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Eugene Savage: The Seminole Paintings
October 7, 2011 - January 8, 2012
The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is presenting Eugene Savage: The Seminole Paintings, on view through January 8, 2012. The exhibition features 42 paintings and watercolors inspired by Savage's trips to the Everglades. As part of the Museum's 50th Anniversary celebration, the works are being displayed publicly for the first time since the 1960s. The Cummer purchased the collection in 2007, after former trustee Samuel Vickers introduced Savage's work to the Museum. Savage's series is the most extensive painted record of the Florida Seminoles from the early twentieth century.
"The Cummer family had a long history of philanthropy in northeast Florida," said Cummer Curator Holly Keris, "This interest in Florida's art and natural environment continues to the present day at The Cummer, where the history of our state is represented through artwork in the permanent collection. The affection of Arthur and Ninah Cummer for their adopted home state has come full circle with this important addition to the Museum they lovingly created."
Eugene Savage (1883-1978) began his artistic journey as a young boy. His mother encouraged him to draw, paint and take up music. When he was 18 years old, he moved to Chicago, where he attended art classes at The Chicago Art Institute and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. In 1912, Savage won the competition for the Prix de Rome, a three-year fellowship in painting at the American Academy in Rome.
"The Academy provided Savage with the occasion to refine his skills and master new techniques [He] was particularly drawn to the linear strength of the early Renaissance artists, who would have a deep effect upon his early manner of painting," said guest curator Dr. Elizabeth B. Heuer, Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of North Florida. (left: Eugene Savage, Biscayne Holiday, 1935, oil on canvas adhered to aluminum and wood, 36 x 36 inches. Purchased with funds provided by the Mae W. Schultz Lead Trust, AP.2007.2.2. Photograph courtesy of Daniel Portnoy Photography.)
When Savage returned to the United States after his graduation in 1915, he taught painting at Cooper Union in New York, and later on at other collegiate level schools. In 1924, Savage was elected to the National Academy of Design and also joined the faculty at Yale University, where he was named Dean of Fine Arts in 1931. He was later appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve on the Commission of Fine Arts, a position he held until 1941. Savage's work attracted national praise. He mainly created murals for various public establishments and universities, such as the Butler Library at Columbia University in New York.
In 1935, Savage and his wife, Mathilda, visited Florida for a winter vacation. Around this time there was an ongoing debate raging between environmentalists, who wanted total protection of the Everglades, and advocates who defended Seminole culture. The Seminole Indians and their plight intrigued Savage. In his work, he used bold colors with shifting perspectives and rhythmic lines and patterns to create stylized scenes that conveyed the simplicity of the Seminoles' lives. Savage continued to visit south Florida over the next two decades of his life, surveying the Seminoles and their lives.
"The romanticized depictions of the Seminoles and the Everglades that Savage created over the next 20 years hauntingly convey the conflict between urban and native culture," said Keris.
While many of his works depict the Seminoles' struggles, part of his series portrays them living in an Edenic paradise, free from the contamination of modern society. South Moon Under (1935) depicts a Seminole woman standing in a canoe on a peaceful lake that reflects the full moon. According to folklore, the moon has the power to control nature. This work conveys the idea that the Seminoles lived in balance and harmony with the natural world. In Orchid Hunter (1935), a Seminole man and woman are shown. The woman is collecting orchid buds, but leaves the plant intact so that it may continue to bloom in the future. The man is poling a canoe that is deliberately filled with only a small amount of game and fruit. Savage is showing their respect for natural resources and stresses their connection with the land.
In his work, Savage found a new way to express himself. He found a way to depict native culture as well as critique modern urban life. The natural rhythms of the Everglades are portrayed, which presents a vision of Seminole life. "While certainly not documentary in nature, Savage's abstracted compositions evoke mystery and imagination," said Keris. "I hope visitors will be enthralled by the work of Eugene Savage, and his magical recollections of the Seminoles and the Florida Everglades." (right: Eugene Savage, Orchid Hunter, 1935, oil on canvas, 31 x 28 1/2 inches. Purchased with funds provided by the Mae W. Schultz Lead Trust, AP.2007.2.7. Photograph courtesy of Daniel Portnoy Photography.)
Visitors can learn more about Savage and his work in the book, Eugene Savage: The Seminole Paintings by Heuer, available at The Cummer Store. The book is published by The Cummer in association with D Giles Limited, London. In addition to the book, there will be a family guide offered for the exhibition. A podcast will also be available to listen to in the galleries, which features a Seminole Tribal member telling traditional tales of animals of the Everglades.
(above: Eugene Savage, South Moon Under, 1935, oil on canvas adhered to aluminum and wood, 20 x 20 inches. Purchased with funds provided by the Mae W. Schultz Lead Trust, AP.2007.2.1. Photograph courtesy of Daniel Portnoy Photography.)
Special Programs and events for visitors throughout the exhibition include:
For more information or to register for classes and programs, please call (904) 355-0630.
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