Thursday, April 30, 2009

More Conway Kids' art

"What I like about Florida" by Ms. Summers' 5th Grade class and Ms. A's 3rd grade class of Conway Elementary, Orlando, FL. Kudos to the school staff for continuing the tradition of "Arts at Conway." With the ever-shrinking school budgets, it is critical that the arts not be left out as a fundamental part of a well-rounded student curriculum. For at least one day a year, at this school, the arts are front and center. Bravo!

By Zack

By Erin

By Abby

By Breana
"Florida Rocks" by Gabbie

By Naseem

Visual Ephemera goes back to school

Conway Elementary is one of the oldest schools in Central Florida, tracing its roots back to the original two room Conway School that opened in 1875. The old 1954 building recently gave way to a brand new school that is a state-of-the art facility. One of the traditions they've carried on from the old school is Arts at Conway Day. The entire day is devoted to teaching students about the arts – from opera to television technology.

I participated in this annual event for the second time and asked two classes to help create content for today's blog. The assignment was to create artwork based on what they liked best about Florida. Students were asked to write, draw or work on a postcard template I provided. No one elected to write much, but I was very impressed with their artwork (it may take more than one blog to show it all!) I'm not sure whether or not I taught the kids anything, but maybe pausing to consider their favorite thing in Florida will make them appreciate the "state they're in."

Caption reads "I like that Florida is so beautiful filled with all kinds of trees and plants and rivers." By Diamond

By Billie

By Jordan

By Samoth

By Mauriana

By Paloma

By Alexandra

by McKenna

By Dayton

By Justin

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Giving new life to old stuff

As long as I have been in Orlando, there has been a McRae artists studio. Originating in a warehouse by Florida Hospital on McRae Street, they moved across Princeton to location known as McRae on the Lake for a while but most recently have been in warehouse in Winter Park, the cultural hub of Central Florida. In my younger days the openings at the McRae warehouse were an excuse to party, but these days when I make it to an opening it is an opportunity to see old friends and hang out with two of the coolest people on the planet, the Whipples.

John and Lynn Whipple are both extremely gifted artists, (painting/photography/sculpture /mixed media), and Lynn recently opened up her studio space to share some of her mixed media techniques with some enthusiastic amateurs and talented individuals wanting to learn some new tips. If my profession was selling artwork, I'm not sure I'd be as willing to reveal my secrets as Lynn, but she is a natural teacher and seems to find great joy in sharing what she's learned. Both Whipples make use of found materials, and they give new life to old objects. I scoured my attic for weeks to find the right stuff to bring and spent the majority of Saturday creating three art pieces from my old ephemera, supplemented with stuff from the Whipples' stash. There was great energy in the room as we dove into creativity headfirst, emerging only for lunch and a show-and-tell session at the end of the day.

I've always admired both John and Lynn's talent and they are both, kind and generous people. These days when "Going Green" is all the rage, I give you the ultimate recyclers, these two creative individuals who've made a living creating treasures from old ephemera and now turn ordinary people into artists, if even for just one day.

"Bird Brain"


"Sing" (not completed)

Check out this blog from someone else who participated in the workshop.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pop Art lost

When I went out for the morning paper this morning I could smell the smoke from a distant brush fire. This seems to be a common occurance every spring, as we seem to be in a drought cycle and struggle with brush fires until the rains of summer soak the state. Sadly one of the losses from the most recent fires include pop artist James Rosenquist's Florida home and studio. It's a bummer to think about priceless works of art going up in flame. Perhaps this will inspire him to create even greater work, based on the fire...

