Florida Highwaymen

In segregated 1950 and 60s, African-American artists were few and far between – they had very little chance of getting a formal art education, and an even lesser chance of being shown in a gallery. It was this very lack of opportunity which gave rise to a unique painting style and an art collective which came to be known as the Florida Highwaymen.

The self-taught Highwaymen worked in the Fort Pierce and Vero Beach regions of Florida and painted the diverse and vibrant ecology of the region in their own distinct style. They painted fiery red sunsets, banyan trees laden with Spanish moss, beaches, marshes, aquamarine waters, stunning palms and poinciana tress, birds in flight– all in dazzling colors, and got their name by selling these works to tourists driving along Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

Harold Newton, Poinciana

The Highwaymen had 26 artists, with the two leaders being Alfred Hair and Harold Newton. They produced large quantities of art which they sold inexpensively to day trippers and tourists. Producing large quantities of art using an assembly line method led to a distinct painting style which included quick impressionistic style brushstrokes. Despite the assembly style method of painting the same subject, the artists added unique details to each work.

In all the Highwaymen made over 200,000 paintings which show an older Florida – the pre-Disney and Universal Florida of citrus groves and farms. At the same time they show the Florida of the Jim Crow era – when a group of defiant and talented artists worked outside the system and found independence and agency through art.

Frank LLoyd Wright in Florida

Usonian House at Florida Southern College

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959) is a uniquely American artist who created America’s distinct architectural style based on its vast open lands and prairies. The combination of a Midwestern upbringing, the launch of his architectural career in Chicago, and the building boom in Chicago after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 all propelled him towards architectural greatness – something his mother had predicted for him when she decorated his nursey with engravings of English cathedrals.

Fallingwater

Wright’s genius in blending nature and architecture is most fully realized in Fallingwater in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. This incredible home was set directly on the water fall that the owners wanted to enjoy. On a larger scale he built the Guggenheim museum in the shape of a spiraling nautical shell. Those of us living in Central Florida, do not have to venture far to see the works of Frank Lloyd Wright – the largest  collection of his buildings on one site is right here in Florida Southern College.

In 1938, Ludd Spivey, president of the College reached out to Wright to help with the expansion of the college. Wright who had been wanting to build an entire community jumped at the chance. He designed 12 structures for this campus including a chapel, a water dome, and miles of covered walkways, collectively called “Child of the Sun”.

The Great Depression would have halted the construction of these buildings but for the ingenious solution that the college arrived at – students were used for construction labor in exchange for free tuition – a win-win situation during the country’s great economic crisis. When WWII started and male students left – the female students took over the task of construction.

Female Students carried on the task of construction on campus when the male students left for WWII

In 1975, this stunning campus with its concentration of Wright architecture was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. (Images courtesy of FSC site and fallingwater.org).

French Provincial in Orlando

I have been seeing this house almost every day for years – it’s right by my school. And every time I drive past it, I am amazed at its beauty – with its aged look, an almost sagging roof, whitewashed brick, intricate woodwork, long gothic looking windows, and somewhat overgrown garden. It looks like it should be in a village in France – not in Orlando.

When I started to research the house, I learned it known as the Ingram House, and was designed by a celebrated American architect James Gamble Rogers II (1901-1990), who practiced mostly in Winter Park and is known for his work in the Spanish Revival, Mediterranean Revival, French Provincial, and Colonial Revival Styles.

Mills Library at Rollins College in Winter Park

Rogers II is responsible for giving Winter Park its look because of the many gorgeous buildings he designed in that city – among them Casa Feliz, Barbour Apartments, Greeneda Court, and numerous building at Rollins College. He also designed the Florida Supreme Court building in a Greek Revival Style.

Another really interesting fact about Rogers II is that he is the nephew of renowned architect James Gamble Rogers (1867-1947) who designed many buildings at Yale, Northwestern, and Columbia Universities.

(Images courtesy Winter Park Library and University Websites).

Arts in the City Beautiful

Art, in the words of Picasso, “washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” For Orlando, it was the balm that soothed its wounds from the horrific nightclub shooting. Orlando, as a city, collectively turned to art to heal the wounds of that horrible night and find a way forward. Lake Eola Park is a beautiful public space in downtown Orlando.  For the last year, the hatch shell has been painted in the colors of a rainbow to symbolize LGBTQ pride and #OrlandoStrong.

