It feels as though trust has become scarce in recent years, or perhaps trust just isn’t something that is earned as easily today. There is something to be said for parties who can maintain the integrity and tradition of a handshake, upholding a verbal contract with honor.
Trust, gut instinct, and a strong intelligence were guiding principles in Ninah Cummer’s life: they led the way while she built her art collection and created public green spaces, ultimately leading to her bequest to the community of Jacksonville. She left her life’s work in the public trust to build a “center of beauty and culture for all the people” – today’s Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens.
Under the leadership of Acting Director Holly Keris, On the Fence, a commissioned, site-specific mural exhibition, was put into motion. This exhibition is representative of the strength of the museum’s relationship with and commitment to the region. On the Fence combines a belief in trust, a philosophy of saying “yes” to collaboration, a commitment to accessibility, a focus on creating a welcoming environment, and the museum’s desire and ability to transcend gallery walls while highlighting collection objects. “Every piece of art — no matter how old — was once contemporary. Each piece is a tangible capsule of another period, representing in some way the mood, conflict, energy, or exuberance of that moment,” says Keris, noting the relevance of the collection and its power to inspire. Artists Mark Ferreira (aka – CENT), Dustin Harewood, and Shaun Thurston were tapped for the task of creating On the Fence
For the better part of the last half-century, the Cummer Museum has been the art beacon of Jacksonville. From its five-thousand-piece collection of art and artifacts spanning four-thousand years of history, to its three historic gardens across two acres with a waterfront view, the Cummer is the crown jewel of the city, welcoming a hundred and fifty-thousand visitors annually. The museum’s community collaborations include a variety of concerts, education initiatives, military outreach, on and offsite garden programming, community festival days, and workshops.
Now, the museum has taken to the streets with a celebratory collaboration between three artists of note to create a mural on its campus. Over the last few weeks, if you happened to pass by this grande old dame of Riverside/Avondale you might have noticed a bold and bright addition adjacent to the museum. On the site of the former Woman’s Club of Jacksonville, at Post and Riverside, you will find a glimpse into the future of the Cummer Museum, a contemporary mural of introspection and self-reflection. Ferreira, Harewood, and Thurston have successfully transformed an ordinary wooden fence into a one-hundred and sixty-foot long singular piece of work; effectively creating a set of “windows” showcasing pieces from the museum’s collection.
This particular artist trio comes not only with a stacked set of credentials, but each collaborator also brings his own unique set of skills and influences to the table. The geometric styling of Ferreira’s work is reminiscent of the wallpapers, typography, and logo designs of the mid-century modern period. Those graphic elements coupled with Thurston and Harewood’s tightly rendered elements from life are balanced in this new work. The artists were entrusted with their collaborative vision and freed of restrictions in order to create a work that spoke to the museum’s vision for the future. The crew spent several weeks roaming through the galleries to draw inspiration. “It has been fun bringing an old collection back to life, and making it more accessible,” Ferreira says. Thurston agrees, adding, “We wanted to pick a little of everything – ancient to more modern. No matter when something was made, and the differences between time periods, artists are still dealing with the same human emotions. It’s the connector.”
The mural element of this project is new territory for the Cummer Museum, but is old hat for these artists. They embraced the mission head-on during the peak of summer heat and the rainy season, dodging downpours and sunburns by painting under a pop-up tent. During respites from the elements, the three continued the process of laying out the work – discussing color theory and editing the overall design elements. Of course when something this massive is being produced in the public eye, it inevitably results in real time questions from both museum visitors and residents on a stroll through the neighborhood. “I’ve met a lot of sweet people,” notes Harewood, “and have had a lot of great conversations. That energy has helped carry us through the heat. I love being a part of making the art inside the museum spill out into the street. We are creating a bridge between street art and the collection. It is a dream come true.”