A Unique Look at Local History

Wed, Oct 04, 2017 at 3:00PM

By James "Zach" Zacharias, MOAS Senior Curator of Education and Curator of History

Often local history and culture are under-taught and underappreciated in today’s educational system. Past events, activities, people, and places inform us who we are by reminding us of who we once were. One of the great aspects of the collection in the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art at the Museum of Arts & Sciences is its dedication to local history and the artists who made Volusia County their home or at least drew inspiration from it for their artwork. These beautiful and important local works of art inspire us to be proud of our local heritage and our place in the world.

Arrah Lee Gaul; Sugar Mill Ruins at Bulow Plantation, ca. 1930, oil on board. Part of the Volusia County Gallery
in the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art at MOAS

Sugar Mill Ruins at Bulow Plantation

In the painting by Arrah Lee Gaul, Sugar Mill Ruins at Bulow Plantation (ca. 1930), the artist depicts an oil painting showing the remnants of the old historic plantation. Arrah painted all over the world from China to Florida and visited the state between 1920 and 1964. A bright color palette and broad-brush strokes dominate the work but she does not actually show you the large coquina ruins. Instead, she depicts a romantic view of sugar vats, a cannon, a Spanish anchor and heavy metal chains with the blue waters of Bulow Creek barely visible in the background. Bright flowery foliage, classic cabbage palms and the suggestion of a once historical place is the topic of this local scene. Many historians and artists during this time period believed incorrectly that these ruins were once the vestiges of a Spanish Mission. This may explain the romantic addition of the large Spanish anchor and cannon.

If you have never been to Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park, it is a must-see day trip to explore the most amazing archaeological ruins in the state. Situated on Bulow Creek and the Volusia and Flagler County line, this amazing historical place was once the largest slave plantation in Florida. Owned and operated by the Bulow Family out of Charleston, it produced sugar cane, molasses, indigo and other agricultural products that would be shipped out of Ponce Inlet to markets north and to the Caribbean.

Charles William Bulow purchased 4,675 acres from John Russell in 1821 for $9,944.50.  Russell originally acquired the property as a Spanish land grant holder. After William passed away and was buried in the Huguenot Cemetery in St. Augustine, his son took over the plantation and made it one of the most profitable ventures in East Florida.

The events at Bulow were many, beginning with the arrival of the esteemed guest, John James Audubon, who spent time at the Bulow Plantation. The famous naturalist wrote fondly of his time at Bulowville and he used it as a base to document local birds. In particular, he was interested in the Brown Pelican. In one of his paintings, you can actually see the plantation in the background.

During the 2nd Seminole War of 1835, Bulow was sympathetic to the Seminole cause.  James Ormond III arrived as a member of the militia known as the “Mosquito Roarers” under the command of Major B.A. Putnam. The “Roarers” imprisoned the hostile John Bulow on his own plantation as they fortified his home into a barricade. Preparing to fight and protect property against the Seminole Indians during the Second Seminole War which had just erupted, the “Mosquito Roarers” conducted a mission to the Dunlawton Plantation in current day Port Orange. They engaged the Seminoles in a battle known as the “Battle of Dunlawton”. After the battle, Bulow Plantation was evacuated, including its owner John Bulow.  On January 31, 1836, the Seminole’s burned the plantation and John Bulow died a few years later.

Fred Lawrence Messersmith; Sampson Hall at Stetson University, 1993, watercolor on paper

Sampson Hall at Stetson University

It is always interesting to read about the unusual lives of the artists from the Cici and Hyatt Brown Collection. Fred Lawrence Messersmith, a native of Ohio, is one artist with a very interesting life story. He became a 2nd Lieutenant in the army and was stationed in Western Kansas at Liberal Army Air Field, which is now a municipal airport. He became a flight instructor for the heavy bomber known as Liberator B-24, used by every branch of the armed forces. After World War II, he graduated with a master’s degree in art from Ohio Wesleyan University. He exhibited his art in shows throughout New York, London, Florence and the Ringling Museum of Art.

In 1959, Messersmith moved his family to the small southern town of DeLand, Florida where he took a position as chair of the art department at Stetson University. He painted many local landmarks such as the Ponce Inlet Light House, golf scenes at the DeLand Country Club and even the DeLand High School. In his watercolor painting, titled Sampson Hall at Stetson University, 1993, Messersmith captures the University's famous library known originally as Carnegie Hall. The 1908 conservative neo-classical building was designed by John Klutho, the first Florida architect to be admitted to the American Institute of Architects. Steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie gave $40,000 for its construction with a matching gift of an equal amount from John B. Stetson. It was later renamed Sampson Hall after a university trustee named C.T. Sampson donated $20,000 for an endowment. The Carnegie Library was changed to Sampson Library and was the first full-time library in the Florida University system.

