Thursday, September 23, 2010

Potato Capital of Florida

It's a ghost town, esp. on a Sunday afternoon. Two blocks long, burned out and neglected buildings. There's a cafe, closed, an antiques store, and the ubiquitous Dollar General, which was open, along with the Kangaroo gas island.

Behind the second from the left window in the above photo, you can just about see the a/c vents, is a small room, once a waiting area for the doctor and dentist, and on those walls are spectacular murals painted by the acclaimed Florida landscape artist A.E. Backus. The building was set for demolition, and upon examination of the interior, 50 years since the building had been occupied, these treasures were found five months ago. I would never have known about them except for the excellent P.R. by Sandra Birnhak, one of the curators of the find, and a long time movie producer. ("The Yearling" was one of her productions.) Sitting in the room with her and my friend ML, I felt a bit like I did when I went to Ellis Island in NYC -- there were spirits there, the room was bathed in history and a standing-still of time. The water damage to the walls and the original torn curtain on the window emitted memories of the likely hundreds of people who had sat in those chairs waiting for medical attention, bringing their energies into a space locked shut for decades.

These murals are considered to be some of his earliest work, and my photos don't do them justice. If you google AE Backus paintings, and click images, you'll see his beautiful art, along with that of the Highwaymen, a group of African American painters who studied with Backus, and sold their paintings for next to nothing along the A1A highway in Florida.
An attempt is being made to preserve this historical find, preferable intact as an entire room, but so far the right situation has not materialized. The curator wants Flagler College to take on the project, since it is the place closest to the town of Hastings where the paintings are surviving. Flagler says no. I even wrote a letter to the President of Flagler myself, and in no uncertain terms he made it clear they had no interest in this remarkable work.

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