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Road Trip Murals Gardens and Birds

I went back to Ft Myers again this year for a month of painting. Of course I can never visit a place and not look around too. And I can never drive by Savannah without taking a few photos and stopping at Dick Blick Art Supply.

Like last year this month is my time to work on my oil paintings, becoming more comfortable with the medium. I did do several successful (In my opinion!) oils paintings this year, I still don’t feel like I’ve gotten to where I want to go with them. Where is that? I’d like them to be a little more exciting. I’ll always paint architecture and gardens but want to work on my color.

If you subscribe to my blog posts you already saw some of the oil and cold wax paintings I did in a workshop in Ft Myers. Here are a few more.

I set off to meet a friend in the Everglades for an afternoon of observing nature and painting and on my way I stopped at the Naples Botanical Gardens. I had been there shortly after it opened 10 years ago and was thrilled with the difference. It wasn’t much then but is beautiful now.

I met my friend on the loop road. I’ve driven by the entrance to that road many times but had never driven it. The road is 25 miles long, is dirt 3/4 of the way, and generally the south side is wet and the north side is much drier. In a very few place you can see what the Everglades once was. Pretty much anything anyone could do to destroy it was done. Canals dug to drain it, fire burning a million acres, a dyke around Lake Ocachobee not allowing water to flow from it. The Everglades today receives less than one-third of its historic water flow, the water is contaminated by fertilizer and other runoff, and the wetlands are half the size they were when the federal government started its draining projects in the 1920s. At one point orchid hunters went in and removed entire trees filled with orchids, put them on ships and sent them to Europe. Logging and so many things have contributed to the demise of the Everglades, yet it is still a beautiful place.

I continued on to Miami to the Fairchild Botanical Gardens. It is named after one of the most famous plant explorers in history, David Fairchild (1869-1954). Dr. Fairchild traveled the world in search plants. As a young man he created the Section of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction of the United States Department of Agriculture, and for the next 37 years, he traveled the world in search of plants of potential use to the American people. He visited every continent in the world (except Antarctica) and brought back hundreds of important plants, including mangos, alfalfa, nectarines, dates, cotton, soybeans, bamboos and the flowering cherry trees that line the basin in Washington D.C.

He retired to Miami in 1935 and joined a group of plant collectors and horticulturists and together they created Fairchild Botanical Garden. It’s 83 acres were opened to the public for the first time in 1938. There is an Amphitheater, Library and Museum, 11 lakes that were dug by the CCC, A Science Building, an Arts Center, a Butterfly House and Tropical Plant Conservatory, and many more buildings. Their collection of plants is astonishing, their Palm collection is one of the things they are most famous for, but the part of the garden I am in love with is the Rainforest. I was the first ticket sold in the morning and I was able to wander in this part of the garden by myself for quite a while. I could have sworn I was in the jungle. It’s usually the flowers I am interested in but this time it was the trees and lush growth.

The Garden is divided into 2 distinct parts, where the lakes and palms are is called the lowlands, only inches above sea level, and the highlands where the buildings are and the rainforest (and other gardens) is the highlands, about 17 feet above sea level. The lowlands gets flooded in hurricanes so most things planted there can withstand being covered in salt water for a few days. I did not know that the Banyon Tree and the Ficus Tree are from the same family. Our guide Nancy Cliff was outstanding. She also told us that the influx of the iguana is fairly new, over the past 10 years their numbers have really grown in south Florida with them coming up from Mexico and South America.

They had just finished the new paved walks in the Garden and in many places the leaves they used to impress designs in the concrete were still there.

I saw a lot of public art in Miami but the traffic was so bad, and the parking, that I was going to give up until I decided to check out Wynwood. The neighborhood was previously an industrial district and had gone through 100 years of boom and bust. In the 90s it was in a low period and, as often happens, the art and some developers with vision made something out of it. On the way there I drove through some pretty sketchy neighborhoods and was pleased when I saw the sign …

…and the streets there were crawling with people, mostly young people. And there is barely a surface that doesn’t have art on it. I would say there are a several hundred murals. Sometimes I feel I live under a rock. This neighborhood has been developing for the past 10 years and is internationally known, except to me until now.

Wynwood was referred to as “Little San Juan” at one point, from its beginning 100 years ago the neighborhood has been up and down and until the art started happening it has been in its down period. Early in the 2000s there was a little investment with abandoned warehouses becoming occupied by artists, restaurants and lounges. A developer, Tony Goldman, assisted in the growth of Wynwood by creating a mecca out of the already present graffiti.  In 2009, Goldman commissioned artists to create the Wynwood Walls. Located in the Wynwood Art District, this is an outdoor exhibition of rotating street art.

In 2010, the abandoned Wynwood Free Trade Zone, at 2235 NW 5th Avenue, was reconverted into a working film studio.

Back in N Ft Myers I finished a watercolor I had started 2 years ago!

I went to a lecture about the Burrowing Owls found in Cape Coral, the largest population of the Florida species of the Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia floridana) in the State, with an estimated 1000 nesting pair.

At only 5-8.5 ounces and 7.5-11 inches tall, the Burrowing Owl is one of the smallest of all the owls, and of the 171 species of owls worldwide, the only owl that lives underground.  Unlike the Western species of the Burrowing Owl (athene cunicularia hypugaea) that lives in abandoned prairie dog burrows, here in Florida our Burrowing Owls dig their own burrows.  Cape Coral has upwards of 2500 burrows within the City limits, but not all of them are actively being used by owls. (from the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife Website).

They are so easy to see and photograph. Just look for white stakes surrounding the burrows. Why do they like Cape Coral? Because of the way the city was built. Land speculators come in 1956, totally cleared the 100 sq miles that make up the city and dug canals, leaving a barren landscape, just what these owls like. If you drive around the neighborhoods there are a lot of empty lots so the burrows are easy to see. During the breeding season the entrance to the burrow may contain adornments such as paper, shells, glass, pieces of plastic, animal fecal material, clumps of grass, animal parts, or other items. The best time to see them is at dawn and dusk. I was there in the middle of the day, saw one guy, who quickly disappeared then I saw the dust fly, he was working on his burrow.

This is about the time the Virus alarm really started to wail. Art shows cancelled, lots of thing closed. Time to make more art. Next post more Florida (all outdoor stuff), and more art. Feel lucky to be an artist when confined for a long period of time. There is never enough time to make art. Stay safe everyone and wash your hands. If you are new to this site here is my story.