Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Miracle on 34th Street

About four years ago I had an idea for an exhibit documenting "Ponceabilia" throughout the state and showing the ways in which the myth of the Fountain of Youth had impacted Florida's development. I did a mock-up for a local museum, but by the time I pitched it to them, they had no space for it. So I switched directions and put my energy into a book about the same subject. Last summer after running into Gainesville photographer John Moran at Glen Springs, he offered to pitch my exhibit project to the Florida Museum of Natural HistorySidenote: the complex of the FMNH, the Harn Museum, and the Phillips Performing Arts Center has been dubbed the "Miracle on 34th Street." Fast forward six months, and the exhibit is now open in the Museum's Central Gallery, along with John's Springs Eternal exhibit.

The original mock-up for the exhibit created in 2009

I could not have scripted the series of events and coincidences that led to the exhibit opening last week, but it felt really good to see it made manifest. I have ten 40" X 60" panels plus one really cool "put your head in the hole" tacky tourist photo-op. The professionalism and support I received from the museum was incredible and I'm proud to contribute to the museum where I took summer classes as a kid.

If you are in Gainesville, please check it out. Hopefully it is amusing to look at, educational, and thought provoking. And the demise of Florida's springs that John has documented is a very important issue for a state that has promoted itself as a fantastic land of natural wonders. Together our two exhibits examine the 500 years of myth of the Fountain of Youth from roadside kitsch to a potential environmental catastrophe.

John's wonderful nature panel in the foreground looking towards my exhibit

L-R: Lesley Gamble, Springs Eternal Partner and creator of the Urban Aquifer bus project
and Springs Eternal website; Rick Kilby, Finding the Fountain of Youth creator (me);
John Moran, creator of the Springs Eternal exhibit and brilliant nature photographer;
Dr. Bob Knight, noted springs authority
John's spectacular manatee clerestory window

Overview of the Springs Eternal exhibit

A dried-up White Springs shows what can happen to our springs

My exhibit, Finding the Fountain of Youth; Discovering the Myth
of Florida's Magical Waters,
is on display at the Florida Museum
of Natural History in Gainesville through December 15, 2013.
There will be an Earth Day event at the museum on Saturday, April 20th featuring another panel discussion by the Project's members and an appearance by one of the Urban Aquifer buses.


  1. Congrats Rick! It looks great and also seems like the museum was a natural home for the exhibit (pun intended).

    I look forward to seeing the book.

    Your passion for and love of our home state is something I most admire/appreciate about you.

    Bob Beatty

  2. I usually like to stay on the east coast of Florida, around Fort Lauderdale – I love the Pompano Beach spas – but what a great reason to go the Gainesville. The Fountain of Youth has always amazed me – did people back then really believe it, or did a ship’s captain make it up to keep his crew distracted from starving to death? What we are doing to our natural water supplies is horrible.

  3. Stan- during Ponce's lifetime, he was never actually associated with the myth of the Fountain of Youth. It was not after his death that his reputation and the search for eternal waters became entwined.