Miami is celebrating Florida’s 500th anniversary with an exhibit illuminating the importance of Spain for its discovery of “La Florida” and immense influence on the state.
“Imagining La Florida: Juan Ponce de León and the Quest for the Fountain of Youth” opened May 31 at Miami Dade College’s Museum of Art + Design, and continues through Aug. 17.
The exhibit offers fresh perspective on Florida’s earliest known history, from Ponce de León’s discovering and naming “La Florida” in 1513, to Florida’s Spanish governor establishing America’s first free black settlement, Fort Mose, in 1738.
[Imagine, Florida, “land of flowers”, has the longest recorded history of all 50 states. Ponce de León’s landing predated English settlers landing in Jamestown, Virginia (1607) by 94 years, and in Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts (1620) by 107 years.]
“Imagining La Florida” is filled with imaginative items including:
- Replicas including a Spanish galleon Ponce de León sailed; the Apalachee Indian Council House at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee; and a 17th century church.
- Animated virtual tours of a 16th century neighborhood in Seville, Spain’s port of the Americas; of 16th century St. Augustine; Indian missions of San Sebastián and Nombre de Dios.
- Recreation of the 1546 painting “The Fountain of Youth” — ironically by Cranach the Elder — projected onto the museum’s floor.
- Short stories, narrated in English and Spanish, relating to the characters and events that helped shape Spain’s colonization of Florida.
The exhibit has four sections:
- Path into the Unknown
Beginning in Seville on the eve of departure, this section shows the galleon, navigational instruments, and information about the adventurers who joined such expeditions. An animated map is based on an original map from the General Archives of the Indies, in Seville.
- The Age of Exploration and Encounter
The second section focuses on Ponce de León’s first of several voyages to Florida; the diversity of Florida’s Indian populations at that time, including Apalachees, Tianos, Timucuas, Tequestas, Calusas, and Ais, to name a few, dating back to about 10,000 B.C.; and Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, the Spanish admiral who founded St. Augustine in 1565, the oldest permanent European settlement in the United States.
A replica of St. Augustine’s 1595 wooden fort was constructed from original 16th century illustrations.
- Europeans, Africans and Indians in La Florida
The third section highlights the complex struggle to create a society among Europeans, Africans (free and enslaved), and Indians.
Violent clashes occurred amid long periods of peaceful coexistence. The Calusas Indians shot poison-tipped arrows into Ponce de León when he returned to Florida in 1521 to colonize it for Spain. Mortally wounded, he sailed to the closest Spanish settlement, Cuba, where he died from the infected wound in his thigh.
In the 16th century, Jesuit and Franciscan missions spread from south Florida north to the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia.
And in the 18th century, Florida became the home of the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in the new nation. Fort Mose is now a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
- The Myth of the Fountain of Youth
The famed myth is explored in various classical genres from the 16th century, through today in popular culture, including illustrations and posters.
Washington Irving in 1831 wrote about Ponce de León and his elusive search for the fountain of youth. But Irving is better known for Rip van Winkle, who sleeps away his youth. Irving is less well-known for being our ambassador to Spain from 1842 to 1846.
Another notable inspired by the myth was poet and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who wrote “The Fountain of Youth” in 1873. In “the land of flowers”, “Here youth, unchanging blooms and smiles, Here dwells eternal spring…”
Although Ponce de León did not find the fountain of youth, you can, at Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa in Miami Beach.
So celebrate Florida’s 500th anniversary at the spa and at this exhibit and numerous other events throughout the U.S. and Canada. Here is a catalogue of the events, where smiles dwell, even if not youth and eternal spring.
For more info: “Imagining La Florida: Juan Ponce de León and the Quest for the Fountain of Youth, Miami Dade College, Museum of Art + Design, Freedom Tower, 600 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, Fla. May 31 through Aug. 17. Organized and produced by Acción Cultural Española (AC/E) in cooperation with Miami Dade College Museum of Art + Design. Embassy of Spain, www.spainculture.us. Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa in Miami Beach, http://www.canyonranch.com/miamibeach, 6801 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, Fla, 800-742-9000 or 305-514-7000.