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
By January 1940 the club had grown to about sixty members -- nearly twice the number of the previous year -- and the need to acquire a larger and more advantageously located headquarters became urgent. When Lockwood petitioned Mayor Walter B. Fraser and the municipal authorities for permission to use the Alcazar, he appealed to their civic spirit by observing that if the request were granted, "it undoubtedly would be a tremendous help, and the basis for a very considerable enlargement of artists activities here with its consequent advantages to St. Augustine." The Arts Club and the St. Cecilia Society were granted joint use of the Alcazar's northeast grillroom and kitchen in early February, and the areas were promptly transformed into an attractive exhibition hall. Over five hundred visitors attended the club's first show in its new headquarters on March 3, 1940, an event that the Record declared "the most auspicious and certainly the largest attended Arts Club function here in years." Two months later the club, in cooperation with the Orange Street Parent-Teacher Association, held the first of a series of art classes for local schoolchildren in the gallery.
Events took place in 1940 that were crucial for the Art Club's future. For example, in that year Alice Lawton, art editor of the Boston Post from 1928 to 1952 and a good friend of the Lindenmuths, made the first of many annual winter visits to St. Augustine. Member Evelyn Wilkes Vaill had heard her lecture on Spain during a trip to Maine, and "slipped a post card of St. Augustine done by Celia Reid into Miss Lawton's hand, saying that she would love this little Spanish-type town." Lawton came to regard the city as a "natural habitat for artists," and predicted that it "should develop -- due to the natural advantages it offers the artist -- into one of the outstanding art centers of the country." She befriended her fellow journalist Nina Hawkins, became an ardent supporter of the club, and encouraged many of her artist friends in Provincetown, Rockport, and Ogunquit to visit St. Augustine.
The Provincetown printmaker Blanche Lazzell (1878-1956); the painter, etcher, and teacher Harriet Newhall (1874-1934); and amateur artist Louise J. Shanks (1905-1977) all joined the club on January 9. The Maine watercolorist and teacher Ruth Evelyn Hammond (b. 1894) became a member on March 19. Other artists who visited the city in 1940 were the portrait and still-life painter Carle John Blenner (1862-1952) and the Swedish-born painter, sculptor, and illustrator Karl Larsson (1893-c. 1948).
In April Lockwood appointed the art critic Clarence Off as the Arts Club's chairman of publicity. Off authored the "Down Aviles Street" column for the Record, in which he wrote long, prosaic, and adulatory reviews of the group's exhibitions. At the May meeting Off was "congratulated upon his publicity work and articles in the Record and was thanked on behalf of the Arts Club."
The author,journalist, and self-taught artist Langston
Moffett (1903-1989) moved to St. Augustine in 1940 and became active
in the city's cultural activities. He joined the Arts Club, was active in
the Little Theater, and wrote for the Record. That same year William
Johnson L'Engle (1884-1957) and his wife Lucy Brown L'Engle (1889-1978)
also made their first visit to the city. Like their friends the Lindenmuths,
were members of the Provincetown Art Association. Off in his "Down Aviles Street" column, quoted William L'Engle's opinion that "St, Augustine [is] a place unique in the United States -- an easy-going place that has resisted the misguided efforts of business to hold fast to its sleepy, drifting charm -- a place where contacts can be taken or left alone -- of peace so necessary to any creative Work." Moffett and the L'Engles were outspoken advocates of modern art, and under their influence the club's exhibitions gradually became more diverse.
At the monthly meeting in January 1941 the Arts Club considered holding an exhibition of contemporary American art that had been organized by the Federal Art Project, but was forced to abandon the idea because it couldn't afford the $41 fee, In February the Rockport artist Harold Stanwood Maddocks (1889-1963) was elected a member of the club. During the late 1940s and early 1950s he occupied high-ranking positions in the organization and was an influential figure. In the spring commercial artist Walter E. Groniger (1891-1941) from Cincinnati spent several months in St. Augustine, and the watercolors he exhibited at the Alcazar were greatly admired. Had he not died prematurely, Groniger would surely have become a major figure in the city's artistic community.
In September the Arts Club received notice from the municipal authorities that it had to vacate the Alcazar because the city's lease on the property was about to expire. After considering alternative locations, in November the members decided to lease a room in 230 Charlotte Street (fig, 15) from Edith Walker Oliver's husband Robert Oliver and his sister Ella for $15 per month. They moved into the building in January 1942 and remained there until 1948, when they returned to the Alcazar. In March the portraitist Abram Poole (1883-1961), a resident of the art colony in Old Lyme, Connecticut, made a recreational visit to St. Augustine with his family and was interviewed by the Record. Although out-of-town artists continued to visit St. Augustine and the Arts Club persevered in its efforts, the U.S. entry into World War II temporarily halted the city's economic development and frustrated the club's attempt to expand. By April 1942 membership had declined to 70 members from 112 the previous year.
