Road Trip: Maitland Art & History Museums

 J. André Smith

J. André Smith

A road trip is one of my favorite things. Depending on where you live, a completely different experience is usually available within an hour's drive. One recent Friday evening trip, led me to the Maitland Art Center, part of the Maitland Art & History Museums. Maitland is in the center of Florida, outside of Orlando and a neighbor of Winter Park.

On the Center’s calendar that night was Culture Pop! Celebrating A&H’s Artists-in-Residence. More than the opening of an exhibition, Culture Pop! offered a full sensory experience: video and visual art, music staged under a grand oak, food and beverage, all located in an enclave of historic buildings that house exhibit space and artist studios.

 "The Drawing Studio, A Radiohead Blue Edit", Dan L. Hess

"The Drawing Studio, A Radiohead Blue Edit", Dan L. Hess

Among the contemporary works, a multi-media site specific installation created by Dan L. Hess was mesmerizing. The borders of the installation were taped defining a room. The "room" was furnished with a twin bed and candelabras, a looping video played on a screen. The entire space was strewn with artwork. An underlying artwork, dark and massive in scale, gave the appearance of a rug.

Titled “The Drawing Studio, A Radiohead Blue Edit”, the installation artworks scattered throughout are all Hess's works. Each viewer should draw their own conclusion of the work, but the darkness contributes to sense of  frustration or irritation. An individual piece of Hess's work, visible in the installation, refers to his feelings on "art fairs". Hess stated it was meant to reflect frustrations with oversized art fairs, where buyers and attendees have little or no engagement with the artist or the artwork. Hess states he likens the piece to “my defense of a beautiful women”.

Hess is one of Maitland’s Artist in Action resident artists. Artists in Action work in the four available studios but do not reside on the Maitland campus.  Maitland also offers an Artist in Residence Program. There are very few Museums or Art Centers in Florida with artist studios. Maitland is one of only three that I am aware.  The Maitland staff is currently working to expand their Artists in Action studio availability. The participating artists exhibit their Maitland inspired works in an onsite exhibition. On the evening I was there, Elysia Mann and Marydorsey Wanless were participating along with Hess.

  "All Vowels", Elysia Mann

"All Vowels", Elysia Mann

Elysia Mann's  work, titled "All Vowels" and completed during her Maitland residency,  highlights her fascination with the experience of reading. Mann considers herself “a modern scribe” and uses “text, type and book references in her artwork”.

Mann states, "The artworks pictured represent a comprehensive collection of objects I owned and didn’t want to live without. They create a portrait in time.” Some of the objects she no longer owns. As she began letting go of some of the objects, “the work also became about what was more important, the drawing or the object.” Each drawing also includes a psychological measurement scale Mann discovered. The ratings are arbitrary, but add another element for the viewer to gauge the importance of the object in the image.

Mann incorporates an exceptional amount of detail and meaning to her work, with little stories throughout.

 Marydorsey Wanless

Marydorsey Wanless

Marydorsey Wanless's artworks on display alternatively highlight and plot out the path of her walks through the campus of Maitland. One thousand pieces, pictured above, were created by photographic image transfers, images from her daily walks. An additional installation piece, based on the characteristic gates found throughout the Maitland campus utilizes an historical photographic process, gum bichromate,  and “captures the romantic essence of the art center."

Wanless is an exceptional artist long committed to this historic process.  While the small tiles are extraordinary, her larger individual artworks, not pictured here, are exceptional as well. See more of her art at a link here.

The Maitland Campus is romantic: the stone chapel, moss covered tiles and historic buildings. The studios center around green space; the casement windows, iron gates and large oaks covered in moss add to the atmosphere.

There is a sense of history to the campus, if you have been to Bok Tower, a sense of familiarity to the space. There was a friendship many years ago between the people and artists behind Maitland and Bok Tower. The friendship included renowned artist, Milton Avery. Avery's work is park of the collection at Maitland.

The Maitland Art & History Museum's history is available on their website link here, but this is a brief synopsis:  “The largest of the museums is the Maitland Art Center, formerly known as the Research Studio, founded in 1937 by visionary artist and architect J. André Smith (1880-1959.) The Research Studio benefitted from the generous financial support of philanthropist Mary Curtis Bok. The Research Studio was a lively colony that hosted artists of national prominence, including Milton Avery, Ralston Crawford, Doris Lee and many others. In 1969, the City of Maitland acquired the Research Studio whose buildings are an example of “Mayan Revival” architecture, one of the only remaining examples of fantasy architecture in the Southeastern U.S. The Research Studio, now known as Maitland Art Center, is home to a number of significant collections, including the artworks of its founder J. André Smith, Bok Fellows including Milton Avery, and contemporary Central Florida artists.”

Well worth a road trip.