Florida Aqua: Artistic Reflections on Water is drawn from The Florida Art Collection, the 2020 landmark gift to the Harn Museum from Samuel H. and Roberta T. Vickers who formed one of the largest collections of art based on views of Florida. The Florida Art Collection represents more than 700 artists who painted scenes of Florida landscapes. It also offers wide-ranging artistic documentation and portrayal of Florida’s water systems as well as its related ecosystem and human activities. Including 21 works of art by 20 artists, this digital exhibition focuses on three themes that provide geographical perspectives on 1) the system of springs and creeks in North and Central Florida, 2) the thriving tourism industry in the lower St. Johns River area, and 3) the impact of urbanization on Native Americans’ lives in the Everglades.

In the middle and late nineteenth centuries, artists and nature enthusiasts explored the abundant water systems of North and Central Florida during sightseeing and fishing trips. Artists who captured the area’s lustrous waters and lively ecosystem include Martin Johnson Heade, Herman Herzog, William Aiken Walker, and Winslow Homer, among others. At the same time, the flourishing tourism industry along the lower St. Johns River attracted artists to the area where some built art studios.  The St. Johns River area and its rich ecosystem inspired and refreshed the creative enthusiasm of artists such as Laura Woodward and William Morris Hunt. With the extended railroad and highway networks of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the development of the City of Miami, urbanization and industrialization expanded to the Everglades and impacted the lives of the local Seminole People. Florida Aqua also addresses the natural and human transitions in the Everglades as interpreted by artists such as Louis Jambor, Paul Frenzeny, and Eugene Francis Savage.

Although none of the artists mentioned here were originally from Florida, they created beautiful reflections on Florida’s dynamic waterscapes, including flourishing vegetation, diverse animal species and human activities. This exhibition is the first online exhibition drawn from the more than 1,200 works of art included in this major gift from Samuel and Roberta Vickers. Thanks to their generosity, this gift will offer substantial resources for future exhibitions, academic research, and study by faculty and students at the University of Florida, further celebrating the Vickers’ legacy.

The Water Systems of North and Central Florida

North and Central Florida have an abundant surface water system comprised of springs, creeks, rivers, and lakes. The natural landscapes surrounding the water systems in North and Central Florida have provided intellectual and spiritual inspiration for many artists visiting the region.

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The St. Johns River

Receiving nourishment from various water systems such as the Ocklawaha River and Silver Springs, the St. Johns River links these tributaries together, which creates attractive landscapes and lively ecosystems. Millionaires like John Murray Forbes (1813-1898) and Henry Flagler (1830-1913) invited artists to enjoy the charming landscape and climate of the lower St. Johns River and supported their careers.

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The Everglades

This water system and the rich flora and fauna system of the Everglades nourished the life of the Seminoles, a Native American people who have been living in the Everglades since the eighteenth century. Artists like George de Forest Brush depicted hunting scenes of idealized Native American figures as a metaphor for an idealized and non-urbanized world away from the fierce industrialization of American society in the nineteenth century.

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Further Readings