Imagining Florida - History and Myth in the Sunshine State

Boca Raton Museum of Art

The most comprehensive and all-embracing Florida themed show of its kind, Imagining Florida: History and Myth in the Sunshine State presents a singular collection of 200+ works of art that celebrate how the Sunshine State has inspired artists across three centuries. Now, more than ever, a historic exploration of this scope serves as an important reflection on crucial issues Floridians are still grappling with today: conserving our beaches and natural lands, and the impact of political whirlwinds sweeping the State. Boca Raton Museum of Art brings together America’s leading masters and some of the world’s most renowned painters - who visited Florida and were spellbound by the exotic beauty surrounding them – many shown for the first time alongside unknown artists.

Imagining Florida digs deeper than previous Florida themed exhibitions,” said Irvin Lippman, the executive director of Boca Raton Museum of Art. “From pristine natural landscapes that have long ago disappeared, to its identity as a hyper-tourism destination. From wild frontier outposts to the mid-century Space-Age boom. From the deeply rooted Seminole and Miccosukee heritage of Florida, to the historic African American communities, these imaginings come together like never before to create a powerful time capsule.” Three years in the making, the exhibition was guest-curated by Jennifer Hardin and Gary Monroe. Many of their selections have rarely been seen and some have never been exhibited at a museum until now, and are from some of the leading museums and collections throughout the United States.  Visitors will feel transported through Florida’s history via the paintings, photographs, and drawings from the 18th to the mid-20th century, from naturalists to modernists. Artists and photographers include: Milton Avery, Martin Johnson Heade, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Laura Woodward, Purvis Young, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Doris Lee, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, John James Audubon, Frederic Remington, William Bartram, Sally Michel, Thomas Moran, George Catlin, Frederick Frieseke, and George de Forest Brush. 

The works presented in Imagining Florida have been selected from some of the leading art institutions across the United States, including: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Hirshhorn Museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum in Palm Beach, Wolfsonian-FIU in Miami Beach, Williams College Art Museum, Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville, Cummer Museum of Art in Jacksonville, Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, and the Frederick Remington Art Museum. Some of the prominent collections represented in this exhibition include: the collection of Sam and Robbie Vickers, the collection of Cici and Hyatt Brown, the Scott Schlesinger Collection, Philip Pearlstein, and The Drapkin Collection. Imagining Florida has been made possible by the Museum’s Leadership Fund, with major support provided by: The Estate of Ardele L. Garrod, Isadore & Kelly Friedman Foundation, Jody H. & Martin Grass, PNC Bank, Anne & Scott Schlesinger, Jennifer & Marc Bell, Dalia & Duane Stiller, Angela & John DesPrez III, Lisette Model Foundation, Patricia Savides, Schmidt Family Foundation, the Museum’s Friends Auxiliary, and those who wish to remain anonymous. “Through PNC’s Arts Alive, we are able to challenge local arts organizations to put forth their best, most original thinking to expand visual arts, audience participation and community engagement,” said Cressman Bronson, PNC Bank regional president for southeast Florida. “As a 2018 PNC Arts Alive program participant, the Imagining Florida exhibition perfectly illustrates how the arts have helped to define, enrich, and promote the diversity, history, and economic development of our state.”

These visual interpretations of Florida offer a fascinating exploration of the myths and realities of the Sunshine State. Art that was made in Florida is shown alongside art that was inspired by remembrances of visits to the State. Many of America’s leading artists visited and recorded their impressions, having been attracted to Florida’s profound beauty and idyllic weather. “The populations and physical landscape of Florida have changed much since artists such as Catesby, Bartram, Catlin, and Audubon were first captivated by the peninsula’s primordial spirit,” adds Irvin Lippman. “This exhibition pays tribute to those artists who came to Florida - reaching all the way back to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century naturalists, and ending in 1969 with Garry Winogrand’s photograph of a rocket launch taken at Cape Canaveral.”

There’s even a cabinet of curiosities showcasing the ways people chose to remember their time in the Sunshine State (think alligator lamps, souvenir TV trays, road maps and pink flamingos and you’ll get the picture). They bring to life memories of visits to Florida in imaginative ways, unlike any other place.