In April William L'Engle optimistically told Moffett, "St, Augustine is unique and every prospect pleases; it could, and I hope will, become an important art center. Here the artist has every advantage -- a perfect climate, the beautiful natural scenery as well as the extraordinarily interesting architecture of the ancient city, and the genuine heart-warming hospitality of the people." Only a month later, however, a tourist named Henry de Coursey wrote a letter to the Record in which he observed that the city had the potential to become "a sort-of American Monte-Carlo." but "as it actually is today the town enjoys but a short and decidedly second-rate tourist season. For many people it is a spot one drives through while going south or returning north." This is exactly the perception of St. Augustine that the Arts Club and its supporters sought to refute.
The Arts Club participated in a variety of social events to entertain servicemen who were stationed in the vicinity of St. Augustine, and issued an open invitation for them to participate in its exhibitions. In June the group held a small show of watercolors by Private Howard D. Becker of Albany, New York, who was described as "an extremely talented soldier from Camp Blanding." In September the club held a popular four-day "English and Allied War Posters Exhibition" that was sponsored by the Bundles for Britain Chapter of St. Augustine, of which Lockwood's wife was president.
In December the club organized an exhibition of Vogt's views of St. Augustine. Oliver Phelps Smith (1867-1953), a designer of stained-glass windows, and his wife Hope Smith (b, 1879), a landscape painter, spent the season in town and joined the group.
In January 1943 the famous American impressionist and Provincetown resident Richard Miller (1875-1943) visited St. Augustine and concluded that it "has all the qualities for an ideal place to paint. If more cities were as attractive as St. Augustine, the artist would feel no need to travel. A city should be a work of art in itself, architecturally." He planned to buy a house in the city, but died after a sudden heart attack before he had carried out his plan. Miller had been an outspoken opponent of the modernist faction at the Provincetown Art Association, so it is likely that his former adversaries the L'Engles and Lindenmuth did not share in the enthusiasm over his presence in St. Augustine.
An exhibition of Florida landscapes by members of the St. Augustine artists' colony was held at the Rockport Art Association in August, and works by Warren and Hammond were singled out for praise. The club's members still wanted to erect their own clubhouse, and at the May meeting "it was the consensus of opinion that the club ought to try to make some money to get a nest egg for a building fund."
The season's most popular exhibition took place in November,
when the club organized an exhibition of watercolors of New Caledonia and
Guadalcanal that the St. Augustine native and architect CCM Edward Key Hodgkins,
USNR, had executed the previous year while he had been with the Navy Construction
Battalion. The show was advertised as "an authentic document of the
life our men are leading in the Pacific war zone."
After Hodgkins died in Houston, Texas, on October 9,
1944, of a fever contracted in the East Indies, the club met and resolved
to send his family a formal expression of sympathy. The Hodgkins show was
followed by a solo exhibition of the little-known Canadian painter Eyre
Holmes's (dates unknown) (fig. 16) views of the Dutch
East Indies and sketches of wartime Coast Guard activities along the St. Augustine waterfront. The Record noted that the former subject was of particular interest to servicemen because "one of these days, our armed forces will be engaged in the task of driving out the Japanese" from the region. When several members of the Coast Guard participated in the February 1944 exhibition, the Record commented that they had "put their stamp on art as a most manly vocation." The immense popularity of the servicemen's exhibitions can be attributed to the patriotic spirit of the time rather than to their intrinsic aesthetic merit.
Some important nonartist members were proposed and accepted at the Arts Club meeting on January 4, 1944. They were the noted art collector Kenneth Worcester Dow, local businessman Andrew Jackson Hyden, and Princess Angela Scherbarow. Dow was a generous patron of the arts who later donated an annual prize for the Arts Club exhibitions. Hyden owned a building that was later converted into artists' studios. The princess was a colorful local character who helped organize many of the club's social activities. William L'Engle's cousin, the artist Tracey L'Engle (b. 1895), also joined the club that day. The noted African American artist Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) had been drafted by the U. S. Coast Guard and was stationed in the Hotel Ponce de Leon in 1944, but there is no evidence that he ever visited the Arts Club.
Several noteworthy solo exhibitions by members of the Arts Club were held early in 1944. The first comprised thirty woodcuts by Lazzell, the second consisted of local and South Sea island scenes by Holmes, and the third featured watercolors by Hammond. Since Lazzell was a modernist who had studied in Paris with several noted cubist painters, this exhibit may be read as an indication that the Arts Club was becoming more liberal.
