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.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fun in the Sunshine City, Save the Date!

SAVE THE DATE! The Society for Commercial Archeology has announced the dates for its 2014 conference, "Fun in the Sunshine City", to be held April 9-12, 2014 in St. Petersburg, Florida. I have attended four previous conferences and am working with folks in the Planning Department from the city of St. Petersburg to organize next year's conference. We are creating a blockbuster opening reception, two epic bus tours, and a fascinating paper session. Details will be released soon, but at this point we are hoping to make stops at three vintage attractions and have closing dinner at Florida's oldest restaurant. And there will be shuffleboard! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ode to Joy

I recently learned of a small gallery exhibition to honor the late Florida artist Joy Postle. I have posted about her multiple times in the past, ever since I received one of her works as a gift. The opening was last Saturday at the Deltona Art and History Center, and I was thrilled to be able to attend. The room had a wide variety of Joy's work, arranged in chronological order, with images of the artist interspersed throughout. Many of those in attendance were lucky enough to have known Joy before her passing in 1989, including Judy Madsen Johnson who did a reading from her book, Joy Cometh in the Morning.

I caught up with the artist who organized the show, Jennifer Myers Kirton, and this is what she had to say:
"For many years I have wanted to honor Joy but never before had the opportunity.  When I became curator of Deltona Art and History Center I was given opportunity to promote other artists which was my pleasure.  I had a series of things happen where I had a free month at the center and things just began to fall into place.  This show was thrown together in less than 5 weeks.  If I had had more time I might have been able to do more but I was so anxious to honor one of the art world's treasures."

How did you meet Joy Postle?
I first met Joy in the old Winter Park Mall. Joy had heard about me and called to see if I would do a working artists show. I was a little scared as I was a young housewife and mother who dabbled in art as a hobby but had no confidence.  Joy introduced herself and something special happened.  I got to escape into a world where I could practice my art in the midst of a busy place and still be creative.  Joy would check on me and encourage me. I was honored that such a great talent would take time with me but that was Joy. Interestingly enough I sat between Joy and Charles at that show.  Little did I know how much they would both influence me...

What was the most valuable thing you learned from her?
Wow! I learned that a woman could be an artist.  I learned that hard work and dedication could make up for not going to art school. I learned that nature tells her own story and that we do not replicate it on paper but look for the design of nature in nature. I think it was because of her I set out to draw everyday for a year or give up my art. This work ethic is still with me.  I think too many modern artists are not willing to put in the work and dedication that is required.

What made Joy unique as an artist?
Love – love of life, love of nature, and love of people.  This came through her work as she saw the birds wondrous creatures waiting to tell a story or glimpses of nature wanting to burst forth through art. She was gifted in that she could see in a lowly plant or critter something beautiful, something that needed to be shared. Again dedication and hard work tempered with talent and joy of life.

Where did all the artwork in the Deltona show come from?
Once we decided to do it several people offered personal pieces from their collections.  I had some, Loren King grew up near her and offered some, Madill's collection came from his late wife and his collection and Judy Madsen had some.  I could have used more but this was small venue. All of us knew Joy and had been touched in different ways by Joy. I think if I had a bigger venue and more time we really could have done her right but I truly hope that Joy would have enjoyed it and been touched.

What is your favorite Joy Postle painting?
Gosh that is hard to answer.  I think I like her birds and the one on stage was what she did in the height of her art. I like the panther because it goes beyond the canvas and you wonder how she could have drawn it with out quaking in her shoes.
The panther supposedly walked into the scene as Joy was painting it

What is it about Joy that makes people want to pay tribute to her and her work?
First of all she was a wonderfully talented person who lived a life that we can only imagine. She was a woman artist when women were not supposed to be artists.  She made it possible for women artists of today to actually practice what they love. I am younger but even when I was in high school my Dad was willing to educate me but I could be a secretary, nurse, teacher and definitely not an artist. Obviously she was talented but it is deeper than that it is that she captured a vanishing America despite her sacrifice.

