Thursday, July 9, 2020

Of history and humanness

A Calusa King would have had more than one wife. Some marriages would have been arranged to maintain tribal peace.

A Calusa King would have had more than one wife. Some marriages would have been arranged to maintain tribal peace.

By Tara O’Neill

I recently slipped into the Marco Island History Museum for a peek at the Theodore Morris exhibit Florida Lost Tribes. It’s been up since January 20, and is so stunningly beautiful that I was ashamed not to have gone sooner – and shame doesn’t come easy to me, heck, I’m an artist.

I’m not sure what I expected – I’ve seen so many renderings of historical figures that lack any sign of a life that once was – but I certainly wasn’t expecting what I found. As I moved from painting to painting I felt like I was meeting actual people and not just looking at iconic images. I was stumbling for a word that would define what made them so distinct when I stumbled into the Artist’s Statement, “…My goal is to introduce through artistic portraiture the humanness of these extinct and complex ancient peoples.” Humanness. It was as simple as that. Never underestimate a good stumble.

Native peoples have lived in Florida for over 130 centuries and Theodore Morris has dedicated years to researching their lives, including participating in multiple archeological excavations. He works closely with archeologists and anthropologists throughout Florida gathering pertinent information down to it’s minutiae. The result is an exhibit that is not only aesthetically beautiful, but also highly educational. Each portrayal is accompanied by

Timucua Chief Outina in fish-bladder earrings, copper breast plate, tattoos, feathers and shells. Note the sharpened finger nails. Submityed photos

Timucua Chief Outina in fish-bladder earrings, copper breast plate, tattoos, feathers and shells. Note the sharpened finger nails. Submityed photos

a written description of items being worn and tools is being used – in case you didn’t recognize those fish-bladder earrings.

His subjects include both males and females of all ages and status. Some are known historical figures: Carlos, Osceola, Bowlegs; others are honorable reflections of tribal members immersed in everyday life: children fishing, painted warrior, healer. I was surprised at just how many tribes were represented, I counted 13. Morris succeeds in covering the entire community within each of these tribes. I appreciate that truthfulness.

I know you’ll go to this exhibition because I know you go everywhere I send you. So, while you’re there, consider picking up Theodore Morris’s accompanying book, Florida Lost Tribes, in the newly opened Museum Shop. I think it should be required reading in every Florida household; in words and images it allows us a profoundly deeper connection to where we are. Florida Lost Tribes runs through April 8.

The Marco Island History Museum, 180 South Heathwood Dr, Tuesday – Saturday, 9-4, www.themihs.org, 239.642.1440. Also, check out www.floridalosttribes.com

Tara O’Neill, a lifelong artist, has been an area resident since 1967. She holds Bachelors Degrees in Fine Arts and English from the University of South Florida, Tampa, and currently has a studio-gallery at the Artist Colony at the Esplanade on Marco Island. She can be contacted through her web site www.taraogallery.com.

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