The paint­ings

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local -

When pho­tog­ra­pher Gary Mon­roe ar­rived in Mi­ami Beach in the late 1970s, he dis­cov­ered a trove of Old Florida pho­to­graphs on the brink of ruin.

About 17,500 photo neg­a­tives of Mi­ami Beach from a lit­tle-known pho­tog­ra­pher named Glea­son Waite Romer were gather­ing dust in musty card­board boxes at the old Mi­ami-Dade Pub­lic Li­brary in Bayfront Park. The li­brary’s open win­dows didn’t help, ex­pos­ing the images to the hu­mid air.

Mon­roe pre­served the neg­a­tives (“it was an ar­chiv­ist’s night­mare sce­nario,” he says), which in­clude images of beach­go­ers and beauty queens, pack­age stores and well­dressed tourists. Re­cently, he again be­came ob­sessed with Romer. He was the first artist Mon­roe thought of when the Boca Ra­ton Mu­seum of Art asked him to cu­rate “Imag­in­ing Florida,” an am­bi­tious new ex­hibit open­ing Nov. 13.

Subti­tled “Myth and Mys­tery in the Sunshine State,” the show re­vis­its the his­tory of Florida through un­sung artists such as Romer, but also the mas­ter painters and pho­tog­ra­phers who cap­tured the Sunshine State best, such as John Singer Sar­gent, Winslow Homer, Dorothea Lange, Henri Cartier-Bres­son, Bunny Yea­ger and Purvis Young.

“Florida has al­ways been built on the dreams and schemes of par­adise,” Mon­roe says by phone from his home in De­land. “We’ve been sell­ing Florida that way for a long time.”

“Imag­in­ing Florida” dives into roughly 300 years of paint­ings and pho­tos, span­ning 18th cen­tury fron­tier out­posts on the St. John’s River through the Space Age boom, best cap­tured in Garry Wino­grand’s 1969 photo of ex­cited tourists point­ing binoc­u­lars at the Apollo 11 rocket launch at Cape Canaveral.

These paint­ings and pho­tos took three years to gather from some 15 small and blue-chip mu­se­ums (Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian, New York’s Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum of Art) and from key pri­vate col­lec­tors, Boca Mu­seum of Art di­rec­tor Irvin Lipp­man says.

Be­cause of the ex­hibit’s mar­quee names and scale — 200-plus art­works on both floors — it’s the mu­seum’s most am­bi­tious show since Lipp­man be­came di­rec­tor in 2013. Only the mu­seum’s 2017 ex­hibit “Glasstress,” a gi­ant dis­play of in­ter­na­tional glass in­stal­la­tions, comes close, he says.

“The works are all over the map, but that’s be­cause artists came to Florida for many rea­sons,” Lipp­man says.

“They came to de­pict Na­tive Amer­i­cans. James Audubon came to etch birds. Oth­ers came to paint ex­otic flora or pass through on as­sign­ment or show Florida’s tourism.”

Early nat­u­ral­ists such as Mark Catesby were spell­bound by the Sunshine State for 100 years by the time or­nithol­o­gist John James Audubon came to the Florida Keys in 1833.

Among the first paint­ings to greet vis­i­tors at the mu­seum is Audubon’s etch­ing “Ze­naida Dove” (hand-col­ored by Robert Havell, Jr.), fea­tur­ing the mi­gra­tory dove in the Florida Keys. Audubon, whose crew found them­selves low on pro­vi­sions, was not above eat­ing the same doves to stay alive, de­scrib­ing

their flesh as “ex­cel­lent.”

“Yes, he thought the birds were quite de­li­cious,” says Jen­nifer Hardin, the show’s paint­ing cu­ra­tor, who gath­ered 80 orig­i­nal paint­ings for “Imag­in­ing Florida.” “Artists wanted to cap­ture what made Florida ex­otic.”

Dur­ing a re­cent mu­seum visit, Hardin points to Ge­orge Snow Hill’s 1938 paint­ing “Build­ing the Tami­ami Trail,” show­ing AfricanAmer­i­can la­bor­ers in pri­son stripes build­ing the east-west Ever­glades road. “It wasn’t al­ways the pretty, pic­turesque ver­sion of the state we see in post­cards,” she says.

Hardin says big-name painters de­scended on Florida not as the van­guards of a new art school, like New York’s Hud­son River Val­ley, but be­cause they were in­vited by rail­road ty­coon Henry Fla­gler and so­cialite James Deer­ing. John Singer Sar­gent, per­haps the most fa­mous, ar­rived at his friend Deer­ing’s just-fin­ished win­ter home Villa Viz­caya (now Vis­caya Mu­seum and Gar­dens) in 1917.