As World War II drew to a close, the Arts Club's fortunes revived. In April Lockwood sent a notice to the Record in which he stated the club's future objectives. Noting that "the club's income from dues and gifts is not yet enough to allow it to extend its services to the schools of St. Augustine so as to give instruction classes to the younger people in drawing and primary techniques of art," he anticipated that when the war was over, the club would at last be able to pursue such civic activities. He spoke of the need to develop a more systematic approach to attracting out-of-town artists and to provide them with accommodations: "Many of our artist-members believe that a number of other well-known artists and sculptors would be glad to come to Saint Augustine to spend the winter months if suitable quarters were available at reasonable rates." Lockwood added that club membership for the 1943-1444 season had increased from seventy to ninety members.
On December 5, 1944, Lockwood informed the members that Robert Oliver was about to refurbish an apartment that adjoined the Charlotte Street gallery and wanted to know if the Arts Club was interested in leasing it. After inspecting the property, the club officers decided to lease it for the next two years. The club moved into its expanded headquarters on January 1, 1945, and all the members were pleased with the additional wall space for hanging paintings and more room for entertaining those who attended the exhibitions.
St. Augustine received favorable national publicity that month when an exhibition of paintings by the now obscure folk artist Antonio Vedovelli (1868-1953) opened at the Perls Galleries in New York, and a full-page article about him appeared in Newsweek (January 5, 1945). Vedovelli, who had begun to paint primitive views of St. Augustine around 1934, had been "discovered" by a vacationing couple from New York in 1943.
In February the Arts Club held an exhibition that was advertised as "the first large collection of paintings by Martin Johnson Heade ever to be assembled in this country in modern times." Curated by William L'Engle, the show consisted of twenty-seven paintings and sketches by Heade from local collections. Heade's reputation was barely emerging from obscurity, so this event was clearly intended as an allusion to the former glories of the Flagler era. On February 28 the club sponsored a lecture entitled "St. Augustine and Its Restoration" by the banker and historic preservationist Xavier L. Pellicer.
The annual report of 1944-1945 stated that the Arts Club had grown to 120 members despite "the present extremely difficult times." Late in 1945 the New York artist and teacher Xavier J. Barile (1891-1981) left his position at Pueblo College in Colorado and came to St. Augustine, where he opened a studio and offered art instruction. The Record reported that "St. Augustine exceeds his expectations, and that he has found much inspiration here." By January 1946 Barile was conducting the club's weekly indoor sketch classes, At about: the same time the amateur painter Countess Florence Rice de Leslie, wife of Count Alexandre Paulovich de Leslie (b. 1894), an art instructor at Mechanics Institute in New York City, decided to reside in St. Augustine for most of the year. She served on several committees that were responsible for planning the club's social and fund-raising events.
The Arts Club had long been eager to purchase its own property and initiate a building fund. The group "made the most signal advance since its creation" in December 1945, when it purchased a plot of land bordering Marine, Charlotte, and Cadiz Streets. The property had been owned by Muller-Uri's parents Henry and Wilhelmina Muller, owners of the Hotel Marion, and was located in a desirable area. Henry Muller, an amateur artist and enthusiastic supporter of the club, offered to sell the property for the below-market price of $4,000, at a low interest rate with favorable terms of payment. Now that the Arts Club had acquired its own property, the goal of erecting a clubhouse on the site became a priority. At the meeting on November 13, Warren, then chairman of the entertainment committee, presented a list of new activities and policies designed to raise money for the building fund.
The postwar climate of economic prosperity was conducive
to the Art Club's plans for expansion, and local businessmen began to take
an even greater interest in the Arts Club than they had in the past. John
W. Dillin, executive secretary to the St. Augustine and St. Johns County
Chamber of Commerce, spoke to the Rotarians on January 7, 1946, and outlined
his plans for developing the city's beaches and attracting outside residents
and businesses. He discerned "a very pronounced feeling of optimism.
There is the expectation that
in the next two or three years St. Augustine, its beaches and its back country are going to make tremendous strides of progress. We are expecting big things. This is the era of prosperity we have been awaiting a long time." Both groups shared the same civic values and recognized that a new influx of visiting artists would be beneficial to the city's economy. Later in the month the Rotary Club "passed a motion commending the St. Augustine Arts Club for its accomplishments during the past year."
