Artist Pictures Florida in the 1560s
By Ben Gunter
The 1560s were history-making times in Florida. For 50 years, Spanish conquistadores had been making gallant but unsuccessful attempts to establish a permanent Spanish settlement. Suddenly, expeditions from France started sailing up the St. Johns River, mapping coasts, constructing forts, and building relationships with Native Floridians.
News of French incursions set off shock waves in Spain. In 1565, Spain decisively reclaimed La Florida with an expedition of its own. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés accepted a commission to expel the French and found a city – a commission that he famously fulfilled, with a massacre that gave the name Matanzas to a stretch of Florida south of present-day Jacksonville, and with a city that gave the USA its oldest continuously occupied European settlement, St. Augustine.
What did life in Florida look like during those stirring times? What did people eat and drink, how did they woo and wed, what did they wear, and how did newcomers and Natives build bridges between very different cultures?
Fortunately for us, one member of the French expedition was a trained artist. His name was Jacques LeMoyne, and he escaped the massacre at Matanzas, made his way back across the Atlantic, and wrote a memoir of his visit to the New World. In 1591, LeMoyne’s memoir was published, with a trove of 43 magnificent drawings to reconstruct highlights from his experiences in Spanish La Florida.
LeMoyne’s drawings give you eyewitness access to a world that has been completely lost to history. Through these wonderful works of art, you get to see how French explorers mapped Florida’s Atlantic coast, made friends with Indians from several Timucua tribes, and carved out a place to live. You get close-ups of Timucua Indians making war and making love, planting and harvesting fields of maize, panning for gold, hunting for deer, and barbecuing meat for a royal wedding.
Best of all, the drawings tell you stories. LeMoyne designed pictures to record the sequence of actions in a Native alligator hunt, and the installments in a Native wedding, and even the steps in a Native wedding dance. When you know how to read them dramatically, LeMoyne’s paintings give you much more than snapshots from Florida’s past. They give you home movies from the 1560s.
On April 15 and 16, Theater with a Mission is bringing Jacques LeMoyne back to life to tell great stories from his artwork during the LeMoyne Chain of Parks Art Festival in downtown Tallahassee. In a two-tent LeMoyne Encampment, you can meet Jacques LeMoyne face to face, hear stories hidden in his artwork, step into one of his pictures for a souvenir photograph with the artist, and win copies of LeMoyne’s drawings to color yourself.
The LeMoyne Chain of Parks Art Festival is free and open to all ages. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 15, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Easter, April 16. Artwork by over 150 artists will be available for show and sale. Near the LeMoyne Encampment, a Village will offer special activities for children, including Pop-Up Studios for kids to make their own drawings. LeMoyne will be making personal appearances between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday, and between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Easter.
Come see Florida in the 1560s, through the eyes of an artist who saw it first-hand. Come meet Theater with a Mission’s historic Jacques LeMoyne!