|The stunning Cummer Oak keeps watch over the sleepy gardens.|
|In the Garden of Art and Oak Trees
by Stephanie Green
As snowbirds venture south to their balmy retreats for some early spring fever, they may want to make a pit stop in North Florida to discover an unsung gem of beauty and lushness.
Jacksonville’s Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens boasts one of the largest collections of Meissen porcelain, an exquisite garden featuring towering oak trees and haunting Spanish moss, and an educational center fostering the next generation of art lovers.
|Main entrance to Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville, FL.|
|Takashi Soga's Sea of Ear Rings (2008) sits on the Cummer's front lawn.|
|Often in the shadow of the better known art museums in the South like the High in Atlanta and the Telfair in Savannah, the Cummer is standing up and being counted with new acquisitions and ground breaking projects in honor of its 50th anniversary.
Paintings, drawings, and prints from Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Cassatt, and Sargent will complement the museum’s formidable permanent Impressionist collection, which features a bronze bust of Madame Renoir, the wife of the esteemed French artist, which caught my eye on a recent jaunt to the museum.
During my visit, I learned the Cummer’s slow and steady rise was made possible by its founder Ninah Cummer, a pioneering aesthete and civic leader, whose contribution of sixty pieces has developed into a collection of over 5,000 works by artists from Rodin to Rockwell.
Patriots will be surprised to see one of Gilbert Stuart’s portraits of George Washington hanging in the gallery.
|The museum's interior.|
|Bust of Madame Renoir by Impressionist master Pierre Auguste Renoir.||Spirit of the Dance by William Zorach.|
|The gallery holds a wide array of paintings, sculptures and bronzes representing various centuries and schools of artists.|
|Robbin Green studies a painting by Norman Rockwell.|
|Claude Monet's Autumn on the Seine at Argenteuil.|
|Exquisite pieces from Cummer's Wark Meissen collection.|
|The paintings are quite breathtaking, but my favorite part of the Cummer must be the Wark Collection of Early Meissen Porcelain, given to the Cummer in 1965 by the estate of Robert Wark of St. Augustine.
Wark, a native of Germany, started collecting Meissen in 1922 and slowly amassed his collection of 700 pieces, which survived perilous World War II bombings, becoming one of the largest and most impressive collections of Meissen in the world.
The museum is housed in Mrs. Cummer’s riverfront mansion, a living monument to her obsession with design, especially as it relates to gardening.
|Mrs. Cummer's Italian garden with views of the St. John's River.|
|Garden designed by Edith Biddle Chapman.|
|The Italian Fountain.|
|While on holiday in Italy, she indulged her fancy by purchasing statues and benches for her gardens, most notably her Italian statue, which anchors her Italian garden designed by Edith Biddle Chapman, one of the leading women in garden design whose commissions also include New York’s Astor Court Garden and the estates of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
Opposite the Italian garden is Mrs. Cummer’s English Garden built in 1903 where roses, crepe myrtles, holly trees, and camellias create a magical paradise for a wedding ceremony or tea reception.
|Statues and fountains are Cummer signatures in the museum's gardens.|
|Diana, the Huntress in full view.||Mrs. Cummer was fond of unusual figures, some even slightly menacing, like this one.|
|Mrs. Cummer’s azaleas, which were among the first ever brought to Florida, are already springing to life as the dawn of spring approaches.
Of special interest in the garden is the “Cummer Oak," nearly 200 years old with a 150-foot “canopy," and the staggering Diana, of the Hunt statue.
Both Diana and the Cummer both seem to be dramatically reaching into the heavens, defying fate and time.
|Because of Florida's warm climate, the garden boasts blooms like these year round.|
|Camelia in the garden.|
|This impression along with the other ethereal fountains and statues give the entire garden an epic feel, which is precisely what I think Mrs. Cummer wanted.
Those looking to bask in the southern gentility of Northeast Florida will be delighted to see the plethora of Spanish moss lazily hanging from the oaks and the historic St. Johns River running right behind the garden walls.
|The Spanish Moss hangs over the gardens.|
|The Cummer Oak's commanding presence.|
|My docent for the afternoon, Jan Dorsey, kindly took me to the Cummer’s special place for children, called Art Connections, where youngsters can create crafts, learn about the collections on their own level, and have fun with their parents with the many interactive games and exhibits.
One of the little girls I met in the Art Connections gave me her own piece of art she made that afternoon, which I have kept as a treasured souvenir.
|Parents and children visit Art Connections together.|
|A future artist at work in the museum's special interactive exhibit for children.|
|Photographs by Stephanie Green.|