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
From 1950 to the Opening of the Art Center
The Art Association's new gallery in the Lightner Museum was a great success that fulfilled its members' highest expectations. In October the membership total was 552, and the group was "considered the fastest growing art association in the United States." Bonfield announced that the now forgotten artists Courtney Hunt of Jacksonville and Rosa Lee of Chicago and Provincetown would establish art schools in St. Augustine, and that the latter would have a studio in the Lightner Museum. The artist and instructor John Prattcn (1900-1979) was about to arrive from Elizabethtown, New York, but his plans were uncertain; in April 1950 he announced his plan to set up a studio on the top floor of the Hyden Building at 11 Aviles Street. Apparently Bonfield had made some arrangement with the building's owner Andrew Jackson Hyden to remodel it for use as an art school. Albert John Theodore Meurer (b. 1887) took a studio in the Lightner, and was scheduled to lecture there on his popular Shrines of George Washington (Lightner Museum), a series of thirty-two paintings depicting historic buildings that had played some significant role in the first president's life.
In January 1950 the Record reported that "there are now over 600 members of the association, many of these being laymen who find opportunity to assist the work of the group by serving on committees not requiring a hand for the brush or pencil." The second annual Beaux Arts Ball was held on February 18 and was a great success. Bonfield was elected to his third term as president of the association on April 4. An exhibition leaflet published by the Art Association that year declared that the Ancient City possessed "bonanzas of beauty for brush and palette," which were all listed in geographical order as one entered the city from the north.
In December the Record reported that Bonfield and Harold M. Wayne, owner of a clothing store called the Lew Shoppe, had devised the Merchants Award, which "originated the idea of selecting a motif every month for artists to paint in competition. The idea is arousing keen interest of merchants of the city who realize that artists painting near points of interest will naturally create interest and curiosity of our tourists and of autoists passing by. For generations this city has welcomed legitimate 'come-hithers' and this addition to atmosphere of the old city is proving profitable to the public, the artists, and to those who depend upon trade for income." Several days after the article appeared, Bonfield acknowledged at the association's monthly meeting that the chamber of commerce had been helpful "in the matter of advertising and other publicity," and that a plan was afoot to "try to raise a considerable sum from the business houses, so that sizeable awards for pictures can be offered."
Bonfield, who increasingly promoted a quid pro quo relationship between the association's artists and business benefactors, proceeded to cite various ways by which members could show their gratitude for the chamber of commerce support. He said that businessmen wanted "to see the artists at work, painting familiar spots, as this is good for tourist business." He added that a special outdoors Christmas exhibition would open in the Old Slave Market on December 22, and that the "large display there will help to influence the businessmen." These events were expanded versions of the "art marts" inspired by the successful annual outdoor art exhibition in New York:s City's Greenwich Village, and they stimulated pedestrian tourist traffic that was beneficial for St. Augustine's retail merchants. At the urging of the businessmen the Christmas show became an annual event. John Emmett Fritz (1917-1995), who became one of St. Augustine's most popular artists, was introduced as a new member of the Art Association at the meeting on December 19.
Sometimes the merchants' instructions were so exacting that the artists found it difficult to comply. At the January 1951 meeting Bonfield announced that the subject of the Merchants Award Exhibit for the month was the Cordova Building viewed from the Little Plaza. When the association convened the following month, the president stated that "it had been necessary to postpone the Merchants Award for a picture showing the Cordova Building, due to insufficient entries. It was agreed that this picture could be painted at any angle and not confined to a view from the Little Plaza as originally stipulated." Several months later Bonfield urged the artists to paint smaller pictures that were "within the purchasing power of a larger circle of visitors."
One wonders how the association's modernist artists fared in these competitions, what the businessmen thought about modern art, and if the artists ever felt that their artistic freedom was being compromised. Certainly a pattern emerges: Bonfield and the chamber of commerce sought to attract conservative artists, such as Wiggins, Kronberg, and Muerer, and had no interest in abstract expressionists such as Hans Hofmann (1880-1966), who was one of the most influential figures in Provincetown at this time. This pronounced conservatism is one of the main reasons why St. Augustine ultimately failed to achieve the status of the summer art colonies in New England that it emulated.
