At the Marco Island History Museum, ancient history is alive. Larger than life Calusa Indians stare down at you from the tile mural as you walk up to the museum entrance. The tile manufacturer agreed to replace the present tiles with brighter, more vibrant tiles. Once the more colorful tiles are on the wall, the colors will stay true for one hundred years. Would you like to see your name or the name of a loved one on the wall of the museum? Sponsor a mural tile for only $100. Your name will be engraved on a plaque on the wall next to the museum entrance.
The timing of the new museum opening and its first exhibit, “Florida Cowboys-Keepers of the Last Frontier,” couldn’t have been better! The “soft” opening of the newMIHS Museum complex last week coincided with the Cattlemen’s Convention here on Marco, and lots of real Florida cowboys were able to view the photographs, along with the Islanders who celebrated this spectacular culmination of all their hard work, dedication, and generous financial support.
Craig Woodward, President of MIHS said, “We were very fortunate to be able to open the museum with the Florida Cowboy Exhibit and catch it between appearing at the Tampa Bay History Center and the Miami Museum. Also, to have a speaker of the caliber of Carlton Ward, Jr. was terrific to be able to open the Rose History Auditorium – the crowd was amazed, not only at his presentation, but also at the beauty of the buildings and the grounds.”
Members of the MIHS enthusiastically greeted visitors on the first days the museum opened,proudly showing them around the new complex. On Wednesday evening, when Carlton Ward, Jr, gave the first of the 2010 MIHS lecture series at the museum, they dressed in cowboy attire in honor of the theme.
MIHS member Kris Helland informed me that the bronze Marco Cat, that is located in front of the museum entrance, was sculpted by Naples sculptor Carl Wagner and donated to the museum by Emil and Gail Fischer.
Helland explained that the whole building is built on a shell mound; and the weir?a water retention pond in the middle of the Florida water friendly natural landscaping (and required by the City to prevent flooding of the parking areas!), is similar to that made by the Calusa Indians long ago. It will contain live fish.
Membership Chairperson, Carol Wood, told me, “We are so excited abouthaving three rooms of photos by Carlton for our opening.” She pointed out the Donor Wall, on which the names of those who have made donations for the new museum will be permanently engraved; and the mural, an original painting by Paul Arsenault depicting Calusa Indians, which will be reproduced on tiles on the outside wall of the building. Carol showed me the Rose Auditorium in which the floor is made of Russian oak and the exposed trussed beams have been treated to give a natural look. (Thanks to the hard work of Craig Woodward, Alan and Linda Sandlin, and George and Carol Engstrom, who tied 6,000 feet of rope around the beams!)
Carlton Ward, Jr.’s account of cattle raising in Florida fascinated the crowd that attended his presentation. Cattle were originally brought by the Spanish in the1521. These “cracker” cattle would roam the woodlands of the region and, under the great chief “Cowkeeper,” these same Andalusian cattle have sustained the Seminoles since they first arrived in Florida in the 1700s. (The Seminoles are now one of the top ten cow producers in the U.S.) Modern cattle breeders cross-breed cattle, such as English Hereford and Angus, with the original breed to produce a hardier animal that produces good quality meat, but can withstand the heat and wet conditions of the region.
Due to the international production of beef, and high tax rates, it is increasingly difficult for Florida ranches to remain profitable. In spite of modern technology, including the use of laptops and electronic barcodes on the animals to track their life cycles, the culture is in transition. The cattle ranchers are encouraged to assignpart of their lands for conservation purposes in order to preserve the diversity of habitat and abundance of wildlife in this immense agricultural region of Florida.
The purpose of the exhibit is to educate the public about the existence of Florida ranches and their role in land conservation. The exhibit is based on content from Ward’s new book Florida Cowboys Keepers of the Last Frontier, winner of the silver medal in the Florida Book Awards for 2009.
The exhibit, Florida Cowboys: Keepers of the Last Frontier, debuted at the Tampa Bay History Center last Fall. It will be on display at the MIHS museum through August 31; and will move to the Miami Museum in September and then to the Florida Museum of Natural History in January 2011.
The MIHS Museum is located on Heathwood Drive. Hours are Mon-Thurs: 3-7; Fri: 3-5; Sat: 10-2. Admission is Free.