At a venue like the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, it’s not always just about the art. London Amara’s Chaos exhibition, for example, left one viewer so curious about the history of the art center that he brought back his entire FGCU class for a lecture and tour by Davis founder and CEO Jim Griffith.
The viewer in question is Professor Andrew Wilkinson. He teaches a course at Florida Gulf Coast University titled “Colloquium.” One of the many goals of the course is for students to learn a sense of place within the Southwest Florida community.
Wilkinson attended the opening reception for the Chaos exhibition on May 3 and was as enthralled with the history and significance of the building as by Amara’s black-and-white paintings that display explosive lines, drips and splatters balanced with carefully controlled gestural movements in India ink, handmade charcoals, water based enamels and graphite.
Jim Griffith was only too happy to oblige Wilkinson’s request to bring his class to the art center for a tour and lecture, and on May 22 he regaled Wilkinson’s equally inquisitive FGCU students with stories of the art center’s historic past.
The building sits on the site of a former settlement of Calusa Indians. In 1841, the federal government built a redoubt named Fort Harvie on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River, and the officers’ quarters were located where the SBDAC now stands. That fort was expanded and renamed Fort Myers in 1850 in order to round up and deport Florida’s remaining Seminole Indians to reservations in Oklahoma. The fort was manned by Union soldiers in December of 1863 in order to prevent area cattlemen from supplying the Confederacy and blockade runners with steers, meat, hides and tallow, and wood from the fort and the officers quarters in particular was used by settlers including cattleman Francis Asbury Hendry to build the town in the years following the Civil War’s end.
During the Depression, the Works Project Administration decided to use the location for a new federal post office, and the WPA commissioned prominent Florida architect Nat Gaillard Walker to design the facility. The building’s neoclassical revival style of architecture was used four years later by John Russell Pope for the design of the Jefferson Memorial.
The federal government built a new post office at another location in 1965 and converted the building into a federal courthouse. In the process, they regrettably removed or covered over many of the unique architectural features that Nat Gaillard Walker had included in the interior. And when the federal judiciary also moved to another location in 1998, the people in charge of the building turned off the power and locked the doors. Water found its way inside and dripped down the walls. Woodwork split. Plaster fell. Drop ceilings sagged. Mold grew unchecked in the non-ventilated interior. And Nat Gaillard Walker’s stately building fell into seemingly hopeless disrepair.
But two years later, the City of Fort Myers purchased the building from the federal government and leased it for 99 years to Florida Arts, Inc. with a mandate that Florida Arts restore the building and convert it into a cultural arts center.
“When the federal courthouse building became available,” recalls SBDAC Chairman and CEO Jim Griffith, “it just said ‘art center’ all over it. I paid the rent for the entire 99-year term in advance.”
Notwithstanding the economic downturn that began in 2007, Griffith and Florida Arts, Inc. raised approximately $3.2 million of the estimated $6 million needed for the massive restoration project through 2011, completing most of the restoration required on the first floor of the 23,000 square-foot building. On April 20, 2012, Florida Arts announced that the Art Center had received a $650,000 Cultural Facilities Grant from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs which is expected to translate into $1.2 million in capital improvements with matching funds and additional support from the community. The funds will enable the Art Center to complete its second and third story renovations and create a permanent home for art and theater classes, workshops and working studios.
As an added bonus, artist London Amara made a guest appearance and shared insights with Wilkinson and his Colloquium class about her 43-piece exhibition and the Chaos Theory that underlies the collection.
Chaos Theory postulates that even small changes in a system can result in very large changes in that system’s current behavior. Perhaps Ian Malcolm explained it best when he told Dr. Ellie Sattler during their aborted tour of Jurassic Park that it’s the Butterfly Effect. “A butterfly can flap its wings in Peking, and in Central Park you get rain instead of sunshine.”
Chaos Theory is used today to study everything from the stock market, to rioting crowds, to brain waves during epilepsy. And thanks to avant garde thinkers like London Amara, it is now being applied to art.
Which appealed to Wilkinson, who has a Bachelor of Science and Masters in Chemical and Environmental Toxicology and has studied Chaos Theory a time or two himself. In addition to teaching, the FGCU professor is also published, having co-authored “Harnessing time travel narratives for environmental sustainability education” for the 2012 book Learning for Sustainability in Times of Accelerating Change.
London Amara is an American born visual artist recognized for her large-scale industrial, gestural and metaphoric sculpture, paintings and drawings. Educated in Fine Arts at Columbus College of Art and Design, she uses a varied practice of installation, sculpture, painting and drawing to explore the complex relationship between art, life, death and resurrection of enlightened hope and grace. She has been a professional artist since 2000, taught courses and has exhibited her work in Fort Myers, Naples, Sanibel, Tampa, and Columbus, Ohio.
Amara was recently commissioned by the Tampa Bay Lightning to create a work of art commemorating team captain Vincent Lecavalier’s 1,000 professional hockey game. Her 10 x 7 foot assemblage consisting of 1,000 hockey pucks can be seen at the Box Office at The Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa.
Amara’s work can be viewed at www.LondonAmara.com or on Facebook.