Other important issues were discussed in the February 1951 meeting. It was decided not to hold the annual Beaux Arts Ball "due to the unsettled world condition and the fighting in Korea." Bonfield announced that a prize of $75 was offered by a Mrs. Bartlett of Pittsburgh "to be used as a prize for the best realistic painting, her letter stating that so-called 'modern art' must be excluded." (Pfeiffer was awarded the prize at the next meeting on March 6.) The president then discussed Lindenmuth's suggestion that to aid sales, paintings by association artists should be placed with prospective buyers on an approval basis. The "Art in the Home" program began almost immediately, and the Record informed the public that there was now a means by which "local people are being encouraged to introduce more art into their homes ... to acquire pictures they like, and feel they'd want to live with." The author drew attention to St. Augustine's steady growth as an art colony, mentioned the practical benefits of a union between culture and commerce, and quoted Bonfield's observation that "everybody benefits from a business standpoint as more people are brought here."
Sometimes the publicity and fundraising events were so overtly entrepreneurial that they were rejected by the membership. During the March monthly meeting, for example, there was considerable discussion about a proposition that the association had received from the prolific landscape painter and teacher from Massachusetts, W. Lester Stevens (1888-1969). Stevens suggested that he come to St. Augustine, paint a picture before a paying audience, and then auction it off, half of the proceeds going to the association and the other half to him. The proposal was dismissed, and it was decided to offer lectures instead.
More individual businesses began to sponsor exhibitions. In March 1951 the Exchange Bank of St. Augustine hosted a two-week show that was limited to entries by local artists. Distinguished nonresident judges were invited to St. Augustine to preside over the annual exhibitions. The three-man jury for the March exhibition was unusually diverse, comprising the Hungarian Tibor Pataky (1901-1978), Oklahoman Leon Polk Smith (1906-1996), and Bostonian Wallace Bradstreet Putnam (1899-1989).
In keeping with its civic mission, the association sponsored educational events that were open to the general public. In March it announced that "the influence of this growing organization in the city will be spread by the presentation of lectures which the public will be invited to attend free of charge. At each lecture the life of some well known artist will be given and his paintings studied." The first such talk was on March 27, when the little-known Chicago art teacher Adelore J. Emling (b. 1920)  lectured on "Aspects and Analysis of Painting, Covering the late 19th and 20th Century." Late in the following year, when Lindenmuth suggested that color travel films supplied by a local agency be shown at the association, the members agreed that "it was a definite way to help welcome visitors to St. Augustine." The association continued to be interested in children's art and art education, and cooperated with local elementary and secondary schools in organizing exhibitions. The association sponsored its First School Student Art Exhibit on May 13, 1951, and small cash awards were offered for the best pictures. All these innovations contributed to St. Augustine's growing national reputation as a haven for artists during the early 1950s.
In his annual report for 1950-1951 Bonfield noted that during the past season there had been five regular exhibitions, four Merchants Exhibitions, one Chamber of Commerce Christmas Exhibition, and the Exchange Bank Exhibition; more than $800 had been distributed in cash prizes. The association now had 800 members, of whom 262 were artists. Among the artists 145 were permanent residents of 27 other states and Canada, and one, probably William F. Krondorf (1878-1968), lived in Germany. In addition, 48 nonresident artists had spent the past winter painting in St. Augustine.
At the July 1951 meeting Bonfield outlined a plan that he had just devised with the chamber of commerce to attract more artists to St. Augustine. The chamber of commerce agreed to pay for expanding the advertising campaign in nationally circulated art magazines, in which interested parries were told to correspond directly with Bonfield for information. He personally sent respondents "a large envelope containing folders of the various attractions here; a map of the city; also a copy of the Association Prospectus for the coming season, "as well as a "mimeographed letter worded to attract artists and describing the work of the Art Association." The members began to look at promotional material from other American art associations for ideas. Frederick W. Benson, an art collector and the association's secretary, traveled to Rockport, Gloucester, and Greenwich Village, where he collected advertising materials and exhibition catalogues. Lindenmuth presented a newspaper from Monterey, California, that was devoted to the activities of the art colonies in that area, and suggested that the Record print a similar special edition on the association's activities.