William M. Toomer Jr., manager of the Florida Power and Light Company, invited club members to exhibit their paintings in his building's windows. He declared that "members of the local arts club are sincere and devoted friends to St. Augustine, and when they go to their summer homes in art colonies in Maine, Massachusetts, New York and other states, they never fail to sing the praises of St. Augustine. They have brought this community many new friends and good citizens." Toomer recommended that the entire community support the Arts Club plan to erect its own clubhouse, "since it has been so clearly shown the organization is interwoven with the future growth, progress and prosperity of St. Augustine." At a meeting on March 5, 1946, club members voted to accept the chamber of commerce's invitation to join the organization because "it would give us a voice in city affairs."
In April the Arts Club organized a special exhibition of "posters and other art work" by children from local elementary schools. During the winter months of 1946-1947 the group held a series of special events to raise money for the new building: a painting demonstration, a "White Elephant Auction," "A Night in Old Paris," a Valentine supper, and a crafts demonstration by Reid. The most important fundraiser was the "Arts Club Costume Ball," held at the Civic Center on March 1. In October 1946 Lockwood resigned as president of the Arts Club because of ill health. He was given the title "honorary president" in recognition of his dedicated service, and remained active in the clubs affairs. Langston Moffett was elected president for the 1946-1947 season. Moffett had the shortest tenure of any of the Arts Club presidents, because the first official decision of the season was to change the election of officers from November to the first Tuesday in April, "to give committees proper time to plan programs during the summer for the following winter season."
The Arts Club's modernist faction had been slowly gathering momentum since the late 1930s, but it now asserted itself by taking every opportunity to educate the public about new art movements, such as cubism, fauvism, expressionism, and abstraction. During the 1920s and 1930s Lindenmuth and the L'Engles had done much to promote modernism in the face of opposition from conservatives in the Provincetown Art Association, and they now played a similar role in St. Augustine. On January 22, 1946, an open forum was held on "Modern versus Academic Art." In the summer an "Arts Advisory Committee" was formed "to expand and diversify our exhibitions." Its members, in varying degrees, were all advocates of modernism; in addition to Lindenmuth and the L'Engles, they were Catherine Hawkins, the Chicago artist Norman MacLeish (1890-1975) (fig, 17), Moffett, Muller-Uri, Pangburn, Pfeiffer, and Shanks. In October the Record announced that the Arts Club would present four special traveling exhibitions of color reproductions that had been organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The first consisted of American modernist art; the second was of abstract painting; the third comprised works by Paul Klee (1879-1940), Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), and Georges Rouault (1871-1958); and the fourth was entitled "What is Modern Painting?"
W. Lee Dickson, who had been hired by the Arts Club to write reviews of its exhibitions for the Record, approvingly quoted Lindenmuth's commentary about the heterodox nature of the club's exhibitions:
Dickson added that the artist planned to "experiment in some abstract vein, since this seems to offer the widest scope in the use of form and color." This eclecticism was apparent in the exhibition of April 1947, which the Record described as a "mixed showing of semi-abstraction, abstraction, expressionism, and realism."
When an exhibition of paintings by local schoolchildren was held shortly thereafter, MacLeish wrote a review for the Record in which he seized the opportunity to discuss the relationship between modern art and children's art:
The modernist faction's influence declined, however, as the Arts Club leadership became more conservative and the business community sought to attract more traditional artists to St. Augustine.
In January 1947 a little-known artist and instructor named Harold Etter (dates unknown) (fig. 18) began to conduct classes in drawing and composition at the Arts Club, and he also gave a public lecture on "planning a picture." Later in the month the well-known seventy-eight-year-old cartoonist and illustrator Henry "Hy" Mayer (1868-1953) returned to St. Augustine after an absence of five years and began to participate in the club's exhibitions and social events. The Record quoted his statement, "I like St. Augustine better than any part of Florida, and I believe that any artist can find happiness here. That comes from the heart." Later in the month the club held a particularly successful exhibition of Mayer's original cartoons, paintings, and etchings.
An exhibition of Moffett's paintings at the Joseph Luber Galleries in New York in February 1947 brought St. Augustine more national publicity; a New York critic who reviewed the event observed that the city "affords a quiet place to work as well as a colorful historic city for painting:" In the club's 1947 annual report Lockwood concluded that "St. Augustine is already well established as an art-center, and I believe its importance can be much increased. The interesting and unique character of St. Augustine, the natural beauty of its surroundings, its harbor and its climate, all seem to create a magnet for artists, sculptors, and designers."
In February the Record drew attention to the large
number of artists from Rockport who were visiting St. Augustine. Author
W. Lee Dickson commented that "what Rockport offers the established
or embryonic artist, in physical charm and sympathetic atmosphere in summer,
can certainly be equaled if not surpassed by the Ancient City in winter.
