Antiques & Art Around Florida - 2016

Finding Lost Florida Art At The Chicago Century Of Progress

Alfred R. Frankel 2015-09-18 23:12:46

Andrew Jackson Receives Florida from Spain, From the collection of Cici & Hyatt Brown, Museum of Arts & Sciences, Daytona Beach Imagine how you might feel if iconic American paintings like John Trumbull's The Declaration of Independence, or Emanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware were lost. On a state level that is exactly what happened in Florida. In 1931, the state sponsored an art competition to find six artists to paint large murals depicting important events in the states history for the Florida building at the Chicago Century of Progress. The murals, eventually to be placed in the capitol in Tallahassee, were commissioned, painted, exhibited, and then lost. This is the story of those lost paintings and the recent discovery of works submitted for the competition. It was a difficult time for Floridians: the land boom ended in 1925 when real estate prices crashed, the hurricane of 1926 flattened Miami, and the Depression straight lined tourism. When the state legislature met in 1931, they wanted to stimulate tourism. They learned that Chicago planned to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of its incorporation with a World's Fair: the Chicago Century of Progress. All states were invited. Florida and eleven others, including California and Georgia, decided to participate in a great central quadrangle, the Court of States. Here was a unique chance to tell the country about the Sunshine State. In 1931, Florida had a population of 1.5 million and, with the exception of Osceola and the Seminole Indian Wars, was unfamiliar with a national stage. That changed in Chicago. The state would go all out, even minting a small coin that proclaimed "Florida where summer spends the winter." Florida could now attract the country’s attention. The exhibit included a half-acre orange grove, dozens of palm trees, a garden with wild orchids, a lily pond, and a Seminole village. Inside, the two-floored pavilion designed by Phineas Paist, architect of Coral Gables, featured a Spanish courtyard. Its sky crossed by a flight of ibis, dioramas of state industries, the sculpture Spirit of Florida, by George Ganiere, professor of sculpture at Stetson University , paintings of the sky lines of the larger cities, and six murals, each ten by ten feet, depicting the states' history. It began in September when the state legislature authorized a Florida exhibit for the fair. Governor Doyle Carlton appointed a Florida Century of Progress Commission with Senator W. C. Hodges as chairman. The commission began a statewide campaign to raise $250,000 and appointed a Florida Century of Progress Jury to find artists of recognized ability to execute paintings defining moments in Florida's history. The jury included Mrs. Eve Alsman Fuller, president of the Florida Federation of Art (FFA), as chairman, Mrs. Doyle Carlton, Mrs. Car y Landis, wife of the Attorney General, Senator Hodges, and sculptor C. Adrian Pillars of Jacksonville. The jury were assisted by artists Frank Townsend Hutchens of New York, Theodore Coe of Tampa, and artist-architect, Phineas Paist of Miami. In 1931, the Florida legislature chose Hutchens to paint portraits of all the ex-presidents of the Florida Senate. Coe, exhibited widely in Boston, New York and Florida, spending his summers on Cape Cod, and winters in Tampa. Paist, a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, was supervising architect of the Coral Gables Corporation, responsible for the architectural plans for thirty - four private homes, the Colonnade, the Coral Gables City Hall, and in Miami, the Federal Court House, and Post Office. The Florida competition was open to all. Mrs. Fuller invited members of the FFA to participate and Senator Hodges issued a press release with "An invitation to artists who live in Florida or who paint Florida scenes, to submit paintings for use in the states exhibit at the World Fair in Chicago next year." Paintings were submitted in categories: Discovery, Exploration, Christianization, Colonization, Seminole War, and Reconstruction. Artists could enter one painting in each category. The paintings were to be of uniform size, 30 by 30 inches, in simple frames, and signed on the back by the artist. The jury met at the Ringling Museum in early November 1932. Seventy- three paintings were submitted. The winners and those who won honorable mention, all lived in Florida. Artists living outside Florida sent letters of protest. The jury’s response: there were two criteria they considered; first artistic execution and historical accuracy, and second; it seemed fair that those artists who made their home in Florida, all things considered, be given preference over those who didn't. The winners were Addison Burbank for Discovery: Ponce De Leon Taking Possession of The Land for Spain. Burbank was born in California and, after art study in Europe, moved to Miami. The St. Augustine Record quotes Burbank on his visit to St. Augustine, “I had the pleasure of visiting the Arts Club (of St. Augustine) Friday evening…. We of the Miami Art League envy your beautiful home and splendid facilities for study and play….Our visit to St. Augustine was in search of material for the mural of Ponce de Leon’s discovery of Florida, for which I received the first award in the state competition held in November….” Burbank’s mural is lost. Max Bernd-Cohen won for Exploration: