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
The Art Association continued to exist, but never fulfilled the high expectations of its founders and most dedicated members. It is ironic that the opening of the Art Center, a long-awaited event that should have precipitated even more expansion, was anticlimactic. The group's unprecedented level of growth during Bonfield's presidency was accompanied by increasing dissent between the amateur and professional artists; among resident, visiting, and nonresident artists; and between the modernist and traditionalist factions. The power struggles among the office-holding members -- Bonfield, Lindenmuth, Maddocks, Muller-Uri, Reid, and others -- were particularly divisive. This dissent reached a crescendo in the dispute over the trustee system and what some perceived as Bonfield's dictatorial management style. Many of the most capable governing members -- for example, Muller-Uri -- were exhausted by these struggles and gradually withdrew from the task of managing the organization. Ultimately they rejected Bonfield's grand vision of transforming St. Augustine into a nationally recognized art colony modeled after Rockport, and the Art Association gradually became a provincial organization run by local art enthusiasts.
Other circumstances also prevented the Art Association from fulfilling its potential. Motivated largely by self-interest, St. Augustine's business community generously supported the group, but during the Bonfield years the association's pragmatic values and aesthetic conservatism began to stifle creativity. With few exceptions, the city's art community was unwilling to embrace the abstract expressionism that was de rigueur in more sophisticated northern art colonies, such as Provincetown, where the presence of Hans Hoffman (1880-1966) attracted some of the most famous and progressive American artists of the era. The Art Association's officers were out of step with their time and invariably sought to attract traditionalists, such as Kronberg, Thieme, Wiggins, and Woodward, to serve as magnets for other artists. Many of the paintings produced by the group's artists -- for example, Fritz -- were unabashedly souvenirs for the tourist market, and there was a limit to how long such subjects as historic houses, shrimp boats, and the semitropical landscape could maintain the consumer's interest. St. Augustine was geographically too far from major urban art centers such as New York and Boston, and unlike Rockport and Provincetown, it was a winter rather than a summer art colony,
The rise and fall of St. Augustine's art colony is yet another manifestation of the persistently tenuous role of the visual arts in the United States. As Neil Harris has demonstrated in his classic study The Artist in American Society,  the traditionally conflicted attitude toward the fine arts in America is firmly established in our history and part of our national ethos. This phenomenon is by no means a thing of the past. Today the debate continues to rage over such fundamental issues as the appropriateness of private versus public patronage of the arts, the relationship between artistic and commercial interests, the relevance of modernism to an intrinsically conservative nation, and how art reflects the values of a given community. These philosophical and sociological considerations can never be fully resolved, and this is not the place to explore them at length, but suffice it to say that they are very pertinent to the history of what we have chosen to call the "Lost Colony" in the title of this book.
Despite its ultimate failure to achieve national status,
at its apex St. Augustine was a community of artists whose personalities
and aesthetic inclinations were remarkably diverse. Throughout its early
years the Art Association attracted conservative impressionists like Thieme,
Wiggins, and Vogt; academic figure painters, such as Kronberg; the modernists
Lazzell and the L'Engles the folk-style or "primitive" painters
Cunningham and Vedovelli; the visionary eccentric Moffett; the talented
amateurs Phinney and Shanks; commercial artists Cole and Groniger; the able
graphic artists Muller-Uri, Reid, and Warren; and the nearly expressionistic
landscape and seascape painters Lindenmuth, Pfeiffer, and Vayana. St. Augustine's
importance as an American art colony is beyond question, and it now remains
for the artists' work to speak for itself.
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.
This page was originally published in 2002 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.
Copyright 2012 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.