That these good visitors be made to feel welcome, find houses and studios,
should be the active
aim of all civic-minded residents." In addition to mentioning the long-time regulars Lawton, Lindenmuth, Maddocks, and Warren, Dickson listed the names of other Rockport artists, most notably the portraitist Mildred C. Jones (1899-1992), the internationally known painter and teacher Louis Kronberg (1872-1965), postcard designer and portraitist Edith A. Lowell (active c. 1930-1959), Harriet Newhall, the painter and teacher Ruth Spoor (1896-1965), the sculptor Lewis Whitney (active c. 1946-1969), and the painter Elizabeth R. Withington (active from c. 1933). Dickson pointed out the practical advantages of having such visitors:
Early in 1948 the celebrated Rockport impressionist Anthony Thieme (1888-1954) arrived in St. Augustine and took a studio in the Valencia Apartments. He declared the city "an outstanding first choice of all Florida for artists," and wintered there on a regular basis until his death. Both he and his wife joined the Arts Club and participated in its activities. In November that year a group of Thieme's St. Augustine subjects, along with some views of Nassau, were exhibited at the Grand Central Art Galleries in New York. The exhibition brochure enthusiastically described St. Augustine's historic ambience, and concluded that "the artist, as he settles down in this city, finds tremendous inspiration not only in the gracious old city within the gates, but in the negro sections, at the docks, in the swamps, by the rivers."
Muller-Uri was elected to succeed Moffett as the Arts Club's president at a meeting on April 1, 1947. It seems that Moffett had been in New York overseeing his exhibition for most of the term, and Lockwood managed the group's affairs in his absence. At about this rime strife broke out among the club's governing members. In her private correspondence Muller-Uri related that Lindenmuth, Maddocks, and other "troublemakers were always finding fault with Lockwood and they were always trying to put him out as President, and when Mr. Lockwood was not well enough to keep the Presidency, they had no one to take his place. They would not take it themselves, and to keep the Club from going to pieces, they asked me and I rook it from then on, for the one year that I was in."
Lockwood arranged for Muller-Uri to give a lecture to the Rotary Club in which she spoke of "St. Augustine as an art center and gave a summary of the activities of art lovers in the city and the background of the St. Augustine Arts Club." Both Moffett and Pfeiffer were present as guests. Shortly thereafter Muller-Uri was quoted in the Record as saying that the club was about to complete payment for the mortgage on its property, and that "we are now making plans toward the goal of a permanent home for the Arts Club of St. Augustine, and we want the people of the city to realize that this is a civic organization, our building will not be for the use of a few but for the people of the entire community, and we hope it will be a useful, cultural and instructive center."
The Arts Club made the final payment for its property on December 12, and initiated a variety of new activities to raise funds for building a permanent clubhouse. In March 1948 Reid gave a lecture on arts and crafts at the club, and the nominal admission fee was applied to the building fund. The Arts Club and the Garden Club Federation cosponsored the Aviles Street Fiesta that was held on March 19 and 20; the Arts Clubs share of the profits amounted to more than $550, which was applied to the building fund. In the season's annual report Muller-Uri stated that "the membership roll is now 198 members, of which two are Special members at $25 each; fourteen are Patron members at $10 each and twenty-eight are Sustaining members at $5 each." The revenue from the dues was placed in the building fund, and all Special and Patron members received a woodcut of the Fatio House by Reid.
In April the Arts Club changed its name to the St. Augustine Art Association, "with the idea that such a name would indicate that it was a club for all who enjoyed art, whether they were creative artists or not." To further emphasize the civic nature of the organization, various classes of membership were initiated so that *'any resident of St. Augustine who wishes to enjoy and participate in the activities of the association is invited to membership."
These provisions encouraged large numbers of amateurs and laypeople to join the Arts Club, and they soon outnumbered the professional artists. Revisions made in the charter and by-laws at this time were mostly concerned with defining the duties of the club officers, expanding the number of committees, and outlining the responsibilities of each committee. By changing its name the group also identified itself with the Provincetown Art Association (founded 1917) and the Rockport Art Association (founded 1921), older organizations that had similar objectives of housing a permanent collection, holding regular exhibitions, and providing lectures and discussions for both members and the general public.
During this period there were no public manifestations of acrimony between traditionalist and modernist artists, unlike the situation in the Provincetown Art Association, but behind the scenes there were occasional outbursts of friction. Muller-Uri related that when she was president William L'Engle had taken her aside and complained that "all we had here was a Tea Club," and that "we should throw out a lot of this academic painting and have all modern art." She responded that "the Club was making this town an Art Center, and all kinds of artists come to St. Augustine, and that we would get all kinds of Art. We never could have paid the rent on Charlotte St. if we would have had just the few modern artists."