What do you think Joy's legacy is?
She will go down I think as a true pioneer in American art.  She is a great artist who happened to be a woman. She captured landscape and wildlife in the natural setting that comes only with sacrifice. Today many artists take a picture with their camera and reproduce it – she made nature the picture and captured it on paper.
The rookery at Orlando's Lake Eola

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Tampa's historic urban springs

Last weekend I created some space in my schedule for a little urban exploration in Tampa.  After a quick survey of architecture in downtown, I headed under I-275 to Ulele Springs. According to this news story, Ulele Spring, formerly known as Magbee Spring was "Tampa's first source of drinking water." Just off a brick street, between a neglected park and a utilities building, Ulele Spring gurgles out of a pipe into a short run before disappearing again. I assume the water from the spring ultimately reaches the Hillsborough River. The setting is surprisingly peaceful despite it's urban location and there is evidence that at one time the spring and the park were better groomed and landscaped. I found an article online about plans to restore the water works building into a cafe, but that apparently has not happened yet. Another article from late 2011 noted that there were plans to restore the spring as well. I hope the city proceeds with its plans, this place has great potential to be a little oasis in the shadow of the interstate.

Water cascades from the pool where the spring originates

Looking towards the water works building

This secondary pool seemed to have a little island in the middle

The flora seemed to indicate that this had been a much nicer park in the past

Next I proceeded north to Purity Springs which I only knew of because of a post in the Tampania Blog. I was familiar with the Burgert Brothers photograph of Purity Springs water trucks from research for my book. It was exciting to find this little spring. The short spring run leads right to the road before passing under the road and entering the Hillsborough River. When I was there a flock of Ibis filled the run and a few ducks noisily quacked while I snapped photos of this amazingly serene setting. Just past the spring pool, beyond the edges of the park, several hi-rise condos peered over the trees. I could hear music and voices from a celebration near the condos that was in direct contrast the beauty of the quaint scene I was beholding. The shallow pool showed no sign of a spring boil and my guess is that water entered the run from a pipe on the side. I am glad the city has preserved this little gem and hope others will stop and appreciate its beauty.

The view underwater looking down the spring run 

The spring pool looking towards the Hillsborough River
Burgert Brothers image of Purity Springs trucks loaded with spring water

In direct contrast to this idyllic scene was nearby Sulphur Springs. I was quite familiar with the imagery of the springs' earlier incarnation as a resort and spa. In addition to Burgert Bros images, there are many postcards showing 1920s patrons strolling along its banks, taking the waters, and climbing the tower of the enormous high dive. I stopped first at the wonderful Gothic Revival water tower. It sits in another cute little park on the banks of the Hillsborough River. According to the excellent Tampapix website, the Sulphur Springs Resort was developed by Josiah Richardson, who, in addition to the tower, built a hotel and a commercial arcade. The tower had fallen into disrepair before being purchased by the city in 2005 and subsequently restored. The park was pretty quiet on this unseasonably hot February day with only a nearby elderly couple enjoying the views of the river through a lovely frame of palm trees and live oaks.

Vintage postcard of the Sulphur Springs water tower
Live oak along the Hillsborough River

Next was short drive down to the spring head itself, now corralled and surrounded by a fence. The spring closed to swimming in 1986 due to "high fecal coliform bacterial counts" according to this 2007 article. Next to the spring, which smelled pretty bad, is a swimming pool that was being used by a few snowbirds. The city pipes water from the springs and the building next to the spring head has enormous pipes running out of it with murals of scenes of native wildlife on the walls.

A Burgert Brothers image of Sulphur Springs

Vintage postcards of Sulphur Springs through the years (from Ebay)

I had mixed emotions seeing this historic site for the first time. The grand gazebo is being restored and the views of the river from the park are lovely. But as I struggled to find a working water fountain to quench my thirst in this spot where zillions of gallons bubbled up from the aquifer, it seemed something wasn't right. After finally finding a working faucet, I passed a father fishing with his kids on a bridge over the spring run. I asked if they were having any luck and they said no. As I got to my car and continued to explore the area, the first thing I heard on the radio was that Tampa had a boil water alert for the next 48 hours. I wondered if the drink I just took was tainted (it wasn't).

In some ways Sulphur Springs is a microcosm of what tends to happen in Florida. We find a beautiful natural resource. Someone sees it as an opportunity and develops the land to entice more people to come and enjoy this resource. In doing so the resource gets ruined. Only afterwards we recognize what was there and put up interpretive markers to pay homage to what we destroyed. In this case a manmade swimming pool sits next to the old, polluted swimming hole. It is a scenario I have seen played out all over the state. My question is, will we ever learn from our past mistakes?

Algae floats over the spring

Gazebo undergoing restoration behind the spring run

This is the spring head

The spring run

I finally found a working fountain!

Mural with limpkin and what appears to be a view of algae through a microscope