Sunday, April 26, 2009


I picked up the Orlando Weekly this week because of the clever illustration of "Peninsula Pete" an anthropomorphic rendering of our state as a vaudeville character. The feature article was "Our Dumb State Vol.5." While the Weekly always has a smarmy, sarcastic tone, and this article is no exception, I can't disagree wit the basic premise of the piece that Florida has been "the epicenter of idiocy" in recent years. And the more I learn about our state's history, the more I discover that collectively as a state, we've have a discouraging legacy of making short-sighted decisions that ultimately could harm the quality of life in our state. So now that this tendency is so blatant that a weekly tabloid like the Weekly can make a 5 part series about stupidity in our state, will we work to make things better? The news stories coming out of the current state legislative session seem to indicate we are right the middle of a tsunami of stupidity. Despite what's going in Tallahassee right now, we still have a State Park system that is second to none and a forward-thinking program like Florida Forever as long as we continue to fund them both. I'd like to see what is left of old Florida preserved so the next generation can see what it was like when the state was unspoiled.

The Orlando Sentinel also has a feature called Floriduh with the subhead "We've been in the sun too long." Is this part of Florida's colorful character, without the lens of time to make it seem eccentric and fun? Do we attract wackiness and silly behavior? Or if you looked hard enough at any state, could you find the same kind of stuff going on?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The homes of James Gamble Rogers II

James Gamble Rogers was one of Florida's preeminent architects of the early 20th century. Practicing in Winter Park, his most notable works were wonderful Central Florida homes built mainly in the 1930s & 40s and commercial structures including the Florida Supreme Court Building in Tallahassee and various buildings on the Rollins College Campus. I attended the 2009 James Gamble Rogers II Colloquium in Winter Park and was excited to learn more about this talented Floridian and the fabulous homes that are his legacy.

The Spanish Revival or Mediterranean Style sprang from Florida's history as a Spanish colony and the desire of northern residents to have exotic homes in Florida completely different from their homes up north. Many of JGR2's signature home's are in this style, including Casa Feliz and this home, the Holt House, originally built in 1939 and expanded in 1941. Despite the lengthy appearance of this home, I found the scale of JGR2's houses to be very livable. Unlike the Mediterranean Revival homes of Addison Mizner in Palm Beach, Roger's homes were designed to be lived in, rather than just winter play places for the rich.

The Shippen House was JGR2's first "eclectic" Spanish house and incorporated many design elements that became signature elements including a central courtyard, barrel tile roofs, hanging balconies, a turret and a semi circular staircase.

This 1937 Art Moderne masterpiece, the Jewett House, is located next door to the Shippen House. Originally set in an orange grove it was nicknamed "Treetops" for the exterior rooftop balconies at tree level.

The final house on the tour was this Cape Cod-esque, shake-shingle style house. Most of this house was just one room wide so that the lake breeze could blow easily through when the windows were opened on both sides. Today it is immaculately decorated with furnishings appropriate to the design of the house and resembles a museum in it's themed perfection.

Another signature of JGR2 was intentionally aging his houses. He even sagged the roof line to gve the appearance of old age as evident in this house in Orlando. At Casa Feliz he deliberately created a broken arch to create an old world look.

Two other things about Casa Feliz, JGR2's masterwork that was saved from demolition by being moved to a new location at the end of Winter Park's famed Park Avenue. First it is now run as a rental facility by JGR2's grand daughter, Betsy Miller. Her father, Jack Rogers, also an architect, provided much of the information about his father and the Holt house. The second interesting piece of information is that after the owners of Casa Feliz threatened to tear the home down, prompting the move to a new location, an eagle's nest was found on the site making it difficult to build on due to environmental regulations. So ironically enough, the the original lakefront site of one of James Gamble Rogers II's greatest homes is now a vacant lot.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

World's Largest Lamp?

We were leaving Edison's Lab in Ft. Myers when I saw this crate on top of a closet with the words "World's Largest Lamp." I am immediately drawn with anything that says "World's Largest" because my friend is the definitive authority on WLTs and I am always looking to put Florida on the map by finding something really, really big here.

In the museum next door are two huge bulbs, one a 50,000 watt, the other a 75,000 watt giant.

I also found this shot in the state archives of little Tommy Dodgen, age 4 at the 1947 Florida State Fair in Tampa. So clearly the 50,000 watt bulb was the world record holder at one point.

My friend, the founder of World's Largest Things, Inc., found this old article about the bulb created for the top of the Edison Monument in Menlo Park, NJ. And Roadside America lists the same as the World's Largest Bulb.