The modernists were prone to squabbling among themselves, and there were inevitable personality conflicts. Most of them admired Vedovelli and Carl Frederick Austen (1917-1999), and included their pictures in the club's member exhibitions, even though those two artists had persistently neglected to pay their dues. After Lindenmuth initiated a policy excluding members whose dues were in arrears from participating in exhibitions, the L'Engles began to pay Vedovelli's membership fee. Austen aroused ire when he told Etter, during a conversation in the Trade Winds Bar, that he had never paid dues in the past and had no intention of doing so in the future. An incensed Muller-Uri, supported by Maddocks and Lindenmuth, removed Austen's paintings from the gallery and returned them to him. William L'Engle and Shanks defiantly retrieved the pictures and put them back on display. Lindenmuth was widely resented for "always hanging his pictures in the best places on the walls." When Muller-Uri brought this to his attention, he replied, "If you don't blow your own horn, nobody else will." The issue was settled when some of the members prevented Lindenmuth from serving on any of the exhibition hanging committees.
Such disruptions seldom came to the public's attention because the Art Association controlled the local media, and its members overwhelmingly shared a desire to promote St. Augustine as a national-class art colony. Despite these outbursts, it is remarkable that such a heterodox group of artists existed in a state of relative harmony. As the association grew, however, friction among its members increased.
Although the Art Association prospered under Muller-Uri's presidency, the position was stressful for her. She later recollected that she resigned the presidency rather than "fight and argue" with the "troublemakers:" "I had a lot of compliments on how I was running the Club by a lot of members, and then this small group saw how well we were getting along and growing from 89 to 208 members in one year. The Club was getting too big for them and getting harder for them to control, so then they start breaking down the Club as well as breaking my health." Maddocks and Lindenmuth wanted a businessman for president. When Muller-Uri asked why neither of them wanted the position, Maddocks replied that "he had been kicked around enough in the north and he wanted no more of that." She believed that "they want to kick other people around, who hold that office."
The "troublemakers'' approached Howard Baldwin Bonfield (d. 1955), an amateur artist who owned the Valencia Hotel on St. George Street, and who headed both the chamber of commerce and the Hotel Managers Association, about becoming president of the Art Association. Bonfield became a controversial choice because he was not a member of the club at the time of his nomination. Muller-Uri later recollected that to circumvent this irregularity, Maddocks and Lindenmuth had paid Bonfield's dues, and she complained, "It is the custom in any well run organization that a person works up to the presidency, [and is] not to be taken out of thin air." Nevertheless, Bonfield was unusually well qualified to act as a liaison between St. Augustine's cultural and commercial interests, and he was duly elected president of the Art Association at the April meeting. Although there was a perception among some members that toward the end of Bonfield's six successive terms as president he had become autocratic and domineering, his business acumen, promotional skills, and civic spirit proved invaluable to the organization, and the Art Association experienced a phenomenal level of growth during his administration.
The new president wasted no time in instituting a membership drive. At the next meeting in April he "read a list of 124 new members whom he had secured through an intensive telephone campaign during the previous two weeks." Immediately after they were unanimously elected, the secretary was instructed to send them bills for dues. At the November meeting Bonfield announced that there were now 414 members, and then "directed attention to the purposes of the Association to stimulate and increase interest in Art, and to assist our Artists in disposing of their pictures." He arranged for an "Art Mart" to be held on Aviles Street north of the Fatio House on Saturday, December 4, and scheduled others "on each succeeding Saturday throughout the season." Bonfield made it clear that the Hotel Managers Association "would cooperate actively in giving publicity to the Art Mart and directing it to the attention of their guests." At the December monthly meeting Bonfield introduced the owner of the Castle Warden Hotel and the manager of the Plaza Hotel to the Art Association; they proceeded to request assistance "in furnishing suggestions for the improvement in the appearance of the proposed new St. Augustine Hotel Ass'n. Publicity folders." The artists agreed to submit designs for the project.
Muller-Uri and her father provided "an exciting climax to the evening" by displaying "an attractively designed and executed model, made by them, of the Art Association Building Project as it is expected the project will look when it is completed" [fig, 19]. They anticipated that construction would begin the following spring, and planned to exhibit their model in the window of the Florida Power and Light Company "to stimulate [the] interest of the general public." The model was identical to the Art Center that was opened in January 1954.