At the November meeting Bonfield drew attention to the opening by Edward R. Perkins Jr. and his wife Caroline of an art supply store called the Brush & Palette Shop at 11a Aviles Street, and "urged all artists and others to patronize this as it is undoubtedly a great asset to the artist colony here." Within a year the shop began to serve as an art gallery, and some of the association's members exhibited there. Bonfield further urged members to patronize all the businesses that advertised in the association's catalogues as "this should assist in getting advertising next year."
A special meeting, for artists only, was convened on November 27, in which Bonfield presented four matters that were of concern to the chamber of commerce. First, the businessmen wanted a "good showing" of paintings at the annual Christmas exhibition in the Slave Market, and all the entries should have a holiday motif. Second, an Art Mart was to be held in the Slave Market on every Saturday in December. There were no limitations on the subject matter or number of pictures that an artist could enter, "but it was also suggested that pictures offered for sale be small or of moderate price." Third, it was expected that the association would enter a decorated float in the forthcoming Christmas parade. The artists agreed that "upon the Float there would be an artist in smock and beret on an easel, 'painting' pictures." Fourth, at some point in the future it was desired that the association "conduct a month-long exhibit of some sort on the park at [the] entrance to [the] Bridge of Lions."
In December, shortly after the close of the Art Mart in the Plaza and the annual Christmas exhibition in the Slave Market, the association held a special show that coincided with the world premiere of Distant Drums, an adventure film set in Florida during the Seminole Indian wars that starred Gary Cooper. The idea for the event had originated with Leo Hoarty, secretary of the chamber of commerce, and received the endorsement of Warner Brothers. The public was invited to judge twenty-four paintings of actors and scenes from the film that were displayed in the lobby of the Matanzas Theater. The winners, Muller-Uri and E. B. Warren, received "beautiful gold trophies" that had been provided by Warner Brothers.
In January 1952 Bonfield announced a new Hallmark Art Award Competition for watercolors, with an award total of $12,500. In February it was decided to cancel the annual Beaux Arts Ball so as not to interfere with the Flagler Hospital Association's George Washington Birthday Ball; Muller-Uri's suggestion that the association hold an art auction instead was accepted.
The watercolorist and teacher Eliott O'Hara (1890-1969) had joined the association in December 1950, and spent his first full winter in St. Augustine during the 1951-1952 season. A resident of Washington, D.C., he was an editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the author of several books on art, and a regular contributor to art journals. Bonfield arranged for him to conduct a course in watercolor." O'Hara gave a portrait demonstration at the Brush & Palette Shop, and donated a $25 prize for the best watercolor by a person who had never previously won an award. He returned to St. Augustine for a month the following season and won the Alligator Farm Award for a watercolor that he entered in the association's January 1954 exhibition. O'Hara also gave three illustrated talks in the new Art Center, entitled "Oriental Brush Work," "Calligraphy," and "Rhythm."
On the evening of March 4, 1952, the well-known muralist Violet Oakley (1874-1960) delivered a lecture to the Art Association in which she read from her book on William Penn, The Holy Experiment (1922), and showed reproductions of portraits she had made in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1927, depicting delegates who were present at the deliberations that led to the formation of the League of Nations.
The portraitist and art instructor Jossey Bilan (b. 1913) spent the winter of 1952-1953 in St. Augustine. Little is known about him other than that he had taught at Wayman Adams Art School in Elizabethtown, New York, before opening his own school in Keene. Bilan was introduced to the public in December 1952, when he gave a demonstration in portraiture at the Hotel Ponce de Leon. In addition to painting portraits in the city, he conducted portrait classes, won two of the association's awards that winter, and judged an exhibition.
