“Sad Tropics” Artists to Give Free Lectures

Multimedia artists Cristina Molina and Jonathan Traviesa will give two free lectures in November about their collaborative exhibition, “Sad Tropics,” which is on view through Nov. 2 at the Melvin and Burks Galleries at Florida Southern College.

The lectures are scheduled for Nov. 1, 4-5:30 p.m., and Nov. 2, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Melvin and Burks Galleries at Florida Southern College.

The Nov. 1 lecture is designed for the general public. Florida natives Molina and Traviesa will discuss the inspiration and behind-the-scenes making of the exhibition. A Q-and-A period will follow the lecture.

The Nov. 2 lecture is geared toward high school and college students. Molina and Traviesa will discuss their individual practices and how they came to collaborate on “Sad Tropics.”The artists will discuss the chronology of their art careers and give students background information on the ins and outs of being a professional artist. A Q-and-A period will follow the lecture.

“We are thrilled to give members of the community the chance not simply to meet Cristina and Jonathan themselves but also to interact with them and learn from them about how the installation came to fruition,” said Alex Rich, FSC director of galleries and exhibitions and assistant professor of art history. “The exhibition is intended to be a jumping-off point for conversation, and we can’t wait to see how visitors respond when facing the artists in person.”

The artists’ exhibition was inspired by Claude Levi-Strauss’ book titled, “Tristes Tropiques. “ It focuses on the psychological landscape of paradise, the tropics and Florida mythology. Through photographic murals, videos, and a themed gift shop installation at the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College, the artists celebrate and critique the eccentricities of their Floridian inspiration.

“The show offers an exciting opportunity for the community to see a site-specific installation on our campus, and these public lectures present an even more exciting chance for our community to learn directly from the artists about their process,” Rich said. 

“Sad Tropics” and the artist lectures are supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Florida Southern is located at 111 Lake Hollingsworth Dr. in Lakeland.

Southern Homes Renews Strategic Partnership with the Polk Museum of Art

Polk County builder Southern Homes has renewed its Strategic Partnership with the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College, which helps keep admission to the museum free to the public. 

Southern Homes has supported the museum for several years.

“We are strong believers in giving back to the community that we call home,” said Southern Homes Director of Marketing Ashley Link. “The Polk Museum of Art’s exhibitions, classes and cultural events are part of what makes this a vibrant community, and we are honored to support it in its endeavors.”

Executive Director Claire Orologas says the partnership is a key component of the museum’s long-term success because it shows that the community understands the value the museum provides in terms of social, educational and economic benefits to the community.

“Partnerships like this ensure that the museum remains accessible to people from throughout Central Florida, including those in our community who otherwise couldn’t afford to visit a museum,” Orologas said. 

As a hometown builder, Southern Homes operates under the philosophy that it is important to continually strive to make Polk County a better place to live. Through this museum partnership, Southern Homes is able to give back to their customers, and all community members, by ensuring they have free access to the museum. Southern Homes co-owner Ed Laderer and his wife, Amy, especially believe in supporting the arts.

 “When our oldest son was in high school, he announced that he wanted to be an artist,” said Amy Laderer. “He’s opened our eyes to modern art and the world of collecting and performance art, and we want others to have that opportunity as well.” 

The museum unveiled its Strategic Partnership program in 2013 and saw attendance increase 12 percent the first year. Since 2013, attendance is up 7.5 percent, and the program has made it possible to offer free admission every day the museum is open. 

The Polk Museum of Art is located at 800 E. Palmetto St. in Lakeland. It is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays 1-5 p.m. 

Marc Chagall Exhibition Opens Soon at the Polk Museum of Art

A unique show of Marc Chagall’s work debuts Sept. 29 at the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College, and several “firsts” are noted in “Chagall: Stories into Dreams.” 

In addition to being the museum’s first Marc Chagall exhibition, it is the only one of its kind in Florida, and the only one in the country that pairs Chagall’s “Fables of La Fontaine” etchings with his famed “Story of Exodus” lithographs.

This exhibition features 42 works of art, including the complete color lithographic “Story of Exodus” suite (1966), which entails 24 works, and 15 etchings from the “Fables of La Fontaine” series (1952).  

“Chagall:  Stories into Dreams”explores the ways in which Chagall transformed familiar parables in human history into fantastically new visions, said Dr. Alex Rich, curator and director of galleries and exhibitions. 

“Chagall’s Exodus suite presents an exciting visual dialogue with his ‘Fables of La Fontaine’ illustrations,” Rich said. “Visitors will see how Chagall uses these series to illustrate universal concepts of morality and immorality, right and wrong, and good and bad.”

Two additional paintings in the show, “L’Inspiration” and “Deux Têtes,”allude to the creative muses that inspired the artist.