DeSoto Explores the West Coast of Florida. Bernd-Cohen was one of the first instructors at the Ringling School of Art. Before coming to Sarasota he was chairman of the art department at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Wallace W. Hayn won for Christianization: Spanish Building the First Missions in Florida. Hayn, like his art, has been lost to history. Chester J. Tingler won for Colonization: Andrew Jackson Takes Florida for the United States. Tingler grew up in Buffalo, New York where his drawings for the Albright Art Gallery won him a one-year art scholarship. After study at the Art Students’ League, Tingler was employed as a scenic and costume designer for Broadway shows produced by Flo Ziegfeld and the Schuberts. In 1917, he received the Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney award for mural painting. Tingler moved to Miami in 1922. Tingler’s competition for the Century of Progress award included a mural by Eleanor King of Pensacola, General Jackson Besieging Media de Luna of San Carlos. King was just twenty-three, one of the youngest artists to enter the competition. A co-founder of the Pensacola Art Club, King later exhibited in New York City at the National Academy of Design , the Montross Gallery, and Ferargil Galleries. Mark Dixon Dodd won for Seminole War: Osceola and the Peace Treaty at Moultrie Creek. Dodd studied at the Art Students' League with Robert Henri, and in Provincetown, Cape Cod with Charles Hawthorne. He moved to St. Petersburg in 1925, opening the Mark Dixon Dodd School of Art on Beach Drive in 1930. Dodd was head of the art department at St. Petersburg Junior College. George Snow Hill won for Reconstruction: The Disston Treaty: Governor Bloxham, Hamilton Disston and the Florida Land Sale. Hill and his artist wife Polly Knipp, after graduation from Syracuse University, spent several years painting in Europe. At the 1932 Olympic International Exhibit in Los Angeles, competing against 1,100 paintings from thirty-two countries, George Snow Hill won honorable mention for his St. Petersburg, Florida scene, Surf Fishing. Denman Fink was awarded a commission for “Lunettes” showing the sky lines of Florida’s larger cities. Fink first came to Miami in 1920 to complete a series of paintings on Florida subjects for a volume of verse by his nephew George E . Merrick . He moved permanently to Miami in 1924, joining Merrick in his development of Coral Gables. Fink was head of the art department at the University of Miami for 25 years. Honorable mentions were awarded to BerndCohen, Mark Dodd, Wallace Hayn, Chester Tingler, Emmaline Buchholz, Polly Knipp Hill, and Phillip Martin Schlamp. Emmaline Buchholz was instrumental in founding the Gainesville Association of Fine Arts in 1923, and in 1927, the Florida Federation of Art. She was the Federation’s first president. Her painting of George Washington, after Gilbert Stuart, hangs in the Florida House of Representative’s chamber. Polly Knipp Hill’s etchings were chosen for exhibition in the Fine Prints of the Year, an annual collection that showed the fifty best prints made in America. She depicted people enjoying life in St. Petersburg, picnicking on the beach, or lounging on St. Pete's familiar Green Benches. A portrait and mural artist and a native of Kentucky, Philip Schlamp moved to Miami in 1926. His wife Ethel was co-founder of the Miami Art League. When the fair ended in October 1934, it was the beauty of the Florida exhibit, its ability to project the warmth of the state, and the art, that stole the show. In the Official Guide Book, World's Fair 1938, Florida was the only state with a photograph of its interior courtyard. The guide noted, "Mural paintings of the history of Florida surround the gallery. Osceola, the war chief of the Seminoles, is shown driving his knife through the treaty which would deprive his people of independence." Florida was one of the few states that used original art to enhance their exhibit: the art made a difference. The Fair closed on October 31, 1934, Halloween night. The next day demolition began. Thousands of exhibits were packed for shipment. The Florida murals were likely packed, shipped, and over time, lost. Consider the art in New York's Metropolitan, or Sarasota's Ringling, and you can imagine what was lost. Six canvases, huge by today's standard and, from what we have seen of the preliminary paintings—beautiful - - perhaps rivaling the work of Trumbull or Leutze. One can only conjecture as to what happened to them; perhaps someday we will find them rolled up in someone’s garage. Happily, some of the preliminary paintings have survived. The commissioner in charge of Federal and state participation at the fair sent the following letter to Senator Hodges, "Yesterday we had in the grounds over a quarter of a million people, and of this, 12,000 an hour passed through your beautiful exhibit. This is a big load. If we had not checked the figures from time to time, we could be inclined to doubt the evidence of our own eyes and observation. It simply goes to prove that if you put on a good show people will come regardless of the Depression.... Florida has made an outstanding contribution to the success of the World's Fair." Phineas Paist, George Ganiere, and the award winning Florida artists had done well. In 1933, over nine million people visited the Florida exhibit. In 1934, over thirteen million came. Florida experienced the best tourist season in years.

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