Sar­gent was un­im­pressed with Florida’s flora and fauna (“pal­met­tos and al­li­ga­tors don’t make in­ter­est­ing pic­tures,” he said), but he did like Deer­ing’s Ital­ian Re­nais­sance-style villa and boat house. In 1917, Sar­gent painted “Basin With Sailor, Villa Viz­caya,” cap­tur­ing a sailor who manned Deer­ing’s 80-foot yacht, Ne­penthe.

Far­ther north, along the Lake Worth La­goon, the area’s red royal poin­cianas en­chanted painter Laura Wood­ward for her 1889 paint­ing “Poin­ciana on Lake Worth.” Henry Fla­gler later built his first Gilded Age ho­tel in Palm Beach, the Royal Poin­ciana, near the same spot in 1893, Hardin says.

But it was pop­u­lar painters such as Jules An­dre Smith work­ing in Ea­tonville, the home of author Zora Neale Hurston, who helped “un­leash” con­tem­po­rary artists on South Florida, Hardin says. Smith, a friend of Hurston, here de­picts 1940s African-Amer­i­can folk life, in­clud­ing cot­ton field work­ers and Sun­day wor­shipers.

“It’s al­most funny. [Smith] was on his way to Mi­ami to open an art stu­dio, but he never made it past Ea­tonville,” Hardin says. “He later cre­ated the Mait­land Art Cen­ter and brought dozens of artists here on art fel­low­ships.”

The pho­to­graphs

In min­ing the state’s his­tory with tens of thou­sands of pho­to­graphs, Gary Mon­roe spot­ted a com­mon theme: Florida was sold as a par­adise long be­fore tourists de­scended on Mi­ami Beach.

At the brink of Florida’s 1900s tourism boom, Es­mond G. Barn­hill sold his hand-col­ored ura­nium-dyed prints of dreamy Florida land­scapes in St. Peters­burg so game-hunt­ing tourists could own a me­mento of their ex­pe­ri­ence. Along the St. John’s River south of Jack­sonville, Mon­roe says, sports­men took river­boats and hunted at night, dec­i­mat­ing the area’s al­li­ga­tor and bird pop­u­la­tions. “Peo­ple had no re­spect,” Mon­roe says. “If it moved, it was dead. But artists cap­i­tal­ized on tourism there.”

There are a few odd­ball tourism pho­tos, Mon­roe says. There’s Al­bert Price’s beach­front images, in­clud­ing “Mi­ami Beach Scene,” a Mayflower-style scene in which dozens of wealthy, be­wil­dered-look­ing tourists ap­pear to wan­der the shore­line in busi­ness suits and long dresses. In a se­ries of amus­ing un­der­wa­ter stills, Bruce Moz­ert pro­motes the nowde­funct Sil­ver Springs theme park with a male and fe­male model per­form­ing ordinary tasks, such as mow­ing the “lawn” (re­ally, sea grass), grilling and loung­ing on beach chairs.

“Imag­ine see­ing young, at­trac­tive mod­els in Florida in De­cem­ber when you’re freez­ing cold in New York,” Mon­roe says. “News­pa­pers showed these images all over the world.”

Even Mar­ion Post Wol­cott, in seek­ing stark snap­shots of Great De­pres­sion­era low-in­come work­ers for the Farm Se­cu­ri­ties Ad­min­is­tra­tion, could not help but train her lens on tourists. Her 1941 photo “Win­ter Vis­i­tors From Nearby Trailer Park” shows three women, dressed in their Sun­day best, loung­ing next to a parked car on a Sara­sota beach.

Lipp­man says Florida’s tourism was a strong lure for artists aim­ing “to cap­ture what made Florida so ex­otic,” he says. “Our state gets praised as a hot­bed of con­tem­po­rary art be­cause of Art Basel, but it was these early Florida Nat­u­ral­ists, these pi­o­neers, who made it all pos­si­ble.”

“Imag­in­ing Florida: His­tory and Myth in the Sunshine State” will open Tues­day, Nov.

13, at the Boca Ra­ton Mu­seum of Art, 501 Plaza Real. Ad­mis­sion is $8-$12. The show will close March 24. Call

561-392-2500 or go to Bo­caMu­seum.org.

Edward Toolsie and Martin Hana­han, chief reg­is­trar and di­rec­tor of ex­hi­bi­tion ser­vices at the Boca Ra­ton Mu­seum of Art, prepare to hang a hand-col­ored etch­ing by Robert Havell, part of the mu­seum’s new ex­hibit “Imag­in­ing Florida: His­tory and Myth in the Sunshine State.”

SU­SAN STOCKER/SUN SEN­TINEL

Edward Toolsie and Martin Hana­han, chief reg­is­trar and di­rec­tor of ex­hi­bi­tion ser­vices at the Boca Ra­ton Mu­seum of Art, hang John Singer Sar­gent's Basin with Sailor, Villa Viz­caya, Mi­ami, Florida, 1917.

SU­SAN STOCKER/SUN SEN­TINEL

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