Chagall is one of the best known artists of the 20thcentury due to his self-publicity and ability to mass produce his work, which defies easy stylistic categorization. He took bits of popular movements like Cubism and more obscure movements like Orphism, a manner marked by its light-filled explorations of color,and combined them with his own nostalgia to create uniquely modern work that reflects narrative, allegory and fantasy. 

This exhibition closes on Jan. 6, 2019. The Members Reception is Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. It is free for PMA members and $10 for nonmembers.

Polk Museum of Art Opens Smithsonian American Art Museum Exhibition of Romaine Brooks

The Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College presents “The Art of Romaine Brooks,” an exhibition on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which opens Sept. 28.

At a time when women around the Western world were beginning to break conventions and rules, Brooks crafted an androgynous appearance and a unique artistic voice that challenged beliefs of how women should look and behave. This exhibition includes 18 paintings and 32 drawings, some of which have not been seen in decades.

As an expatriate living in Paris, Brooks was a pioneering artist — in subject matter and in style — adopting in her paintings of women a muted color palette consisting primarily of black, white and various subtle shades of gray, ochre, umber or red, reminiscent of fellow American expatriate master James McNeill Whistler, whose paintings she admired, said Dr. Alex Rich, PMA’s curator and director of galleries and exhibitions. Rich also is an art history professor at Florida Southern.

“On one level, these works provide a glimpse into what people might envision when they think of the increasing independence of women in the 1920s,” Rich said. “The show reflects a time when many women of all classes and nationalities, especially American women who had the freedom to live abroad, were finding ways to break free of their traditional roles. On a deeper level, though, Brooks’ portrait subjects also reflect a lesser-known subculture of outliers and bohemians, many of whom were artists and, like Brooks, many of whom were gay.”

Born in Rome, Italy to wealthy American parents in 1874, Brooks spent most of her life in Paris. She focused on portraiture, which reflected Modernist elements in many ways, and her subjects frequently were her circle of strong, independent female friends. 

Included in this exhibition is Brooks’ 1917 portrait of Russian dancer, actress and art patron Ida Rubinstein. Another exhibition highlight is her 1923 self-portrait. Set against a gray sky above and seaside townscape below, the portrait depicts Brooks in a man’s hat, black coat and gloves. Her pale, gray skin is warmed only by the pop of red in her lips and a faint hint of blush on her cheeks. 

The exhibition runs through Dec. 9, and the museum is hosting several related events. Art historian and critic Cassandra Langer, who became Brooks’ accidental biographer through her search to uncover the artist’s aesthetics, will give a free lecture Oct. 13 at noon.

The Members Reception is scheduled for Sept. 28 at 6:30 p.m. It is free for PMA members and $10 for nonmembers.


“The Art of Romaine Brooks” is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The C.F. Foundation in Atlanta supports the museum's traveling exhibition program, “Treasures to Go.”

Polk Museum of Art Receives Bank of America Grant for New Teen Scholarships

The Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College is pleased to announce that it has received a $2,500 Bank of America grant to help fund a scholarship program geared toward teens.

The Building Vibrant Communities Through Teen Art Class Scholarships program will enable eight Polk County students ages 14-18 from low- to moderate-income level families the opportunity to each take a six-week, tuition-free art class of their choice at the museum and obtain required art supplies at no charge.

“We are honored to receive this critical, groundbreaking grant award,” said Education Manager Ellen Chastain. “The Polk Museum has a long, successful history of raising funds and awarding Art Camp Scholarships to disadvantaged youth ages 7-13, but this is the first time the department has the means to support the older students who are passionate about pursuing higher education art programs to prepare them for art-related careers like graphic design, photography and printmaking.” 

The scholarships will help the museum bridge an economic gap by providing cultural services to under-served high school students who cannot afford to participate in the fee-based programs and purchase their own art supplies, said Executive Director Claire Orologas. 

“We are grateful for Bank of America’s support to enhance the vitality and livability of our entire Polk County community, especially for teens who face financial barriers,” Orologas said.   

PMA offers a series of six-week, small-group Adult and Teen Art Classes in the fall, spring and summer each year. Classes are taught by certified art teachers or art professionals for three hours per session on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Students are instructed in a variety of mediums such as drawing, painting and sculpture, and learn invaluable problem-solving and critical thinking skills that are transferable to any subject. Fall classes begin Oct. 8 and end Nov.13. 

To learn more about the fall schedule and how to apply for a financial-need and merit-based Teen Art Class Scholarship, visit https://polkmuseumofart.org/adultclasses; or contact Ellen Chastain at 863-688-7743 ext. 227 or echastain@polkmuseumofart.org

Another Chapter in “The Von Wagner Code”

There has been another discovery since last we wrote about “The Von Wagner Code” and posed the question of whether a masterwork had been discovered in a storage closet at Florida Southern College.