Strained relations between the association's amateur and professional artists erupted over the submission of paintings of inferior quality and compositions that were derived from photographs and thus objectionable as copies. At the May meeting Lindenmuth sought to remedy the problem by suggesting that "the paintings submitted for sale on the retail table should be approved for sale by the Association by a committee of three, to keep the standards of articles obtained through the Gallery at a high level." He added that "a committee of recognized artists [should] decide on the quality of the work submitted for exhibition, through a jury of selection." The members decided that some exhibitions should be juried, but others, such as the Merchants Award events, ought to be open. Muller-Uri nominated Lindenmuth as chairman of the jury committee and asked that he be "empowered to select a second member of the committee, which would confer, with Mr. Bonfield, in selecting a jury of three qualified members for each of the specified showings." Reid then recommended that the jury should be composed of members whose work had been accepted by juried committees previously. These motions were accepted. At the conclusion of the meeting Bonfield revealed his intention to visit northern art colonies, "where he hoped he might be able to show the color film on St. Augustine, to incite further interest in St, Augustine as an art colony."
At the November meeting Maddocks urged that May's resolution concerning the jury be rescinded. He expressed his belief that the "'jury-of-selection' idea is a frightening thought for many painters; that instructions be re-emphasized to the Receiving and Hanging Committees to be on the look-out for copies or kodachromes brought to the Gallery about which there had been some criticism and complaint during the past season." A discussion followed on "ways to carefully handle this matter to exclude undesirable paintings and yet not discourage all new and desirable entries." After Bonfield expressed his opinion about "the delicate and basic subject of the admission of works by the so-called Sunday painter and the professional," it was determined that the "growth of the organization and its best interests were promoted not by erecting barriers against the incoming but perhaps less well-known painters coming to St. Augustine." He assured everyone that an artist would be present on all days that paintings were received for exhibitions "in order to spot paintings that would be undesirable to have hung in the gallery such as copies of kodachromes." The May resolution concerning juries was unanimously rescinded.
Lindenmuth alluded to another bone of contention when he suggested that the association's retail table ought to be available only to local and winter resident artists. The motion was agreed upon but rescinded at the first meeting in January 1953, after members from Gainesville complained about being excluded from exhibiting on the retail table and threatened to resign from the association. Reid, seconded by Muller-Uri, "moved that the sales table be available to all members exhibiting a minimum of one picture each year, to make a more equitable ruling." Muller-Uri pointed out that the small number of pictures that had been submitted to recent exhibitions was attributable to the unpopularity of the jury system, and moved that a letter be sent to all nonresident artists informing them that "the system had been deleted from the season's program."
On January 31, 1953, the association held a special exhibition of eighty-five paintings in the Plaza for the benefit of the March of Dimes. New member Max Wilhelm Kettner, a prominent civic leader who married Evelyn Vaill in 1953, reported that the event "proved to be a success both financially and as a cultural display for the people of St. Augustine showing the right spirit in assisting the fund for the relief of polio and in giving the public an opportunity to see the paintings of our members." Approximately a thousand people attended the show, and Lindenmuth and Maddocks won first and second prizes. It was probably in February that the association began to distribute a monthly newsletter. Colors from the Palette, giving all its current news and listing upcoming events.
The nationally recognized marine and landscape painter Stanley Wingate Woodward (1890-1970)  spent February and March 1953 in St, Augustine. During the previous year Bonfield and Lindenmuth had made preparations for him to conduct an art school on the second floor of the Hyden Building. Woodward lived in Rockport, where he had conducted the Woodward Outdoor Painting School since 1935, and specialized in views of the New England coast. He and his wife usually wintered in the Bahamas or Puerto Rico, and the Record observed that "several times the Woodwards have passed through St. Augustine but have hastened on their way as they did not realize that there were certain sections still unspoiled. Their discovery of these spots has delighted them and they intend to tell others of this matter and to pass along the word that the friendliness of people here is an added attraction that the passing tourist may not fully comprehend." In addition to teaching, Woodward lectured about painting the sea, and served as a judge for some of the association exhibitions.
Lawton retired from her position as art editor for the Boston Post in 1952 and became a permanent resident of St. Augustine. She donated her collection of over five hundred art books to the St. Augustine Public Library. The books were deemed too valuable for general circulation and placed for reference in a room that had been specially decorated through funds solicited by Nina Hawkins. The association regarded this gift as a significant resource for the both the city's artists and the general public, and held a ceremony of thanks for the donor directly after the February annual meeting.