Bonfield systematically sought to lure to St. Augustine famous artists who were also popular teachers, in the belief that their students would follow them. The establishment of art schools in the city thus became a priority. For example, the public was informed that the popular impressionist Guy Carleton Wiggins (1883-1962) was about to open what was advertised as the Guy Wiggins Winter Art School in St. Augustine. Famed for his New York City snow scenes, Wiggins had long been associated with the impressionist art colony in Lyme, Connecticut, and the summer art school he had opened in nearby Essex in 1937 was extremely successful. The Record proclaimed this "a great, distinctive honor for St. Augustine: and explained that the artist's decision had been "brought about through the efforts of H. B. Bonfield, president of the St. Augustine Art Association." Wiggins and his wife arrived in the city late in the year and were given a well-attended special reception by the association on January 2, 1949. Three days later the artist gave a lecture and painting demonstration in the auditorium of the Ketterlinus High School and donated the proceeds to the Art Association building fund. The Standard Printing Company donated fifty advertising posters for the event. After some negotiations and delays Wiggins established an art school in the historic Old Llambias House on St. Francis Street [fig. 20]. The paucity of information on the school suggests that it was unsuccessful and short-lived. Wiggins died while vacationing in St. Augustine in 1962. Even though he spent so much time in the area, no Florida subjects by him are known.
The Art Association scored a public relations coup in November 1, 1948, when Mayor-Commissioner Herbert E. Wolfe declared the commencement of National Art Week and called "upon the citizens of this community for cooperation with the St. Augustine Art Association in bringing about greater understanding, use and appreciation of the fine arts in St. Augustine." The Record commented on the association's recent progress and drew a direct parallel between St. Augustine and Provincetown: "Many business men, who like to call themselves 'hard-headed,' are apt to brush away this talk of art and art atmosphere, but when they realize that art on a big scale means big business for a community, they rake a different attitude. Provincetown, Mass., is a city that has been made famous through its art colony. Many people and much money are brought into that community through its artists, its exhibits, its art schools." The writer concluded by urging readers to "give thought -- a great deal of it -- to what art does mean, and can mean in the future, to every phase of life in St. Augustine."
One of Bonfield's most productive innovations was the development of regular awards for the Art Association exhibitions. Late in November he instituted the Popularity Awards: "At the rate of ten cents a vote, members and visitors may vote for their preference in pictures in any one exhibit. The total receipts from the balloting will be divided as follows: the artist whose picture receives the highest number of votes will get 50% of the total receipts; the second highest 30%, and the third highest 20%." At the same meeting Lindenmuth announced the Kenneth W. Dow Award, "a payment of $25 to an exhibiting artist member, whose picture is selected by an authorized committee." At the next meeting Bonfield outlined the terms of the Plaza Hotel Awards that had been contributed by hotel owner George Potter, a real estate investor from Indianapolis who later founded Potter's Wax Museum. The president continued to successfully solicit awards from businesses and individuals, and during the 1949-1950 season the association distributed a total of $775 in cash prizes. Friction arose between Bonfield and his supporters Lindenmuth and Maddocks over the awards. The president saw the money as a means to attract outside talent to St. Augustine and at a meeting openly declared that he did not want it given to local artists. Muller-Uri related that afterward Maddocks took her aside and asked,"Who is doing the work if it isn't the local people?"
The highlight of the season was the first annual costume Beaux Arts Ball (fig. 21), which was held with much fanfare on the evening of February 26, 1949, in the Casino of the Hotel Alcazar. During the war the decaying building had been used to store furniture from the Hotel Ponce de Leon, which had been converted into a training base for the Coast Guard. The Chicago publisher Otto C. Lightner purchased the Alcazar in 1947 and reopened it as the Lightner Museum of Hobbies the following year. He supported the Art Association and its endeavors, for which he was elected an honorary life member on February 15, 1949. The ball was named after the annual masquerade ball held by the students of the Académie des Beaux Arts in Paris. The program for the event stated that "whenever there are people concerned with the fine arts the Beaux-Arts Ball is a medium which brings them together for a gala and festive occasion and to further the projects in which they are all interested." The ball raised $425 for the building fund. The Record rightly observed that "the success of the ball in the beautiful Lightner Museum Casino Saturday night has laid the foundation for future successful events in other years, thus meaning much to St. Augustine and its social program during the winter seasons."
At a meeting on March 15, 1949, Maddocks suggested that while preparations were being made to build a clubhouse, the association should leave the Charlotte Street gallery and move to a larger location as "a step to better attendance at the exhibits and [to] stimulate interest with favorable results." After some discussion it turned out that Bonfield had already entered into negotiations with Lightner about the possibility of returning to the newly refurbished Alcazar. The members unanimously voted to accept Lightner's offer to lease the northwest corner store in the building as of April 1, 1949. Also at this meeting Bonfield announced that Kronberg had joined the Art Association and had donated $25 to be awarded as a prize the following year.
