Saturday, November 30, 2013

An Evening with Executive Director Frank Holt


On October 15th I went to The Mennello Museum of American Art (900 East Princeton Street, Orlando, Fl.) to join the museum's executive director Frank Holt for a walk and talk through the Everglades series of exhibits.As people arrived, I got to work on my sketch. The room I was in was filled with paintings by Eugine Savage. In 1935, he made the first of many trips into the Florida Everglades to study the Seminoles and their traditions. Eugene was a mural artist and all his paintings have a very bold consistent look. The Indians tolerated the artist at first but when he started depicting women partly unclothed, they stopped appreciating his vision. Any Seminole woman who had a romance with a white man would be cast out of the tribe, floating down river in a dug out canoe. The intricate patterns of traditional dress was treated with loving detail while extraneous detail was stripped away from the Everglades environments. The studies done in watercolor on tan paper were often mounted beside the final paintings giving amazing insight into the artist's process. The artist also hand made the frames giving this collection of paintings an amazing uniformity.

Art and Artifacts of the Seminole were on display along with the paintings. With the development of Florida as a Tourist state, the traditions of the Seminoles slowly died. Villages were reduced to roadside attractions where you could have your picture taken with a local Indian.  There is something sad in seeing these once proud people reduced to selling trinkets and photo opportunities. The artifacts are on loan from the collection of I.S.K. Reeves V and Sara W. Reeves. In the main gallery, Earl Cunningham paintings of the Everglades are on display. These painting seem to literally glow as the jump off the walls. In the back gallery, sketches of Rob Storter document Southwest Florida Everglades life in line and wash. I love these direct observational sketches that help preserve a simpler life that is long gone.

Frank Holt curated the Mennello Museum’s current Everglades series of exhibitions like a conductor bringing together the notes that create a symphony. The longtime executive director is at home orchestrating displays of art in this museum, where he has practiced his craft since it opened in November 1998. When done well, the evidence of the curator’s hand is not obvious, but it is distinct. His signature is bold wall colors, brilliant lighting and thoughtful interplay between the showcased art and the natural architecture of the museum. Mark your Calendar, these exhibits are up till January 5th of 2014, and they shouldn't be missed. Opening on January 17th, 2014 will be Southwestern Allure: The Art of the Santa Fe Art Colony. This exhibition features 40 artworks from public and private collections that reflect the development of Santa Fe as an art colony through the artists who visited there and helped establish the city as an artistic center.

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