Bonfield was elected president of the Art Association for yet another term at the annual meeting on April 7, 1953. Before the election Muller-Uri presented a list of ten reasons "for the choice of the nominating committee, citing his unflagging interest and efforts for the growth of the association which means so much to the city of St. Augustine." Although the association was generally apolitical, Reid suggested that "it would be a good idea to go on record as excluding any artist with communistic leanings." Her motion that "the St. Augustine: Arts Association exclude known communists and their work from the Association" was seconded by Muller-Uri and approved. Later in the meeting Bonfield regretfully announced the resignation of M W. Brashears, who had served as treasurer of the Galleon and the Art Association for the past twenty-six years.
The Art Association, the chamber of commerce, and such civic groups as the League of Women Voters had always been concerned about historic preservation in St. Augustine. The authentic Spanish character of the city's historic district was one of the attractions that Bonfield had emphasized in the advertisements he had placed in national art magazines to attract artists to the city. At the May meeting Reid "presented the suggestion that the artists could assist the city zoning board by submitting sketches of Spanish type architecture details for use of people building or remodeling store fronts or houses in St. Augustine." As the Record tactfully put it the following day, this was a cause of concern because "the merchant or the home owner in that part of the City which attracts visitors who would like to see still more of ancient charm often takes the line of least resistance in renovating." Reid, Muller-Uri, and Warren were among the artists who resolved to study Lawton's books in the library and create a portfolio of Spanish architectural details for the benefit of those who were renovating their historic homes.
At another meeting later in the month Bonfield observed that other Florida art centers were open on an annual basis, and that some members "had brought up to him the idea of continuing more actively the work of the summer resident artists of St. Augustine of which there are about 100 artists and lay members and 50 on the books who paint." Reid, seconded by Muller-Uri, made a motion that the gallery be open during the summer months, which was unanimously approved. It was decided that from June to mid-November the gallery would be open from one to five o'clock on weekday afternoons.
At a special meeting convened on July 7 Bonfield set the circumstances in motion that led to the construction of the Art Association's long-awaited clubhouse. That it took so long to achieve this goal requires some explanation. Back in November 1948 Bonfield, "referring to the Association's plans for a new Gallery to be erected on its own lot, described the reactions of businessmen with whom he had discussed the matter, and who realize the advantage of having a Winter Art Colony here." At the urging of Muller-Uri and Lindenmuth the members agreed "that the Building Committee meet and discuss and be authorized to act immediately on plans for the first unit of the proposed building, to cost approximately $25,000." But, mysteriously, nothing happened.
Muller-Uri later explained that Bonfield and Lindenmuth "killed the Building," and that this was "a let down as a lot of people donated sums of money toward the building fund." According to her account, the Lindenmuths wanted to sell the plot of land and spend the building fund. Bonfield disagreed with this idea and urged that the money be allocated for the construction of a small building. Muller-Uri became suspicious that the building fund never grew. After a close examination of the association's financial records, she discovered that from November 1949 on Bonfield had diverted a considerable amount of incoming money from the fund into other accounts, and that it was being used to pay utility bills and other expenses. She suspected that "he was trying to make his hotel the leading Art Center." There is no evidence to prove that this allegation was true, but the delay in erecting the clubhouse was a source of great dissatisfaction among the members, and they harbored similar suspicions.
Two factors stirred Bonfield into action when he called the meeting on July 7, 1953. First, the city authorities had notified him that despite the association's nonprofit status, it would have to begin paying taxes on the vacant lot; second, the association's longtime friend Lena May Newcastle of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, had left it a legacy of over six thousand dollars. The state of Massachusetts had delayed the settlement of Newcastle's estate because it hoped to levy taxes on the bequest, but a judge had recently ruled that the bequest was not taxable and the check was expected at any time. The members analyzed the association's finances, assessed the expenses, examined the architectural model that Muller-Uri and her father had presented at the meeting on December 7, 1948, and consulted with city commissioner and local contractor Everett B. Meade, before determining that it was at last feasible to erect the new clubhouse. Bonfield was authorized to sign a contract with Meade to supervise the construction, and to arrange a mortgage to pay the contractor for an amount not to exceed $10,000. The Mullers lent the Art Association $9,000, secured by a mortgage on its property and payable on or before January 20, 1964, at an interest rate of 4 percent that was payable quarterly after January 20, 1954.
