Saturday, June 24, 2017

The One Orlando De-install

On June 12th The Orange County Regional History Center mounted an exhibit that showcased items left behind one year ago at the various memorial sites that appeared in the aftermath of the horrific Pulse Nightclub shooting that took 49 lives and left Orlando with open scars that could take a lifetime to heal. Museum curator Pam Schwartz asked me to share some of the sketches I have done in the last year that document Orlando's attempts to recover. I sketched at as many vigils and fundraisers as possible so that I could come to terms with reality utilizing the only tool I had which was sketching.

The exhibition was assembled from the items collected by the History Center in the weeks and months after the tragedy. For 37 days, museum staff sweated in the hot Florida sun collecting for the museum and scraping up melted wax so that people wouldn't slip and fall at memorial site. Items left at memorial sites had to be conserved and documented for posterity's sake. When you go to a memorial, you don't read every condolence card, but that was their job. It is an emotionally taxing responsibility to record history in the face of tragedy.  One hundred years from now these relics will be a hint at how we as a community came together to heal.

Instead of one set of rosary beads, there was a whole case full. One case was layered full of rubber bracelets. Instead of exhibiting one t-shirt design, a whole wall was covered. Instead of exhibiting one sketch by an illustrative journalist, an entire wall was covered. 49 wooden crosses were crowded into the far corner of the exhibition space. A sign warned that some items might be emotionally challenging to view.

Shortly after the shooting, Pam, the chief curator, realized that an exhibit space needed to be booked for an exhibit one year after the tragedy. She reserved the room but it was only available for one week because a wedding was also slated to go in the same room on the following week. This was the largest exhibit ever created in house by the museum staff using items from the museum's own collection. The staff rose to the challenge. The amount of work needed to create the exhibit was staggering but it got done. On the opening night victim's families and survivors were given a private preview. On that night over 450 people showed up. More than 3,000 people viewed the collection in the one week it was open.

I stopped in on the final day as the staff took everything off the walls. In one day the walls were once again bare to be spackled and painted for the wedding reception. The 49 portraits created by local artists were mounted behind Plexiglas, so they came down in three large sections and would later be stored away in a portfolio in the archives. Display cases were left for the next week when the items would be stored away in acid free museum boxes in the archives. Within two days the room would once again be barren. This was without a doubt the most well attended exhibit in years, but it was only available to be seen for one week. The history was swept aside because catering was considered a priority. This gorgeous old courthouse can't decide if it is an accredited history museum or an events hall.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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