By Ryan Buffa | email@example.com
Photo by Julie Dickover
Often lost in the vast history of the Nation’s Oldest City is that the region has a Native American history just as rich as that of Spanish colonization and the legacy of Henry Flagler.
“Before and After 1565” is a participatory exhibit that seeks to better explore and understand that indigenous past. Contemporary artist Harrell Fletcher, Crisp-Ellert director Julie Dickover, local archeologists and Flagler College students joined together to create an interactive exhibit to bring this history to the public.
“The thing that sets this exhibition apart from what we’ve shown in the past, is that instead of being a traditional, object-based exhibition of one artist’s work, it is an accumulation of a collaborative effort to learn more about the Native American and indigenous history of the area,” Dickover said.
In the Crisp-Ellert museum, the gallery includes many paintings, ledger drawings, photographs, ceramics and artifacts that serve as a window to the past of St. Augustine’s indigenous people. Several pieces of this collection are gathered from various sources such as the City of Saint Augustine, UNF and the GTM Research Reserve as well as other items from the the Castillo de San Marcos, the Saint Augustine Historical Society and the Florida Public Archeology Network.
In the next room, a viewer is welcome to sit and watch a short film of Fletcher’s experiences of finding and collecting the artifacts found throughout the gallery.
For someone like Fletcher who had never visited the nation’s Oldest City, it would be easy to absorb the rich history of the Spanish colonization, Henry Flagler and Ponce de Leon. A newcomer would have to dig a little deeper, literally and figuratively, into the past to learn more about life in St. Augustine before 1565.
“Since there had been such a long European Colonial dynamic in the area I was curious about how that had impacted the indigenous population, and of course it was a disaster for the natives,” Fletcher said.
“I wanted to use the opportunity of the project to learn more about the native history and to make that available to the public in various ways,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher brings this history through different viewer interactions, such as the trolley tours and the “Black Drink” stand. Art and history go hand in hand throughout this project, as the art is the viewer’s experience of the Native American history.
The “Black Drink” stand features a tea-like beverage that the Native Americans made from the Yaupon Holly plant found throughout St. Augustine. This plant can actually be found about 20 feet away outside the Crisp-Ellert museum and grows as an ornamental shrub.
To Fletcher, this plant is one of the more interesting discoveries found through this project. “The fact that the plant is native and so available all over the area including in town, and that it can be used to make a great drink is really amazing to me,” Fletcher said. “I hope that by bringing greater awareness to the plant and its history that it might encourage more people to use it.”
The trolley tour has been recreated specifically for this project and will present a tour to several sites in St. Augustine, as contributors who committed research on specific topics and professionals in the field discuss Native American history and lifestyle.
One presenter, Flagler College student Eileen Pagan, will be discussing an important 18th century Native American figure who lived on Spanish street. Pagan also researched the status, role and sex in the Mestizaje tribe.
“In many indigenous tribes gender was not identifiable by just the two binary genders we have in society today. There were male and female but also hundreds of other genders in between. Gender was, and is, fluid,” Pagan said.
After contributing to this project, Pagan said her view on St. Augustine historical culture has changed completely.
“Living in St. Augustine, the part of history we usually find relating ourselves to are the later years after the Spanish had colonized the land,” Pagan said. “You never really hear the other point of view from the indigenous people and how they lived before, during and after the integration between the two cultures.”
“It was amazing to learn about the indigenous tribes that lived on the same land we live on now and about their culture. I realized how much space as a community we take up and how that space has changed since,” Pagan said.
Despite all the research and facts presented along with the historical findings, Pagan believes the exhibit is still very much an art in itself.
“I think the exhibit is interactive and relational. There’s a lot of history and it is presented in a way where the viewer can learn and also interact and process that information through interaction with one another and with the actual exhibit. The process is art,” said Pagan.
Dickover believes that the exhibit can appeal to people and students from all areas of interests, ranging from art and social practice to history and archeology.
“The entire project from conception to realization is an art project,” Dickover said. “Rather than creating paintings or sculpture, the social interaction (and all that entails) is the artwork.”
According to Fletcher, depending on the viewer’s definition of art, the exhibit can offer many different experiences.
“If you think of art in a limited way as only painting and sculpture then my work probably wouldn’t be art for you,” Fletcher said. “But if you can think of it in a more expanded form, one that really gives freedom to the artist to work in whatever way they want then my projects would fit with that.”
Friday, September 7:
@ 5 – 9pm: Exhibition and Black Drink Stand open to the public for Art Walk
@ 6 – 7pm: Trolley tour of Native American and Indigenous sites presented by Carl Hilbert, City Archeologist, Beth Maycumber, Historian, Megan Brown, Flagler History/Archeology student and Dr. Keith Ashley, UNF Professor and Archeologist, and Joan Kramer, Native Plant enthusiast
If you are interested in joining the trolley tour, please RSVP to 826-8530 firstname.lastname@example.org.