According to the Record, the plan for the concrete-block, Spanish-style building with a coquina finish was "an integration of ideas submitted by various members and it was adopted in 1947 when Miss Hildegarde Muller-Uri was president." The public was invited to go to the Lightner and inspect the model. The distinctive arched loggia that faced Marine Street served as an imposing entrance into a main gallery that measured 66 feet long by 40 feet wide; the walls were 15 feet high. The windows were set high ill the walls so as not to interfere with display space. In addition to serving as an exhibition hall, the room was suitable for social gatherings, receptions, lectures, the showing of films, and other forms of entertainment. The building also had a kitchen, storeroom, classroom, and restrooms for both sexes. Henry Muller served as chairman of the property committee and designed the walkways and fountains, and the expert gardener Pfeiffer, as chairman of the beautification committee, oversaw the landscaping.
Now that the association was open year-round and the clubhouse was at last being constructed, Bonfield initiated some unpopular changes in the group's management structure so that it would be operated "as a business organization in a business-like manner." The association convened a special meeting in July for the purpose of amending the by-laws of its charter. Those present resolved to add an additional by-law so that "the Charter of the Association may be changed or amended by an affirmative vote of a majority of the members present at any regular or special meeting."
On August 4 the members decided to further amend the charter so that the association would be governed by a board of seven trustees who were elected for life. To qualify as a trustee it was stipulated that one "must have been a member in good standing in The Association for at least two years immediately prior to election, and also must have been a land owner, tax payer, qualified voter and resident in St. John's County, Florida, for a period of at least five years immediately prior to election." Bonfield served as chairman of the board; the other trustees were the advertising executive Milton Bacon, the real estate dealer Otis Barnes, the retired dentist Dr. John Checchi, longtime member and future president of the Art Association Evelyn Vaill Kettner, Muller-Uri, and Reid. According to the new regulations the trustees were enabled to elect officers among themselves by a majority of four affirmative votes, and each officer was limited to a two-year term.
On Tuesday afternoon, September 8, the 388th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine, Mayor R. Aubrey Davis presided over the groundbreaking ceremony that designated the official commencement of work on the new St. Augustine Art Association building. The Art Center was officially opened on January 30, 1954. Mayor Davis presided over a ribbon-cutting ceremony (fig, 23) that was attended by almost all the members. The event, which was reported in the New York Times,  was a tremendous success. Approximately a thousand people visited the new building during "Open House" (fig. 24), and saw a special exhibition of paintings by association members in the main gallery, and a small exhibition of paintings by a now forgotten Provincetown modernist, Kathleen Druckleib, in the classroom. The center was comfortably furnished with chairs, rugs, tables, a stove, and a refrigerator that were donated by local merchants. The association retained its gallery in the Lightner Museum for its five regular monthly winter exhibitions.
Amid the optimism about the opening of the Art Center,
trouble was brewing behind the scenes. There was considerable acrimony over
the trustee system of governing the Art Association, and many prominent
members resigned. Early in 1954 the prominent local citizen and amateur
artist Captain Tucker Gibbs met with the trustees and "called attention
to items which especially are obnoxious to those whom he represents."
These were the "provision for election of trustees for life with the
opportunity to fill vacancies on the Board if a trustee should resign or
die."and "the fact that no provision is made for open meetings
for the members." In
March the trustees met and considered measures to "make the organization
more democratic in nature." They agreed that from then on the trustees
would be elected by the members; the number of trustees would be increased
to nine; every year three trustees would be required to retire from the
board; and at their first annual meeting the trustees would elect a chairman
whose term was limited to one year. Victor Rahner and Alfred Houston were present at a meeting held
later in the month,"these being the gentlemen who have agreed to serve
as trustees as soon as the revised charter will give to the Board the opportunity
to elect them." Bonfield's
power was severely compromised by these developments. Evelyn Vaill Kettner,
Muller-Uri, Reid and others made a concerted effort to divest him of all
the responsibilities he had taken upon himself.
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
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