Imagining Florida explores the State’s long history of being the source of inspiration for artists, many of whom were simply passing through or on assignment. Most of these artists never lived full-time in Florida, although a few were Florida born and raised. Subject matter also varies, including landscapes, the State’s lush flora and fauna, the rigors of industrialization, WPA mural projects, social issues, and even 1950s and 1960s American kitsch. Some images tell the story of the State’s history and its peoples, while others were created to lure tourists and generate commerce.

More About Florida’s Artistic History

Boca Raton Museum of Art was founded by artists in the 1950s, and has long supported the work of artists in Florida. “It is as important as ever to revisit this Floridian theme, as development is even more emboldened and the conservation of our lands and beaches remain an ongoing issue,” adds Lippman. “Not surprising then, that the art of ‘Old Florida’ is seen as more enchanting than ever,” adds Lippman. “Imagining Florida should serve as a point of much discussion about the vitality of the ‘art scene’ in Florida, that began not with art fairs in Miami in the 2000s but in the late 1800s when Henry Flagler created an art colony in St. Augustine and in the early 1900s when James Deering built Vizcaya,” adds Lippman. Deering’s winter home in Miami was a place where he continued his role as patron of the arts, attracting painters and film stars to this remarkable coastal address.

The African-American Experience in Florida

The artist and architect Jules André Smith, founder of the Maitland Art Center in 1937, brought numerous artists to Florida, especially the modernists. Near Orlando, the Maitland Art Center is now a National Historic Landmark. It also preserves many of Smith’s paintings and works on paper, in addition to his murals and sculptures found throughout the buildings and in the open air. A neighboring town to Maitland, Eatonville was one of the earliest black communities to be incorporated in the United States in 1885, founded by freed slaves in the 1860s.  Smith’s Eatonville paintings have a singular role among Florida’s imagery, and many of his paintings depict life in Eatonville. This stunning exhibition will be enhanced with an outstanding array of educational programs for K-12 schools, students, and adults. Programs include lectures, school tours, panel discussions, musical performances, film screenings, and workshops, and touch on topics such as art of the Seminoles, history, civil rights, and the African American experience in Florida. 

About the Guest Curators for Imagining Florida

Jennifer Hardin, Ph.D., Independent Curator and Art Historian Dr. Hardin attended the University of Kansas where she double majored in French Language & Literature and Western Art, graduating with highest distinction and honors in art history. She received her M. A. (1992) and Ph.D. (2000) in Western Art after 1750, from the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University. Dr. Hardin began working at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1995, first as Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, and then as Chief Curator (2002–2015). There, she curated over 80 exhibitions from the permanent collection, but also major loan shows, the most important being Monet’s London: Artists’ Reflections on the Thames (2005) that traveled to the Brooklyn and Baltimore Museums of Art. This exhibition has inspired her study of the role of place in artists’ works, highly relevant to this project. Dr. Hardin is guest curator for the section of paintings, prints, drawings, and watercolors, dating from the late 18th century to the mid-20th century.

Gary Monroe, Florida Author and Photographer, and Professor at Daytona State College Mr. Monroe received a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He has photographed people and culture in numerous countries and throughout Florida, including the endings of the old-world Jewry that once characterized Miami’s South Beach, his extensive travels throughout Haiti, tourists on their “rite of passage” at Disney World, and corporate effects on the landscape. In addition, Mr. Monroe has written ten books about Florida art, which explore uncharted cultural territories and constitute a meaningful part of our social history.

His seminal work is exemplified by The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters. Mr. Monroe is guest curator for the section of Photography dating from the 1920s to the 1980s and the section of material culture. (Photo caption: Joseph Janney Steinmetz, Swain family having a picnic near the Colony Beach Club on Longboat Key, Florida, 1958, gelatin silver print. Collection of Trenam Law, Tampa, Florida. Image courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.)

About Boca Raton Museum of Art

Founded by artists, Boca Raton Museum of Art was established in 1950 as the Art Guild of Boca Raton. The organization has grown to encompass an Art School, Guild, Museum and Sculpture Garden. As part of a highly strategic and comprehensive reimaging of its public-facing exteriors, Boca Raton Museum of Art will unveil a major renovation of its exterior spaces in the Fall of 2018.   Designed by Glavovic Studio and Studio Roberto Rovira, this $1.8 million project presents a new prominence for the Museum.