And like the tree from the fantasy television series, the Kapok tree also holds a great deal of history and wisdom within. Planted in 1965 by the MFA’s first museum director Rex Stead, the tree was only 3 feet tall at the time. Looking at its majestic appearance today, you might never have believed it could have ever been so small.
Stead, along with the MFA’s founder Margaret Stuart, wanted to honor the Arts Club of St. Petersburg and its building that had occupied the spot of where the Kapok tree now stands. The Arts Club had been in existence since 1917, and the 50-year-old building had to be torn down to make way for the MFA’s new structure. But in recognition of the city’s arts’ heritage, Stead wished to create a lasting memorial worthy of its history. The Kapok tree is that memorial.
The Arts Club of St. Petersburg became today’s Morean Arts Center, which continues to promotes the arts in the community, especially among the St. Pete’s youth. Likewise, the Morean Center is responsible for bringing Dale Chihuly’s magnificent glass art collection to the city as well. Thus, when the Kapok tree blossoms each spring, it represents the richness and strength of the community’s arts interests and endeavors. It’s amazing that such a small seedling could yield such growth in so short a time. Both the Kapok tree and St. Petersburg’s arts culture reflect this well.
During St. Pete Biking Tours routine mural tours, we pause briefly at the Kapok tree to talk about its history and commemorate the city’s arts heritage. It’s a perfect way to show respect and admiration for the wonderful arts community that St. Petersburg now boasts. It now welcomes guests who visit St. Pete’s new pier and is always inviting anyone to climb on its outstretched arms. And it’s naturally a beautiful backdrop for photos and landscape drawings alike. In all aspects, the Kapok tree truly symbolizes our community’s arts past, present and future.