A couple of weeks ago some friends and I decided to visit the Cummer Museum and Gardens in Jacksonville. It’s been a long time since any of us have been there. I had heard about the wonderful garden flamingo display, with topiaries made of begonias on flamingo-shaped frames. It was definitely worth the trip, but alas the flamingos had flown the coop at the end of June, so you readers have missed it this year.
But wow is there lots more to see at this museum! There are a number of permanent art installations, soothing gardens, special events and classes for one and all. On this particular trip, I got fascinated with insects. As a biologist, I am always looking at the life around us and in art museums; I usually seek out works that show the beauty and magnificence of nature. I was in luck with this visit. A temporary exhibit “Outside-In” that runs until the end of November showcases contemporary artwork that illustrates the natural world in a variety of media. Immediately upon entering this space, I was drawn to a large circle on the wall made of tiny black specks. Upon closer inspection, these specks were hundreds of small laser-cut black cardboard mosquitos, an effort by artist Frances Gallardo to show the complexity of the natural world. When I finished pondering this piece I moved on to another large circle on the opposite wall, this time made of resin-coated flies, as ugly as it sounds. Between these was a large painting depicting a huge landfill with garbage and junk that overshadows a quaint pastoral scene and then another exhibit space with even more thought-provoking nature pieces. If you are particularly interested in this display the museum is hosting a guided tour of the Outside-In exhibit this Saturday afternoon, July 15. Details are available on the Cummer website.
We three wandered through the rest of the museum, casually looking at artwork that caught our attention. But it wasn’t only the art that was interesting—the people there made it even more so. In one hall a new staff member was being toured around a section of the museum learning facts to tell visitors about some of the pieces, and we gals hung around to hear the information too. In a nearby room, a group of parents with preschool-aged kids were cheering in response to a teacher’s presentation about some artwork or another. Couples strolled by lost in their own world. Individual students were studying particular art pieces and making sketches. Everyone was engaged in the museum in their own way and it was fun to watch them.
But it was the gardens that really spoke to us. We strolled through the gardens, admiring the blooms and water features and views of the St. Johns River. When the summer heat got to us we found a perfect bench in the shade of the famous Cummer Oak, a sprawling live oak tree maybe 200 years old with massive branches spreading 75 feet or more from the base. It was fun for a while just enjoying the shade and river breezes while watching the birds and squirrels, and the myriad of epiphytic plants that called this tree home.
In the garden, while Betty and I were admiring the flamingos, the flowers and the views, Susan was taking a closer look at the blooms and was busy photographing the insects they attracted. It turns out the begonia flowers that formed the flamingos were full of bees and other flowers were attracting butterflies, even a checkered white butterfly that none of us had ever seen before.
We three gals had already discussed where we would end up for lunch – lunch being a key part of any outing of ours to Jacksonville. This time was Susan’s turn to choose, but we never got to her restaurant. Back inside the museum again we stopped at some chairs outside the museum’s restaurant to rest a bit, but then we started noticing the great food coming out of the kitchen. Why go anywhere else? As it turned out we were very happy with the food at the cafe, the pricing, and the location too.
Now that I have re-found the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens I intend to visit it often when their exhibits change and new events are offered. It is a fine way to spend a day off Amelia Island. If you haven’t already, check it out for yourself and you’ll see what I mean!
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]