How a chess piece became an art exhibit in St. Pete

A chess set made by Jackie Kaufman, members of the St. Petersburg Chess Club, and St. Petersburg artist Alex Kaufman.
Jackie Kaufman

Did you know St. Pete has a chess club? If not, you are not alone. It has been in the same building since 1931.

Redington Shores artist Jackie Kaufman hadn’t thought much of chess either. That was until one of her students at The Beach Art Center in Indian Rocks Beach brought it up. Kaufman was teaching a workshop on mold making and pewter casting when one of her students mentioned that this would be a good process for creating individual chess pieces. Kaufman likes the idea, but she doesn’t want to create an entire chess set by herself, so she starts looking for collaborators.

“I originally wanted to find a school that had a chess club,” Kaufman told The Gabber.

That was until he found out about the St. Petersburg Chess Club.

“I’d never heard of them before,” says Kaufman, “and it turns out I’m not the only one…”

Kaufman came up with a plan. She will teach chess club members to create a chess set to promote their club. She arranged a meeting with the president of the St. Petersburg Chess Club Timotei Gospodinov and told him her idea.

“It was my first time at the chess club,” Kaufman told The Gabber, “and what I saw there made my idea and this project very special. It was a late Friday afternoon and people of all ages flocked just to play chess. Some seemed to know each other, but some were strangers… I was so intrigued that a place like this was here and so active.”

Kaufman convinced nine chess club members to participate in her chess club project. They each completed one chess piece during a two-day workshop in June. Kaufman then enlisted another Kaufman—her son, St. Petersburg artist Alex Kaufman—to make the board. Alex designed the 23-by-23-inch board, made of aluminum and glass, with a blue and white checkered pattern.

Then Jackie started looking for places to display the completed chess set.

“Jackie contacted me about her Chess Club project a few months ago,” Morean Arts Center Chief Curator Amanda Cooper told The Gabber. “I liked the concept and the fact that it drew attention to this old establishment, which is a stone’s throw from the Morean. I was also drawn to the relationship between chess and art – neither of these things see age or ability limits – they are there for anyone to learn and enjoy.”

All that was left was for Cooper to find a context in which to display the board. Thus was born the idea of ​​an art show on a polka dot theme. The exhibition takes place in Morean’s pop-up gallery, a small space that Cooper reserves for last-minute ideas like this one. The main gallery shows like the accompanying retrospective Tes One, Good intentions, are planned at least one year in advance.

Plaid features chessboard-inspired works by 23 artists, but the centerpiece of the exhibition is Kaufman and the chess set of the St. Petersburg Chess Club.

“Jackie’s vision and chessboard turned out great and I can’t wait for our visitors to see them!” says Cooper.

“Plaid” The Morean Center for the Arts, 719 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Opening Reception: September 10, 5-8pm Through October 31: Monday-Saturday, 10am-5pm

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