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STREETSEEN  | Tom Clifton

Photo by Steve Roberts

Tom Clifton: Artist and Gallery Owner 

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

Starting out in Morgan City, Louisiana, Tom Clifton came to Tennessee for college. He initially enrolled at Freed-Hardeman College, then transferred to Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) in 1982.

“At the time, I was studying early childhood development, thinking I wanted to be a psychologist,” recalled Clifton. “I took a part-time job at H&N Gallery and after working there for a year, I realized that working with art was what I really loved to do. In 1984 the owners decided they wanted to sell the business. That opened the door for me to buy the shop. I remained at their former East Memphis location, but changed the name to T. Joseph Clifton Gallery. I was there about five years, then moved to Humphreys Center and ultimately to Summer Avenue, where I stayed for 14 years.”

Through the years, what started as primarily a frame shop serving individuals evolved to include the decorator trade and corporate clients. “Initially I wasn’t carrying originals, but focused on the limited edition works of collected artists, as well as Memphis in May posters,” explained Clifton. “I also spent some time dabbling at painting myself, and in time, began selling some of my own original art.” That “dabbling” led to Clifton, who takes great pride in being a self-taught artist, developing his own personal style of mezzo fresco art. His work is now in corporate and private collections.

Another change occurred in 2009 when Clifton moved to Broad Avenue and became partners with long-time friend and supporter Pat Brown. “The area had not yet been developed,” said Clifton. “A MEMFix pop-up called ‘A New Face for an Old Broad’ brought the area to life, showcasing what it could be like for potential investors, business owners and the public. It was the impetus that launched the redevelopment of Broad Avenue and created its identity as an Arts District.”

Clifton and Brown were informally recognized as the pioneers leading the charge.  And while helping chart the future for the area, they were also strategically revamping their gallery’s own identity. “While continuing with our framing business, we decided to expand into more of a gallery and began selling original artwork,” said Clifton “To have an exclusive with the artists we found that, primarily, we had to go outside of Memphis. However, we did want some local representation and have featured jewelry artist Dorothy Northern and painter Jeannine Paul. We became aware that there was a huge deficit for art glass and felt we could fill that niche. Now our gallery has become recognized as THE South’s premiere art glass gallery. We carry works by 60 artists and half are glass artists, including Brian Russell who works with cast crystal and forged iron and James Hayes, from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, whose works rival Chihuly.” 

T. Clifton Art is indeed the regional epicenter for everything from blown glass to fused glass to poured glass. Some objects are functional and other pieces are purely decorative.

“Our evolution has been so rewarding,” exclaimed Clifton. “Half of our revenue still comes from framing and we are now serving a second generation of clients from families who started with us in the beginning.” 

For more information about T. Clifton Art, stop by their shop at 2571 Broad or visit their website tcliftonart.com.

 

STREETSEEN | Felicia Suzanne Willett

Photo by Steve Roberts

Felicia Suzanne Willett: Chef & Proprietor

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

Born and raised in Jonesboro, Arkansas, Chef Felicia Suzanne Willett’s earliest memories of cooking start at age 7. “It seems I’ve been cooking almost my whole life,” explained Willett. “I learned from my mother and my grandmother, then my father and stepdad. My mother and stepdad traveled a lot. They were big foodies and exposed me to good food and entertaining.”

Willett first came to Memphis when she transferred to Memphis State University after finishing two years at Arkansas State. She completed a bachelor’s degree in home economics with a minor in marketing.

“When I was in college, Memphis did not have the Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality yet.” recalled Willett. “I took courses in nutrition, as well as cost accounting, and I had to complete two internships as part of my program. One internship was with Parkwood Hospital and the other was with Memphis Country Club. At the hospital, I dealt with nutrition, proper portions and caloric balance. Everything was cooked in-house and we did a good bit of catering, too. I worked in every department of the country club, including groundskeeping, housekeeping, bartending and the kitchen. And actually, one of my biggest take-ways from that internship was learning organizational skills from the housekeeping crews. It really added to my management training.”

After completing her undergraduate degree, Willett moved to Charleston, South Carolina to attend the Johnson & Wales Culinary Academy. Because she already had her bachelor’s degree, she was able to complete the program in one year. 

“To complete my associate’s degree in Culinary Arts, I had to do an externship,” said Willett. “I moved to New Orleans to work with Emeril Lagasse. I ended up staying there for eight years. I started at the bottom and worked my way up to become his assistant, helping him develop recipes and his cookbooks. I became a support person for his restaurant, handling charity events and helping with his television appearances and cookbook tours.”

Traveling 10 months out of the year took its toll and Willett longed to be closer to home. She also wanted to try to make her dream of opening a restaurant a reality. Willett said she chose Memphis for its proximity to Jonesboro — that and the fact that Craighead County is a dry county and she felt she felt she would need the alcohol part of the business to help pay the bills. 

“I moved to Memphis and didn’t know anyone,” recalled Willett. “I picked a location Downtown because of its history and its architecture. I didn’t want ‘shiny & new’ in a strip mall out east, but rather a place with authentic character and a real sense of community. Nick Vergos and Thomas Boggs became my mentors. Suhair Lauck from The Little Tea Shop and Mac Edwards from McEwen’s also took me under their wings and helped develop my network. I really relied on the kindness of strangers who became dear advocates and advisors. I opened my namesake restaurant, Felicia Suzanne’s, at 80 Monroe in March 2002 and have been there ever since. My menu is very New Orleans-inspired, as are my Martini Friday lunches, which are modeled after the long, leisurely lunches made famous by Galatoire’s.”

Willett said her culinary interests continue outside of her restaurant.

“I enjoy trying new recipes and adding my own twist to them,” said Willett. “Usually I invite my neighbors over to taste-test new dishes or cocktails.”