A Painting by Christopher M. Still
Oil on Linen 48 x 126 in
A young girl on a sunny dock reads a book about history and Florida’s natural beauty. Her friends fish, play, and beckon to the viewer to join them, amidst reminders of the changes, sacrifices and struggles that have shaped their world. This painting is a symbolic exploration of events that impacted the growth and character of Florida from World War II to the year 2000.
The colorful World War II medal on the frame recalls millions of soldiers trained in the state many of whom later returned as tourists, and to make it their permanent home. This was the beginning of Florida’s spiraling growth, fueled in large part by the advent of air conditioning, represented here by a nostalgic sign advertising cool respite from the summer heat.
Opportunity and technology bloomed in the Sunshine State. Symbols of its major industries, as well as some of the changes that growth and technology effected on them are here. An orange and a can of concentrated orange juice sit near the painting’s frame, along with a postcard advertising a garden attraction with a hint nearby of the giant theme parks to come. A World War II flying helmet reflects the blazing light from a modern space shuttle launch.
As Florida’s population and economy grew at such a rapid pace, so did demands on its infrastructure, resources, and environment. The water tower in the distance symbolizes one of the state’s most precious resources, and the earthworm on the frame provides an ecological reminder that, even within the framework of modern technology, such simple creatures are necessary to sustain us.
Rapid growth and change also brought social problems such as inadequate representation for an increasingly diverse population, and the lack of civil rights for Florida’s African-American citizens.
A photograph in the girl’s book honors one heroic Floridian who was assassinated for his role in the fight for justice for African-Americans. The folded memorial flag in the center of the painting is meant to represent all such heroes, be they civil rights activists, soldiers, or public servants, who died serving others in their state.
It is appropriate that children, representatives of new generations, growth, and change, are a primary focus here. Although this painting looks back at the events leading to the present, it also looks forward. So, as the children play and recreate in the Florida sunshine, as have many before them, one child points in wonder toward the future.