In Orlando, all around the ‘city beautiful,” there are new murals, graffiti, and even painted electric boxes – some memorializing the Pulse nightclub, others just there to add a little beauty to our day. Driving to school, stopping at red lights, being stuck in traffic, I have appreciated this art.  It has brought a smile to my face and reduced some of my morning tiredness – wouldn’t you smile if the Girl with a Pearl Earring smiled at you from a dumpster on your way to school every morning!!

A Romanesque Monastery in Florida

One would never expect to find a 900-year-old Romanesque monastery on the West Dixie Highway near Miami – but that is exactly what one would find on this secluded, not so easy to find, location – the monastery of Saint Bernard de Clairvaux.

The monastery was originally built in Sacramenia, Segovia in northern Spain in the 12th Century. When construction finished in 1141, it was dedicated to Mary, and was called “The Monastery of our Lady.” When Bernard of Clairvaux was canonized in 1174, the monastery was renamed in his honor. Bernard was a Cistercian monk, and the monastery was occupied by Cistercian monks for 700 years after that. In the 1830s, the cloisters were seized by the city for nonpayment of taxes and sold to a farmer who converted it into a granary and a stable.

Another 100 years later, in 1925, publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst illegally purchased the monastery, for a cost of $500,000 with the intention of rebuilding it on his estate in California. He had it deconstructed stone by stone and each stone was numbered and wrapped in hay – a total of 11,000 crates were shipped to the US. Only the original church remained in Sacramenia where it stands to this day.

Santa Maria la Real de Sacramenia

By the time it arrived in the US, there was a hoof-and-mouth disease in northern Spain, and the entire shipment was quarantined. Moreover, the hay was burned to prevent the spread of disease in the US. When removing the hay, the workers neglected to put the stones back in the numbered boxes, which ultimately caused a great deal of expense and confusion when the monastery was reassembled.

Hearst fell into financial difficulties, and the disassembled stones lay in a warehouse in Brooklyn for the next 26 years. After his death in 1952, the entire shipment was purchased by two Florida entrepreneurs W. Edgemon and R. Moss who had everything shipped to Miami. There, the monastery was painstakingly assembled – the entire process took 19 months, and because of the mismatching, several stones remained from which a parish hall was built. The monastery was sold a few times after that, until 1964 when philanthropist Colonel Robert Pentland, Jr. bought it and donated it to the Southern Florida parish of St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

On another continent, 1000s of miles away from its birthplace, a long journey after being disassembled, and then being assembled back like a jigsaw puzzle decades later – it is truly incredible that the monastery is back with the same Cistercian monk in whose honor it was named. (Images courtesy Sacramenia and Miami travel sites and spanishmonastery.com).

The Venice of Florida

The town of Winter Park in Central Florida is truly a gem. One of its many highlights is a chain of lakes that are connected to each other with narrow canals – hence the honorary title – Venice of Florida. The canals were built by lumber companies in the late 1800s for the purpose of connecting the lakes so that logs cut from surrounding forests could float all the way to sawmills.

These days, one can float down the canal and feel miles away from the city. The canal is surrounded by tropical trees and offers glimpses of beautiful historic homes of Winter park. As one floats down the canal, there is a canopy of lush trees of all kinds that provide shade. There are ancient oaks and cypress tress laden heavy with Spanish moss.

Artist Don Sondag grew up in Winter Park and loves these canals which he paints frequently.

(Images Courtesy Winter Park Magazine).

My Town

According to the Lake Mary Historical Museum, Lake Mary was settled in the 1800s by a tightrope walker and chemist known as Frank Evans. Initially it was two tiny settlements called Bent’s State and Belle Fontaine that depended on the citrus industry. When the South Florida Railroad came to the region in 1880 and had a stop at Lake Mary, it grew from a village into a town. In 1887, Lake Mary got its first Post Office. The city is named after Mary Sundell, who was the wife of the Presbyterain minister Reverend J. F. Sundell who organized his congregation here in 1894.

I have lived in the beautiful town, that I call home, since I was five years old.