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The Cummer Offers a New Take on Art

When I was five, I always imagined I would grow up and become an artist. I enrolled in classes and camps until I was ten focused on improving and teaching me artistic technique. Growing up, every year my grandparents would give me art kits with paints, crayons, pencils and pastels to paint with.

My creative edge in the painting department waned. As I grew up, I lost the ability (or realized I might not have ever had it) to paint.  But I never grew tired of looking at art, and figured visiting an art museum in Jacksonville was something I should definitely do.

So I made my way over to the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, after visiting their website and discovering the free admission on Tuesdays from 4pm to close.

I marched straight to the Gardens to see them before the sun began to set.  They are beautiful, to say the least, and back up to the St. Johns River.  The breathtaking site features three gardens with a lower and upper tier.

I walked out onto the upper tier and was confronted with a large tree draped in Spanish moss and the St. Johns River perhaps 100 feet away.  The large tree turned out to be the Cummer Oak, with a 150 foot canopy. It is one of Jacksonville’s oldest trees -- between 175 to 200 years old.

The English Garden to the right featured many different (and beautiful) plants and flowers.  Azaleas graced the brick walkways with a “wisteria arbor.”

The Italian Garden features two reflecting pools and fountain, purchased from Italy. Next to it, the Olmstead garden.  The Olmstead firm is mentioned multiple times in signs around the gardens, citing their input into the garden’s designs.  And I found that garden, currently under renovation, particularly interesting.  North Carolina is home to the Biltmore Estate, America’s largest home, and the Olmstead firm is responsible for designing all grounds of the 125,000 foot estate.

After more meandering through the gardens, I headed inside. The galleries feature original paintings by Winslow Homer and an original sketch by Pablo Picasso.

Currently, Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens is celebrating the history of Jazz music with the “Jazz ABZ: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits by Paul Rogers with poems by Wynton Marsalis” exhibit and “Collectors’ Choice: Works of Art from Jacksonville Collections” exhibit.

The Jazz exhibit was fun to tour. Hanging on the walls were portraits of Jazz greats like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong. The accompanying poems were humorous and added to the artwork. My personal favorite poem accompanied the Miles Davis portrait, as it described the singer using words that started with his initials, “M” and “D.”

My overall favorite exhibit of the day was the Collectors Choice.  The room was filled with paintings and works from various artists and brief bio’s of the locals who collect them.  One of the most incredible paintings in the gallery was of peonies (one of my favorite flowers) and I was immediately attracted to the huge pink petals.

Another standout piece in the collection was not a painting, but rather a photograph.

The poignant picture looked like three grandmas smiling like they know best. It grabbed my attention because I recognized a similar smile on the face of my mother and grandmother growing up.

The three women are standing close together and have similar features.

After taking another look, I noticed the tattoos that graced each forearm in the exact same spot: an “A” followed by numbers, which went up a digit on each sister.  The picture was entitled “Three Sisters” and was of three sisters who survived the Holocaust.

If ever traveling down Riverside Avenue, stop in at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. Especially if it’s Tuesday, a free day, for a lot of fun and definitely worth the trip. I hope to go back to the museum, even if I do have to pay.

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Mary Elizabeth Robertson is a journalism student spending her summer on the First Coast. She'll be interning for the Jacksonville Observer and writing a twice-weekly column about her experiences called New Girl in Town.

Got a suggestion for something thing Mary Elizabeth should try?  Post a comment below!

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