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Florida Art Museums are Cool – Let’s Visit

Florida Art Museums are Cool – Let’s Visit

September in Florida can be cruel. An early morning breeze caresses our cheeks like a lover’s touch and then bam! An hour later the thrill of fall is gone, replaced by yet another hot day and humid night – enough already!

So here is your September survival plan – stay in air conditioning a little longer. But don’t do this at home. Head for your nearest Florida art museum. Seriously. The AC is turned on. Florida art museums have exciting exhibits you don’t want to miss. Gift shops are loaded with temptations. An art museum café is a great place for taking a food break.

Sounds like a plan. I beat the heat and head to St. Petersburg to see the special Escher exhibit (Aug. 22, 2015 through Jan. 3, 2016) at the Dali Museum.

Florida art museum, Dali window view, St. Petersburg
View of St. Pete waterfront from the second floor of the Dali Museum. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Escher has long fascinated me. His intricate playing with positive and negative space (birds flying one way with the spaces being birds flying the other way) makes the viewer wonder – how many levels of reality are there? Good question.

The Escher exhibit is included in the price of admission to the Dali. I recommend the free audio guides. Museum hours are 10-5 with extended hours on Thursday (10-8). Parking onsite costs $10 for non-members but there are nearby surface lots and street parking too.

Close by on Beach Drive the venerable Museum of Fine Arts has a visiting exhibit called Five Decades of Photography (June 20 through Oct. 4) and another one called 50 Artworks for 50 Years. Notice a lot of “5’s” in the titles? That is because in 2015 MFA celebrates 50 years as a Florida art museum.

See the admission page for fees. MFA is open Monday through Friday from 10-5, Thursday from 10-8 and Sunday from noon -5.

Come back to MFA for a launch party on Oct. 21 when, as part of their anniversary celebration, they will launch a new cookbook called Food and Art, their first new cookbook in 40 years.

Over the Skyway to a Unique Art Museum

Just over the Skyway Bridge in Sarasota is the famed Ringling Museum of Art. Admission prices vary. On Mondays the museum is free while admission is required for other buildings on the grounds such as the circus museum. John and Mable Ringling, of circus fame, traveled widely, collected wildly and brought home every bit of Europe they could carry. The result – an exciting, restless collection of buildings that house in depth collections and changing exhibits.

Florida art museum, statue, Ringling Museum, Sarasota
A statue in the courtyard of the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

One current exhibit called Back and Forth: Thinking in Paint (Aug. 14-Oct. 25) is a dialog between contemporary painting by the faculty of Florida State University and the Ringling’s permanent collection.

Florida Art Museum Buildings Are Worth Exploring

Buildings housing Florida art museums get a lot of attention. The Dali museum building and grounds, modern and playful in the Dali “look at me” spirit, can be a destination in itself but what’s inside is even better than the outside.

The same is true of the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine. The setting is the former Hotel Alcazar built in 1887 by railroad magnate Henry M. Flagler. It is grand, elegant, meant to be a showpiece. And it works – inside and out.


Florida art museum - Lightner Museum, St. Augustine
Lightner Museum, St. Augustine. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Chicago publisher Otto Lightner bought the building in 1946 to house his extensive collection of 19th century life, often called “The Gilded Age”. Wander all three floors of the old hotel. Rooms are filled with cut glass, Victorian art glass, costumes, furnishings, paintings and my personal favorite – a section with the stained glass work of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Admission prices vary. The Lightner Museum is open every day (but Christmas) fro 9-5. Last admission is at 4 p.m.

Museum Galleries Galore in Gainesville

In Gainesville the Historic Thomas Center occupies a former private residence and hotel built in Mediterranean Revival Style. The popular center has galleries in rooms with high ceilings and lovely light. The current exhibit is Beauty and the Beasts (June 26-September 19). To know more, contact Russell Etling, cultural affairs manager, at 352-393-8532 or visit www.gvlculturalaffairs.org.

The Harn Museum of Art on the University of Florida campus offers rotating exhibits in well-appointed galleries. It is a year for birthdays. The Harn is celebrating its 25th birthday.