Although the discovery doesn’t officially confirm that the work upon which “The Von Wagner Code” exhibition is centered is a verifiable work of Alexander von Wagner, it adds another piece of evidence to suggest that this could be true. 

In August, Diane Baires – who is the curator of Florida Southern’s Melvin Gallery and works as the Art and Art History Department assistant at the college – located an inventory and an article from 1951 about the college’s art collection that listed a painting in the student lounge called “Claudius Triumph” by “Alexander Wagner.”

“Upon its rediscovery in 2016, it was initially believed that the painting was gifted to the college in 1953 as a 17th century Italian Baroque painting by Domenico Fetti, based on a letter that was believed to relate to the painting,” said Dr. Alex Rich, the Polk Museum of Art’s curator and director of galleries and exhibitions. Rich also is an art history professor at Florida Southern. 

Instead, research confirmed it to be a variant of von Wagner’s 19th century “The Chariot Race.” 

Based on this inventory and newspaper article discovery, however, “we now know the college knew it was by von Wagner way back when after all and that it was on campus as early as 1951, nearly two years before the questionable ‘Fetti’ gift of 1953,” Rich said. “But the college was not aware that the von Wagner was a masterwork, obviously, given what happened to it.”

Sometime in the 1950s or early 1960s, the painting was cut out of its frame, replaced by a mirror, and rolled up in a closet. 

And over the 60 years it was stowed away, what it actually was — a von Wagner — was forgotten. 

“No evidence suggested its provenance, apart from our knowledge of who gifted it,” Rich said. “Upon its rediscovery, it was thus mistaken as the ‘Fetti’ gifted by the same donor in 1953. The confusion stemmed from the fact that both gifts — the von Wagner and the Fetti — were from the same donor but for two entirely different paintings.”

The 1953 letter that offered the gift of the Fetti work and that was thought to concern the rediscovered “Chariot Race” painting was written by Emile E. Watson. But as it turns out, Watson gifted the von Wagner before 1951, and the Fetti in 1953. Excitingly, we know the college once believed it had both a von Wagner and a Fetti.  We have the presumed von Wagner on display at the Museum, but now there’s another thrilling mystery: Where is the Fetti painting?

Learn More

Want to hear more about this exhibition? Watch the Aug. 16 episode of WEDU’s “Arts Plus.”

Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College Receives National Endowment for the Arts Grant

The Polk Museum of Art and Florida Southern College are pleased to announce they have received an Arts Engagement in American Communities Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. 

The grant will help support the “Sad Tropics: Visiting Artists’ Exhibition & Education Project” that will take place at FSC’s Melvin and Burks Galleries. Sad Tropics is a large, site-specific installation piece designed by artists Cristina Molina and Jonathan Traviesa, who will be in Lakeland to install the work on view Sept. 21 through Nov. 2.  

As Florida natives and New Orleans residents, Molina and Traviesa were inspired to create their multimedia exhibition by reflecting on their Florida roots, observing images along their roundtrip drives to visit family in Lakeland, researching Florida’s history and tropical paradise mythology, and naming their project in homage to Claude Levi-Strauss’ book title “Tristes Tropiques.” Through photographic murals, videos and a gift shop installation, the artists’ work celebrates and critiques the eccentricities of the Floridian aspiration.   

Multiple education programs are planned to coincide with the exhibition that will engage FSC art students in the installation process. Programs include a gallery talk and tour for Polk County sixth-12 grade students and parents led by Dr. Alex Rich on Oct. 5; Sad Tropics Artists’ Talk on Nov. 1; and an artists Sseminar for FSC students and faculty on Nov. 2. All programs will be open to the public free-of-charge and will be held at the FSC Melvin and Burks Galleries. 

“We are very excited about receiving national recognition and grant support from the NEA for our Florida Southern College collaborative Sad Tropics project,” said PMA Executive Director Claire Orologas. “It has been quite some time since the Polk Museum of Art has been awarded an NEA grant and it makes it even more special that these funds are supporting an exhibition designed by two Florida-born artists.”  

According to FSC President Dr. Anne Kerr, “Our students and faculty are looking forward to participating in this NEA grant-funded exhibition and education project. It will enrich our entire Florida Southern College and Polk County community, and raise our Polk Museum of Art affiliation to a higher level of nationwide recognition.”      

PMA Thanks MIDFLORIDA for Sponsorship

It is with sincere gratitude that the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College thanks MIDFLORIDA Credit Union for 10 years as the title sponsor of Mayfaire by-the-Lake, presented each Mother’s Day weekend by the PMA.

MIDFLORIDA’s financial support of Mayfaire by-the-Lake, along with all of the Mayfaire sponsorships, not only have made the event possible, but they also support the general work of the museum all year long. 