Lockwood arranged for Bonfield to discuss the progress of the Art Association before the Rotary Club sometime in March or April, and the text of the speech is revealing. He prefaced his summary with the statement, "I am sold on this subject, so much so that it has almost become an obsession with me." After providing evidence for his major contention that "nothing can do more for St. Augustine than a large and flourishing Art Colony," he gave an account of the association's recent progress. Bonfield's intensive study of successful American art colonies had convinced him that an influx of professional artists into St. Augustine would give a boost to the real estate and hotel industries, and their paintings of the city's picturesque areas would stimulate interest around the nation. He noted that amateur artists, such as the British statesman Winston Churchill, the actor Edward G. Robinson, and the former world's middleweight boxing champion Mickey Walker, all returned to their homes "refreshed and enthusiastic" after visiting an art colony.
Bonfield's constant source of inspiration and point of comparison was Rockport. He described how the small Massachusetts town had lapsed into a decline after its granite quarries and fishing industries collapsed, and outlined the circumstances behind its economic revival:
Bonfield noted that in Florida art colonies such as Clearwater, Daytona Beach, Miami, Palm Beach, and Sarasota were thriving, but St. Augustine's Old World charm made it "the most paintable city in Florida." The only thing that the city was missing was "an attractive, properly equipped gallery, a gallery that we will all be proud of."
Bonfield persuaded the chamber of commerce to pay for advertisements in nationally circulated magazines, such as American Artist and Art Digest. In February 1949 he informed the members that "this campaign will not only publicize St. Augustine but also the St. Augustine Art Association, with the further objective of getting nationally known art schools to locate in St. Augustine during the winter season."  Bonfield later recollected that he had tried to initiate an advertising campaign when he was first elected president, but the art magazines "refused to print any of this information until I started to beg prize money and the association offered prizes." The advertisements stimulated great interest in St. Augustine, and by late 1950 Bonfield reported that "summer advertising has brought an unexpected number of replies, many of the writers indicating their desire to come to St. Augustine to paint while others wish to identify themselves with this rapidly growing organization even though they may not be able to come to Florida."
Bonfield was reelected for a second term as president of the Art Association on April 5, 1949, and zealously pursued all the objectives he had initiated. The group had always been adept at disseminating publicity through the Record, and its members now arranged for two articles on St. Augustine to appear in prominent national publications. At a meeting on May 4 recording secretary Maureen O'Mahoney informed members that Alice Lawton intended to write a feature article on the art colony in the Boston Globe. The Lindenmuths provided factual information that O'Mahoney forwarded to Lawton, and the members calculated that "the effects of publicity in a large Northeastern newspaper can be very far reaching." After furnishing a glowing report on the city's many attractions, the recent improvements at the Art Association, and the numerous opportunities in the city for artists, Lawton concluded her article with the statement that "it is little wonder that our New England artists seeking warmer painting grounds in the winter should gravitate to St. Augustine in Florida."
Moffett influenced his contacts at Art Digest to print a brief but equally favorable report. A brief article in the magazine traced the city's artistic heritage back to the arrival of the French artist Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues (d. 1588) in 1564, and pointed out that "the St. Augustinians hasten to stress that their city is not a reconstruction like colonial Williamsburg but the real McCoy." The inside back cover of the magazine had an advertisement for St. Augustine (fig, 22), sponsored by the city's chamber of commerce. Under the headline "Like Painting in Europe," and illustrated with one of Thieme's street scenes, the text succinctly described St. Augustine's attractions: "Paris, Amsterdam, the Riviera.., all come to life in St. Augustine, your nation's oldest city now America's fastest-growing art colony ... 532 active Art Association members ... central sales-exhibit galleries ... excellent permanent opportunities for artists, schools, students ... nearly 365 painting days per year .. subjects from marines to 18th century streets. Fine studios may now be rented ... 1000 hotel rooms ... apartments ... town or beach cottages."
The residents were stimulated by this national publicity, and the Record remarked that "St. Augustinians are becoming increasingly interested in the Art Association since it has received such national commendation in art circles and magazines. The monthly exhibits are attracting a large number of persons to the gallery." It was also in 1949 that the eccentric folk artist Earl Cunningham (1893-1977) settled in St. Augustine and opened an antique shop on St. George Street where he displayed his colorful paintings.
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:
About the Lightner Museum
The Lightner Museum is located at 75 King Street, St. Augustine, Florida 32084. Please see the Museum's website for hours and admission fees.
Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.
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