Admission is free. Open Tuesday – Friday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday, 1 – 5 p.m. Open the second Thursday evening of each month from 6 – 9 p.m. for Museum Nights. The Museum is closed on Mondays and state holidays. The Harn Museum Store is open during museum hours.

Downstairs at the Harn is the Camellia Court Café, a lovely spot for a light lunch or coffee break.

At the other end of the art museum building spectrum, the Morse Museum of American Art in downtown Winter Park occupies a building so bland it could pass for generic office space. Looks are deceiving. The inside is pretty exciting.

Florida Art Museum - Morse Museum of Art, Winter Park
Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park, Florida. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

The collection of work by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) includes jewelry, paintings, pottery, leaded glass lamps and windows. There is no other Tiffany collection this comprehensive anywhere.

Best of all (in my humble opinion) is the recreation of his chapel interior for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Admission varies. Museum hours are 9:30–4:00 Tuesday through Saturday (Open until 8:00 p.m. Friday, November through April and 1:00–4:00 Sunday. Closed Monday and most major holidays

Note: During the month of September holders of Sunrail tickets – show your tickets and get free admission.

There is an air-conditioned Florida art museum near you. Here is Artcyclopedia’s list of Florida art museums with both fine art collections and an online presence.

More To Explore

Art and Food Go Together in Puerto Vallarta

Discover Downtown St. Petersburg

Venice is a Vision Worth Visiting


Winter Park Puts a Smile in Your Step

Winter Park Puts a Smile in Your Step

Want to put a smile in your step?

Spend a Saturday in Winter Park. Yep. Saturday. Why? Because it is Farmer’s Market Day. Every Saturday an encampment of tents fan out in a tight cluster around the old train station in historic downtown Winter Park.

When you arrive, bring an appetite for surprises.

Farmers Market in Winter Park full of Surprises

bromeliads at Farmers Market, Winter Park, Florida
Bromeliads – so many choices at Winter Park Saturday Farmers Market. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

The first surprise is the surplus of color. Sure some of the color is produce but mostly it is plants. Plants everywhere. Flamboyant orchids, rows of marigolds, butterfly friendly pentas plus succulents in artful arrangements. Add bushels of bromeliads, vegetables, cut flowers, impatiens blooming in many colors and did I mention pots of climbing vines and trees? Oh yes, you can carry home a young Southern magnolia tree. See, I told you this Saturday market would be surprising.

Howard Jacobson presides over tables full of dehydrated fruits and all kinds of nuts. While he praises the anti-oxidant qualities of a fruit mix to a young couple, people of all ages line up to buy his products including a medley of dried fruits so visually attractive they look like fresh fruit recently sliced.

Howard Jacobson at Farmers Market in Winter Park, Florida
Howard Jacobson weighs his famous veggie chips at Winter Park Saturday Farmers Market. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Nearby vendors have homemade soap, honey produced by local bees, organic produce, handmade pasta and jewelry. Like most farmers’ markets, this is cash and check only place, most don’t take credit cards. There is an ATM machine nearby.

Inside the old train station are more vendors Added pluses of being inside are the fact it is blissfully air-conditioned and the restrooms are found here.

Davis Bakery & Co. inside the train station does a brisk business making bagel sandwiches stuffed with eggs, bacon you name it. Nearby is a table full of cookies, all sinfully decadent including bite size pecan pies. Partner a pecan pie bite or a bagel with coffee from the coffee stand inside the train station and life is good indeed.

Downtown Winter Park invites walkers, browsers, buyers, movie goers

Downtown Winter Park owes much of its lovely landscaping and laid back elegant feel to Charles Hosmer Morse, born on September 23, 1833 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. He is a co-founder of the City of Winter Park. Morse (1833-1921) is also one of the first trustees of Rollins College here in Winter Park and the Morse Museum of American Art is named after him

A long linear park, beautifully landscaped, sits next to the train tracks and across from the new train station. While most Florida towns have turned their train stations into museums, Winter Park has a new train station that actually works and is part of the SunRail system.

The park, named Central Park, is described as “one of his (Morse’s) many benedictions.”

