What we can learn about Florida— and art —through the Vicker’s Collection
The Vickers have been very generous with loans and access to their collection in the past. But this donation goes far, far beyond. We should all be thrilled for the University of Florida and the Harn Museum of Art and their staff, as well as their faculty, students, and visitors. It’s an important moment for the state of Florida.
By Jennifer Hardin
What can we learn from this collection?
So many things can be discovered through The Vickers Collection at the Harn Museum: art history, Florida history, social history, history of Florida’s development in the modern era. One can survey various artistic interpretations of Florida from the time before statehood to the 1950s, as indicated by the six themes that the Harn has designated for their first major exhibition of the Vickers Collection.
From an art historical standpoint, numerous styles and time periods are represented, from artists who were associated with the Hudson River School and its second generation, and then later to Impressionism and Modernism. Because of its scope, one can also comprehend the variety of approaches to twentieth-century realism, including independent artists and those who were associated with the WPA. Diverse techniques and media are included in the collection: painting, watercolor, drawing, and prints, which is meaningful for students, artists, art historians, and curators.
Major figures in the history of American art are represented, such as George Catlin, Thomas Moran, Winslow Homer, Martin Johnson Heade, Winslow Homer, and N. C. Wyeth. (Wyeth’s illustration from The Yearling is superb.) To be able to see and study these masterworks, some of which have been exhibited in major American museums (most recently the watercolor by Homer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) informs us about highlights of their careers.
Related to the above is that Florida’s landscape is depicted extensively. Some of these sites have changed much, especially through development. So, the collection preserves the visual memory of them. Further, there are certain towns founded in the nineteenth century, like Magnolia and Enterprise, that no longer exist.
The Collection also can be studied through the lens of social history, especially with the Vickers interest in art depicting Native Americans and African Americans. A substantial group of artworks portrays African Americans, most notably the painting by James Wells Champney, which is unique in his body of work.
Finally, keeping this major collection together in its totality, reveals the history of the collectors themselves, their collecting practice since the 1970s when the serious study of American art was burgeoning, and their approach to Florida as a subject in the visual arts. For over 50 years, the Vickers have had a passion for Florida’s art and history, pursuing it with considerable knowledge and enthusiasm.
Jennifer Hardin, former chief curator of the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, is an art expert knowledgeable about the extensive Florida art collection recently donated to the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida in Gainesville by Samuel and Roberta Vickers. In 2019, Harden co-curated “Imagining Florida: History and Myth in the Sunshine State,” an exhibit at the Boca Raton Museum of Art that featured pieces from the Vickers collection, as well as that of Hyatt and Cici Brown, and pieces gathered from collections around the world Hardin is an independent curator and art historian.
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