My capacity for art criticism is all but nonexistent. It’s a subject better left to Madeleine Peck. My personal aesthetic is incomprehensible, and I would be reluctant to pass it off as “credible” in the mode of, say, my writing on politics, music or competitive BBQ except insofar as one might be considered relevant to the other. Consider that the universal disclaimer to any future comments about visual art.
The Cummers’ commitment to kids continues, long after they have themselves transcended this dimension. If it’s true that one’s deeds in life confer a form of immortality, then it’s likely that their names will be a real part of Jacksonville’s history for as long as the city exists. Their museum on Riverside Avenue is in its sixth decade as arguably the region’s premier draw. Certainly many artists, etc. will disagree, and that is a good thing, but no one would question its relative merits, such as accessibility and range of interests.
“New View: The Many Faces of the St. Johns”, wrapping up at the Cummer’s Thomas H. Jacobson Gallery of American Art on July 13, celebrates the main artery of Northeast Florida. If its city’s citizens are indeed its backbone, then the St. Johns River is the spinal cord itself. “New View” is built around selected works from past masters Theodor de Bry (1874-1939), Frederick Carl Frieseke (1525-1598) and Winslow Homer (1836-1910), as well as one piece, “Florida Rats”, by noted naturalist illustrator John James Audubon (1785-1851). The bulk of the exhibit, however, is comprised of mixed-media efforts by students from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, including: Erin Baker, Jessie Barnes, Andrew Bartholomew, Rachel Bohannon, Lauren Boivin, Erin Broadfoot, Christiana Broughton, Crystal Bui, Caitlyn Cooney, Bettine Dela Pena, Erin Devlin, Kate Godfrey, Shea Green, Reine Hogue, Marty Howard, Alex Huffman, Caroline Johns, Catherine Leporati, Naomi McDonald, Alex Miller, Kaitlyn Moore, Emma Peterson, Rebecca Pitts, Paula Runyon, Leah Sakara, Emma Shoots, Portia Smith, Courtney Taylor, Rachel Teano and Micaela Yates.
Quoting the museum website: “A collaboration in the truest sense, New View: The Many Faces of the St. Johns River, is a result of a partnership between The Cummer, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, The St. Johns Riverkeeper, Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT), Museum of Science and History, Ritz Theater and La Villa Museum, The Jacksonville Public Libraries, Dr. Carolyn Williams, History Professor at UNF, artist Sarah Crooks Flaire and the Florida Humanities Council. […] This exhibition is underwritten by Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT). Programming is sponsored by the Florida Humanities Council, the state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.”
The river has survived acts of extreme avarice and wanton self-destructiveness by the people whose lives literally depend on the river’s immediate and long-term condition. While the exigences of building a modern industrialized economy may have required certain compromises–dredgings, dumpings, demolitions–at no point were the costs of such actions unclear to policy-makers or the voters. This region has at least shown, at times, the courage to reverse decisions proven ineffective or dangerous, and nature has generally come through the decade in better shape than certain segments of the human population. Former Jacksonville mayor John Delaney was quoted in January 2004 saying of the river that “My goal was to get it as clean as it was before the Europeans came here.”
The recurrence of similar themes through works done hundreds of years apart, by artists of vast diversity, points to the persistence of the River itself as a force shaping the lives lived around it–lives like those of the Cummers, whose old family home is now the kind of place where teenagers can show their work side-by-side with bronze busts and marble statues, then put that on a college application and have it count for something. And they had free cupcakes!