Central Park in Winter Park
A sample of sidewalk landscaping at Central Park, Winter Park. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

On Thursday, June 12 at 8 p.m. show up at downtown Central Park with your blanket or folding chair, heck, bring the whole family and a picnic basket – for the Popcorn Flicks a free showing of the movie “Toy Story” in the park. Popcorn is free too. Rain date is June 26. For more information call 407-629-0054.

Another benediction for your visit can be strolling up and down Park Avenue, right across from the park. The street is shaded by trees and loaded with shops both eclectic and upscale plus a United Nations of culinary cuisines.

Don’t overlook the entryways to courtyards along the way – like the hidden garden  courtyard with a gurgling fountain,Bistro restaurant with outdoor seating, and the Ancient Olive where olive oil tasting is a satisfying way to select your next olive oil.

Winter Park restaurants are dog friendly

Winter Park - interior courtyard
Hidden garden interior courtyard, Park Avenue, Winter Park. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Park Avenue restaurants are dog friendly with lots of outdoor seating and plentiful water bowls. Business also put dog bowls outside.

Be sure to step inside the Spice and Tea Exchange. Take a deep breath. The spice smells are intoxicating. Time to buy tea.

Speaking of tasting, consider taking a cooking class at Williams- Sonoma on Park Avenue. During the month of June they have a class on Wednesday, June 11 featuring the Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook (class fee included the book). On Wednesday, June 18 join them for a rustic Italian feast.

In addition Williams-Sonoma has two technique classes in June, both are free but seating is limited. Reservations recommended. Classes are Eat Your Meat on June 8 and Classic Summertime Grilling on June 22.

For ages 8-12 sign up for William-Sonoma Junior Chef Classes, free on June 7, 21 and June 28.

Winter Park - dogs enjoy outdoor restaurant dining
Restaurants on Park Avenue in Winter Park had dog friendly seating outdoors. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

With all the possibilities consider a few vacation days here – check into the Park Plaza Hotel built in 1922. Put on your walking shoes and funky straw hat, do the Park Avenue walk and visit the Morse Museum of American Art with its breathtaking collection of Tiffany glass and the reconstructed chapel interior he created for the 1893 World’s Columbian Expo in Chicago – that’s for starters.

Then, weather permitting, take an hour-long boat ride on the Winter Park chain of lakes – do note that the pontoon boats are small and have no awnings.

All of these adventures are within easy walking distance of each other. During a recent Saturday morning visit, free parking for four hours in a downtown lot next to the Winter Park Farmer’s Market was more than enough time to visit the market, walk Park Avenue and see the Morse Museum.

A little further afield, stroll the grounds of Rollins College, founded in 1885 by New England Congregationalists. Rollins College is located at 1000 Holt Avenue. The Cornell Fine Arts Museum on campus has free admission for all of 2014 thanks to the Bessemer Trust. Hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. closed on Mondays. Summer exhibits include Allure of Ancient Rome: Old Master Prints and drawings through August 31, 2014 and the 2014 Rollins Faculty exhibition until August 31.

Winter Park is located 20 minutes north of Orlando.

The Details

Winter Park Saturday Farmer’s Market – 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday at 200 West New England Avenue. Contact City of Winter Park (407) 599-3397. The market closes the third Saturday every March for the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival.

Morse Museum of American Art – 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1-4 p.m. on Sunday, closed Mondays. Located at 445 North Park Avenue.
Admission: $5 adults, $4 seniors, $1 students. From November through April, the Morse is open until 8 p.m. on Fridays and admission is free from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on those Fridays.

Boat Ride -18 passenger pontoon boats with Scenic Boat Tours located at 312 E. Morse Blvd call (407) 644-4056. Tours last one hour and leave on the hour. Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed Christmas day. Cash or checks only. Adults: $12, Children 2-11 pay $6, under the age of two ride free.


The Florida Society For Ethical Ecotourism  

holds its annual meeting on June 27-28 at Four Points by Sheraton in Punta Gorda and I’ll be speaking at 2 p.m. on Saturday during the conference. You don’t have to be a member to attend.


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