To me, however, this clearly appears to be made up of many smaller bulbs, and is not one giant single bulb like the 75,000 watt lamp in Ft. Myers.

I also found this article under the heading World's Largest Bulb from the Coqulle Valley (Oregon) Sentinel in 1940 under the headline "World's Largest Lamp." Please note it is a mere 50,000 watts.

Might the world record holder be in Florida after all?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

State of Attractions

In my efforts to better understand the state I'm in, I'm reading Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams; A Social History of Modern Florida by Gary R. Mormino. I just finished the chapter on tourism and it ended with a tough commentary about the costs we've paid for our tourist based economy in Florida. The author also talks about how smaller attractions mostly disappeared as Disney grew and travel habits changed. "Ironically, while the Florida Turnpike and interstate highways introduced millions of new motorists to Florida, the new roadways bypassed the old tourist attractions" Mormino claims.

Yet a handful of old attractions remain, and I'm doing my best to visit them all while they're still around. To me they are pockets of Florida's past and they offer glimpses into a more innocent, less thrill-based time. Unlike today's theme parks, they often engage your brain and your sense of beauty, not your adrenal glands. One has to look for subtlety at these places, it is not sensory overload like Disney or Universal.

I've broken it down geographically into four regions. Many are now run by the state. Some go back to the early 20th century, some are more recent, but are clearly in the spirit of the old Florida roadside attractions. I also wrestle with the exact definition of attraction- is a museum an attraction? Are botanical gardens attractions? Here is what I've come up with (I'm always looking for more):

Wakulla Springs
Goofy Golf (Pensacola, Panama City and Ft. Walton Beach)
Florida Caverns
Gulf World, Panama City
Gulfarium, Ft. Walton Beach

North Florida
Oldest House, St. Augustine
Oldest School, St. Augustine
Fountain of Youth, St. Augustine
Old Jail, St. Augustine
Zorayda Castle, St. Augustine
Lightner Museum, St. Augustine
Potters Wax Museum, St. Augustine
Ripleys Believe it or Not, St. Augustine
Alligator Farm, St. Augustine
Stephen Foster Memorial, White Springs
Silver Springs, Ocala

Central Florida
Citrus Tower, Clermont
Presidents Hall of Fame, Clermont
Big Tree Park, Longwood
Gatorland, Kissimmee
Homosassa Springs
Cypress Gardens, Winter Haven
Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks
Weeki Wachee
Sunken Gardens, St. Pete
Sarasota Jungle Gardens, Sarasota
Bok Tower, Lake Wales
Sarasota Classic Car Museum, Sarasota
Jungle Adventures, Christmas
HMS Bounty, St. Pete
De Leon Springs State Park
Rainbow Springs State Park
Ringling Museum, Sarasota

South Florida
Thomas Edison Winter Home, Ft. Myers
Key West Aquarium
Miami Seaquarium
McKee Botanical Gardens, Vero Beach
Monkey Jungle, Miami
Jungle Island, formerly Parrot Jungle, Miami
Lion Country Safari, West Palm Beach
Everglades Wonder Garden, Bonita Springs
Shell Factory, North Ft. Myers
Coral Castle, Homestead, FL
Venetian Pool, Coral Gables
Theater of the Sea, Islamorada
Native Village, Hollywood
The Ancient Spanish Monastery, North Miami Beach

National Parks
Castillo de San Marcos
Everglades National Park

Tarpon Springs is home to the famed Spongerama attraction

The Ventian Pool is scheduled to re-open next month after renovations

Now President's Hall of Fame

Former movie prop is available for rentals at the end of the St. Pete Pier

Recently celebrated it's 80th birthday

Like Silver Springs, Weeki Wachee was at one time owned by the ABC television network but is now run by the state. Ironically, Disney now owns ABC.

Moved location and changed name to Jungle Island

A shell of its former self, Marineland is now an "Eco Park" where you can swim with dolphins instead of watching them leap out of the water.