Editor's note: The following essay, with endnotes, was rekeyed and reprinted on June 4, 2002 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of the Lightner Museum. The essay was published in October 2001 in the 119 page illustrated book titled Lost Colony: The Artists of St. Augustine, 1930-1950, ISBN 0-97-13560-0-9. Images accompanying the text in the book were not reproduced with this reprinting except for two sample images. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or if you have interest in obtaining a copy of the book, please contact the Lightner Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:


Lost Colony: The Artists of St. Augustine, 1930-1950

by Robert W. Torchia





During the last quarter of the nineteenth century American artists began to escape congested urban art centers by spending their summers painting in scenic rural areas, exactly as their French counterparts had gravitated to Barbizon on the edge of the Fontainebleau forest, or Pont-Aven in Brittany.[3] Artists from Boston and New York City congregated in Cornish, New Hampshire; East Hampton and Woodstock, New York; Old Lyme and Cos Cob, Connecticut; New Hope, Pennsylvania; Ogunquit, Maine; and Provincetown, Rockport, and Gloucester, Massachusetts, All of these places evolved into popular summer art colonies.[4]

Located on the north coast of Florida, just off the Atlantic Ocean between the Matanzas and San Sebastian Rivers, St. Augustine had been settled by the Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565. The historic and picturesque city attracted European and American artists throughout: the nineteenth century. This was especially so after the Civil War, when those who sought to develop the area associated it with Ponce de León and his search for the mythical Fountain of Youth. The famous American landscape painter Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) settled in St, Augustine in 1883. After the railroad magnate and entrepreneur Henry Morrison Flagler (1830-1913) opened the luxurious Hotel Ponce de Leon in 1887 and the smaller Hotel Alcazar in 1888,"the Ancient City," or "the oldest city in America," was transformed into "the Newport of the South," and became one of the most popular winter vacation destinations of the Gilded Age. To enhance the Renaissance ambience at the Hotel Ponce de Leon and provide a diversion for its guests, Flagler erected a long building on the hotel's grounds that housed seven studios for artists. Heade occupied one of them, and throughout the early 1890s artists flocked to St. Augustine and took advantage of the comfortable accommodations and steady patronage.[5]

St. Augustine's prestige began to decline during the late 1890s because of a series of economic and natural disasters, and tourists began to frequent newer resorts farther south. This was especially so after the turn of the century, when Flagler moved to his palatial house Whitehall in Palm Beach. Although St. Augustine experienced some modest growth in the first two decades of the new century, it had ceased to be a major attraction for artists. Nevertheless, such figures as the marine painters Reynolds Beal (1867-1951) and Arthur Vidal Diehl (1870-1929) (fig. 1), the flower painter Albert Fuller Graves (1859-1936), and the Provincetown artist and teacher Charles Webster Hawthorne (1872-1930), the impressionist painter Harry L. Hoffman (1874-1966) (fig. 2), and others passed through the city and painted its landmarks. The painter Heinrich Pfeiffer (1874-1957) recollected that: when he made his first visit to St. Augustine around 1920, the art scene "had just about disappeared," and hardly any professional artists lived in the city.[6]

On the evening of January 18, 1924, twenty writers, painters, sculptors, and photographers met in the historic Fatio House on Aviles Street (fig. 3) and founded the Pen and Brush Club "for the purpose of giving men and women of creative mind a place in which to meet and exchange ideas with those who are doing things in the world of art and literature, and where they can exhibit products of their work."[7] The idea for forming an arts club had originated with the author Georjina Jex, who was duly elected the club's first president. Some of the charter members of the Pen and Brush Club would later play prominent roles in the Arts Club: they were the amateur painter and the editor of the St. Augustine Record Nina Stanton Hawkins (1899-1972) (fig, 4), the sculptor Charles Adrian Pillars (1870-1937), artist Mercedes Powell (1894-1990), and the professional portrait photographer E Victor Rahner (1899-1984) (fig. 5).[8] From this point on women played significant roles in organizing, governing, and participating in St. Augustine's cultural associations.

The Pen and Brush Club reconvened on January 22, and decided that henceforth it should be known as "The Galleon, a Palette and Pencil Club:" because the galleon was "symbolical of advancement to better things.[9] According to a later account, the now obscure marine painter John P. Parker "suggested the Galleon be used as an emblem and outlined his idea in a lovely mural over the main fireplace in the Fatio House, The effectiveness of the Galleon in the picture was an inspiration, which prompted the name Galleon Club."[10] In January 1925 the artist members of the new organization formed an art school that was under the general direction of a sculptor from Chicago named Adele Barret (d. 1959). Pillars conducted classes in sculpture and modeling, the photographer William Gilchrist (dates unknown) lectured on composition, and Barret taught drawing and painting. Pillars was assisted by Frank Micka (dates unknown), a charter member of the Galleon Club who had studied sculpture in his native Czechoslovakia and later worked with the noted sculptor John Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941) in Stamford, Connecticut. Students were admitted to the school by invitation only.[11] Later in 1925 this group seems to have been transformed into the Galleon Art School and placed under the direction of a woman who became one of St. Augustine's most prominent artists, Hildegarde Muller-Uri (1894-1990) (fig. 6). Despite this optimistic beginning, interest in the Galleon Club waned, and by the end of the decade it had lost its cultural focus and degenerated into a social group.

About the author

At the time of publication of the essay in Lost Colony: The Artists of St. Augustine, 1930-1950, the following biographical notes for the author were included in the book:

Robert Wilson Torchia received his Ph.D. in art history from the University of Pennsylvania in 1989. He is a specialist in American art of the late eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries, and has a strong secondary field in oriental rugs and textiles. He is the author of John Neagle: Philadelphia Portrait Painter (1989), The Smiths: A Family of Philadelphia Artists (1998), and American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Volume II, The Collection of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue (1998), and a number of articles on such noted American artists as Thomas Eakins, Joshua Johnson, and Thomas Sully. He is particularly interested in American art in Florida, and has written A Florida Legacy: Thomas Moran's Ponce de Leon in Florida (1998), and Ernst Conrad Kasten: Palatka Expressionist (1999).


About the Lightner Museum

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