“Those ten years of support were critical because those were the ten years that Mayfaire was climbing in the rankings of Sunshine Artist magazine’s prestigious ‘Best 200 Art Shows’ list,” said PMA Executive Director Claire Orologas. “Without the support of all of our sponsors, we would not have been able to achieve this stature. We are deeply grateful to MIDFLORIDA for their role in this endeavor.”

In 2016, Mayfaire by-the-Lake reached the top 20 on the “Best 200 Art Shows” list.

A new Mayfaire by-the-Lake title sponsor will be announced in the fall.

Polk Museum of Art Receives Artwork in John Rodda’s Memory

The Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College announces the donation of a Yousuf Karsh photograph of British author and playwright George Bernard Shaw.

Robert and Malena Puterbaugh donated the photograph in memory of John A. Rodda, who passed away on April 30. It will be displayed in the museum in the fall.

The Puterbaughs selected the Shaw portrait taken in 1943 because it is one of Karsh’s most important and detailed photographs, Robert Puterbaugh wrote in a memo included with the donation.

Karsh said the following about the photograph:

“He said I might make a good picture of him – but none as good as the picture he had seen at a recent dinner party where he glimpsed, over the shoulder of his hostess, a perfect portrait of himself. He pushed by the lady, approaching the living image, and found he was looking in a mirror! The old man peered at me quizzically to see if I appreciated his little joke. It was then that I caught him in my portrait.”

The museum has built a collection through the years of important photographs Its collection includes other works by Karsh, as well as photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, Jerry Uelsmann, Elliott Erwitt and Herman Leonard.

“We are honored to receive this generous gift in John’s memory,” PMA Executive Director Claire Orologas said. “The quality of this work is apt for the man he was.”

Rodda, founder of Rodda Construction, Inc., lent his operations expertise to the museum through the years, and as a Florida Southern College trustee, he played an instrumental role in helping the museum’s affiliation with Florida Southern become reality in 2017. He also served on the inaugural Board of Trustees of the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College.

Exhibition Focuses on Mystery of Possible Masterwork Discovery

A large-scale painting of a Roman chariot race found in a closet on the Florida Southern College campus unearthed a mystery and became the impetus for a home-grown exhibition opening June 23 at the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College.  

“The Von Wagner Code” is a curated exhibition centered on the rediscovered painting that appears to be an early, lost version of Hungarian artist Alexander von Wagner’s acclaimed masterpiece, “The Chariot Race” of 1882, now in the Manchester Art Gallery.  Several early versions are known to have been painted originally in the 1870s but have vanished. 

This exhibition is also believed to be the first-ever museum show focused on von Wagner and his work, said Dr. Alex Rich, PMA curator and director of galleries and exhibitions.

The fragile but newly-conserved painting measures 52 inches by 72 inches and was gifted to Florida Southern in 1953 as a 17thcentury Italian Baroque painting by Domenico Fetti. In 2016, it was discovered in a storage closet, along with paperwork that documented it as a Fetti painting of the 1600s. Rich had his doubts.

A bit of research confirmed it to be instead a variant of von Wagner’s 19thcentury “The Chariot Race,” which was wildly popular in its day and is a staple of art history textbooks. His painting heavily influenced Lew Wallace's popular 1880 novel, “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” which went on to be adapted to the stage and screen.

Von Wagner’s painting was commercially reproduced within years of its first U.S. exhibition in the 1870s, and it was common for American families to have a print of the painting in their homes.

Works that speak to the painting’s popularity that are part of this exhibition include:

·      From the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s collection, an 1875 copperplate etching made after the painting, which was heralded as the largest in the U.S. at the time. 

·      From the Library of Congress, the 1896 original sheet music of John Philip Sousa’s battle piece “The Chariot Race,” which von Wagner’s painting inspired.

·      Also from the Library of Congress, original posters from a 1901 “Ben-Hur” stage play and the 1925 film of the same name. Von Wagner’s painting inspired the imagery and cinematography for these productions.

·      From the collection of a Paris art gallery, the only locatable original study for the painting. It was purchased at auction in 2013 by a private buyer in Denmark.

“The Chariot Race” was so popular that the San Francisco Weekly Examiner placed advertisements in many Mid-western newspapers — including the Kansas Agitator as early as 1892 — offering a print of “The Chariot Race” as an enticement to those who subscribed to it. 

“All of these cultural artifacts are evidence of this painting’s impact,” Rich said. “Part of the story we wish to convey in the exhibition is the popularity and legacy of this painting and of von Wagner, and the fact that we may have uncovered an important missing piece of this complex history.” 

An opening reception for “The Von Wagner Code” is scheduled for June 29, 6-8:30 p.m., and the exhibition runs through Sept. 16. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College is located at 800 E. Palmetto St. Visit www.polkmuseumofart.orgfor more information, and to RSVP for the reception.