Florida’s Art Tradition - Chapter 2
Art of the Colonial and Territorial Periods
1513 - 1845
From the time of discovery by Ponce de Leon in 1513 until Spain relinquished all claims to Florida in 1821, there was relatively little art produced except for maps and botanical illustrations.Spanish Florida had little in the way of inducements to offer artists of the day. Used to a more genteel environment few made their way to the Florida frontier.
One who braved the wilds was Mark Catesby, an Englishman and self taught naturalist who came to America in 1721 to write and illustrate a book The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. Catesby was one of the first to illustrate animals and birds in their natural habitat. Following Catesby was William Bartram, a Pennsylvania Quaker who came to Florida in 1774. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, Bartram’s work represented the most reliable source of information about the flora and fauna of Florida. Although Bartram wrote about the Indians who are now called Seminole that were filtering down into Florida from the Carolinas and Alabama he apparently left no pictorial record of them.
Foremost among the artists/naturalists who visited Florida was John James Audubon. In 1812 he traveled the eastern coastline as far south as Key West. Although Audubon’s ultimate life goal was to create an exhaustive artistic record of all the birds of North America his foray into Florida produced an accurate and artistic record of much of the states bird life. Audubon was an insightful person. He realized that the work he produced would be important because no artist who came after him would have the same opportunity to see things as he had seen them. A fact that also influences the contemporary artists working in Florida now.
Another artist worthy of note who was working slightly after Florida had transitioned from colony to Territory was George Washington Sully. Worthy because he may have been the only true resident of Florida who was producing art in this early period,ca 1830. It is not known whether Sully had any formal art training but it is known that he was the nephew of Thomas Sully, an American portrait artist of some renown. The period also produced the Seminole Wars. The most notable and dramatic of which was the second Seminole War, 1835-1842. Artists like George Catlin and Charles Bird King were inspired to paint the Seminole chiefs and warriors by the reports of their bravery and courage that must have filtered out of the swamps and hammocks of Florida. Thanks to these artists we have a visual record of men like Osceola and Micanopy.