In this beautiful watercolor of the historic building, Messersmith captures the classical style building framed in an idyllic park-like setting showing a clear path to the front entrance of the library where the motto "Education is Power" is depicted above the iconic columns. Messersmith reminds us of an insight at least four centuries old, formulated by philosopher Francis Bacon during the Enlightenment that: “Knowledge is Power”!  The next time you are in DeLand, take a drive through the campus and see this beautiful and historic building.

Don W. Emery; Sopotnik's Tavern, ca. 1960, oil on board

Sopotnik’s Tavern

Many people have probably driven past the old deep woods tavern known as Sopotnicks with little regard to its history. Also referred to as the Cabbage Patch, it has become a mecca for visiting bikers. In 1937, daredevils on motorcycles flocked in the spring to scream down the hard packed sand beaches at the inaugural Daytona 200. Sopotnik’s Corner, built in 1936 by Ronald Luznar, has become one of the most famous biker establishments in the world. It was rare for bars and other drinking establishments to cater to bikers. Near the fields where the local farmers grew cabbage, bikers flocked to the establishment because of its open door policy. Once a place for rough and tumble bikers, it has mellowed over the years and is even more famous now for its yearly salacious coleslaw wrestling event.

A local artist from Daytona Beach and University of Florida Graduate, Don W. Emery (1947-1992) painted this realistic depiction of the venerable Soptonicks in 1960 titled, Sopotnik’s Tavern (ca. 1960). The amazing fact is it looks the same today as it did when it was painted fifty-five years ago. No additions, color changes, or alterations to the surrounding environment have occurred. The classic white color with black trim still dominates the structure today. Emery places a blue pickup truck in the parking lot. If you look closely at the painting, the stop sign shows evidence of two distinct bullet holes, obviously from someone’s wild night out in Samsula.

Harry Louis Freund; Life on the River, ca. 1960, oil on board

Life on the River

Harry Louise Freund (1905-1999) was employed as a Works Progress Association (WPA) painter and became a specialist in murals and American Scene Painting, creating images on canvas showing typical American life and landscape in a naturalistic and descriptive style. In 1949, Freund became a professor at Stetson University and taught there until 1967. In his painting titled, Life on the River (ca. 1960), he shows us a dark and mysterious St. John’s River. Two fishermen, framed by a red marker and wood pylon, are departing a dock headed out for a day of fishing on the north-flowing river. Most likely these fishermen had high hopes of capturing one of Florida’s most popular freshwater game fish, the Largemouth Bass. Bass live in almost every body of fresh water. They also occupy brackish to freshwater habitats, including upper estuaries, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and ponds. The Largemouth Bass is commonly 12 inches but can grow as large as 24 inches.   The St. John’s River historically has been the bass fishing capital of Florida.

Dr. Henry Eugene Fritz; St. Paul's Catholic Church Daytona, Florida, ca. 1940, oil on board

St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Daytona Beach, Florida

German-born artist Dr. Henry Eugene Fritz (1875-1956) studied in Germany and at Columbia University in New York City where he received a Doctor of Pedagogy. During his lifetime he exhibited in New York City and Sarasota. He painted landscapes and city scenes in New England, the Carolinas, and Florida. In one of his Florida visits just after his retirement in 1940, he painted St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Daytona, Florida (ca. 1940). Daytona Beach's first Catholics moved to the area in 1881 and celebrated mass in private homes. A few times a year, priests traveled from DeLand and Daytona and the area became a mission of St. Teresa Church in Titusville in 1886. The Rev. John F. O’Boyle became the first resident priest in Daytona Beach in 1895. In 1925, the Rev. William J. Mullally came to Daytona and built the only Catholic school between St. Augustine and Palm Beach. When the mission revival church was built in 1927, it was the tallest building on the mainland and was the first building to have central heat and air.

The collection at the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art includes the work of many artists inspired by Volusia County. These pieces are an important part of the collection because they are not only images of our history, but reinforce the uniqueness of our area. They showcase the cultural history, local customs, and the social diversity of our county, as well as allowing the viewer to develop a new appreciation of the landscapes and historical buildings. They show the social context of a community which is an essential foundation for developing and building the sense of place.

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