In Gainesville they call it the Swamp, and if you’re a Gator, it’s one of the most sacred few acres in the state. The city, with the University of Florida, is all about education…and football too. It was education and football that first brought art to Gainesville in the form of a slender North Carolina woman, Emmaline Hardy Buchholz and her husband Fritz. If one individual personified the awakening artistic muse in Florida, it was Emmaline Buchholz. She raised the curtain on art in Gainesville, starting an art club that the university and the people of Gainesville would embrace, and helping to found the first state wide art organization, the Florida Federation of Art.
Emmaline Hardy was born near Greenville, North Carolina. As a child she wanted to be an artist and later remembered how thrilled she was just to hold a paintbrush. Educated at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, she won a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In Philadelphia she studied portrait painting with Hugh Beckenridge and life study with Thomas P. Anshutz. Emmaline taught art at the Woman’s College of South Carolina and was supervisor of art in the Shreveport, Louisiana, public schools before moving to Chicago and the Art Institute for further study. There she met Frederick, “Fritz” Buchholz. They married, moved to Tampa and, shortly before World War I, to Gainesville.
Fritz Buchholz was a Floridian, born in Tampa in 1885. He attended Florida State College in Tallahassee, where he was a fullback on the 1902 football team. Florida’s first Rhodes Scholar, Buchholz came to Gainesville in 1914 to teach and coach football at Gainesville High School. He would direct the public schools in Alachua County for thirty years and publish his History of Alachua County. Emmaline devoted herself to her family, the community, and art.
It was women like Emmaline and members of the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs who first voiced the need for art in the life of the community. Artists in early twentieth-century Florida were, with a few exceptions, all male, but women’s clubs were forming to stimulate social and political change—change that included art as well as women’s suffrage.
The first art club in Florida was organized in 1900 as an extension of the Woman’s Club of Jacksonville. Their aim to “improve the artistic and aesthetic sense and taste of the community.” Two years later the ladies of Tampa formed a Students’ Art Club, again as an extension of a Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs chapter. In 1917 the Woman’s Club of Tallahassee, in conjunction with the Florida State College for Women, formed the Art Club of Tallahassee. In Miami, the Miami Art Club, and the Coconut Grove Sketching Club were founded. Both were associated with women. In 1918 the Palm Beach Woman’s Club formed a Ladies Sketching Club. Later, in order for men to be included, the Palm Beach Art League was founded. Over the years it was the same all over the state, women’s clubs started art divisions that were later changed to permit men as members.
Art began in Gainesville in 1921 when Emmaline and three friends, all members of the Gainesville Women’s Club, began meeting on Saturday afternoons to study famous paintings and the biographies of artists. The meetings continued for two years until they got the idea of sharing their interest with the community by starting a club. Their slogan: “Take art to the community and the community will take to art.” Invitations were sent out, and one evening in June 1923 the Gainesville Association of Fine Arts (GAFA) was created. GAFA was a club for: “women interested in art, music, and literature, a club for women who were interested in the beautiful in life, a club for women who wanted to make art, and its precepts, their study.
In the fall of 1926 the idea for a state wide art association was fermenting in the minds of Emmaline and members of GAFA when the Orlando Art Association sent an invitation to Gainesville suggesting a meeting to form an art association. On April 7, 1927 a first meeting was held in Orlando and Emmaline Buchholz was elected first president of the Florida Federation of Art (FFA).
Lucretia Halstead Jerome, the president of the Orlando Art Association recorded her sentiments in the minutes of the first meeting of the FFA:
It is with a feeling of awe and trepidation that I report the meetings of “The Florida Federation of Art”; awe, because I feel so small a thing to put into words the beginnings of such a large and inspiring undertaking; and trepidation that I will be unable to carry over to you and to future members the atmosphere of inspiration and thrill of working out together, dreams and ideals for the State’s betterment in art education.
At four o’clock the meeting adjourned and a motorcade through Orlando and Winter Park stopped for “Five o’clock Tea” on the lawn of Mrs. Jerome’s home in Merritt Park, “where a jolly, friendly atmosphere prevailed and a picture taken of those present by Mr. Hamilton of Winter Park.”
Florida Federation of Art, first organization meeting, Orlando and Winter Park, April 7, 1927 at the home of Lew Halstead Jerome in Merritt Park. Pictured, the executive board, back row left to right, Mrs. Lamoreau, Mrs. Keller, Miss Marsh, Mrs. Sears, Mr. Converse, Mrs. Thayer, Mrs. McTurk. Front row, Mrs. Jerome, Mrs. Converse, Miss Evans, Mrs. Newby, Mrs. Davidson, Mrs. Buchholz, Mrs. Marsh, Mr. Blake. Photograph courtesy of the George A. Smathers Libraries, Special and Area Collections, University of Florida. Florida Federation of Art Records.
The FFA initially had sixteen member clubs, including the Blue Dome Fellowship, Miami; Palm Beach Art League; Art Club of St. Petersburg; Students’ Art Club, Tampa; Ringling School of Art, Sarasota; Fine Arts Society of Jacksonville; State College for Women, Art Department, Tallahassee; Galleon Art Club (later the St. Augustine Arts Club); and Rollins Studio Club, Winter Park.
In May 1929 Emmaline had a one man exhibit of her portraits and landscapes at Gainesville city hall. The Gainesville Sun visited her home: “Magnolia trees laden with their rich green leaves from which peep snow white blossoms furnish an exquisite setting for the country home of Emmaline Hardy Buchholz, who spends every spare moment with her paints and brushes, creating those pictures which are placing her foremost amongst the southern artists…. Everywhere there were pictures: some finished, others awaiting the final touches of the skillful brush of one of Florida’s most talented daughters. It seemed that Emmaline Buchholz was just in the midst of packing her pictures for her exhibition which she will open to the public Friday morning. With her usual graciousness she stopped all work to explain a bit here and there or to point out a particular favorite of hers.”
The FFA, now with both male and female members, met annually in different Florida cities with circuiting exhibits of Florida art traveling around the state. The Sarasota Art Association and the Daytona Beach Art League joined in 1932, the Clearwater Art Club in 1935, the Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, and the Clearwater Art Museum in 1936, and the Art League of Manatee County in 1937.
In 1935 the Sarasota Art Association and the Ringling School of Art invited Buchholz to present a one woman exhibit of her work. The Sarasota Herald commented: “Emmaline Buchholz shows twenty of her oils, all of her work being of Florida subjects. She has caught a real flavor of truth in her interpretation of her home state. There is much of the imaginative and the mystery of nature in her work, expressed through the eyes of an artist who sees as a poet, with quietness and dignity….”
In November of 1960 Emmaline addressed a letter to her friend Florence Seymour of Jacksonville, who was then president of the FFA.
Dear Florence: Your letter lifted my spirits. . . . Why when weather is so very wonderful, nature changing the colors, the gentle breeze wisps the insects away. Glad all so helpful to you as you carry on. Thank God for the many, many blessings. Consider my age!! I must get busy and make a worthy contribution. I am happy that you and Lucile plan to go to the Florida Federation of Art convention in Winter Park. At this time I can’t be sure of getting there. Who’ll be the next president? I’ve stayed at home all summer, so hear the murmur of hopefuls around here. Oh how I want to go and visit headquarters, see Florence Seymour Library, Emmaline Buchholz Room. Do tell me more about the painting classes you teach. This shop, in addition to home responsibilities, has delayed my painting. Dear Florence, your influence in your local organization and ours here, must find a way to push ahead in DeBary. The Florida Federation of Art future? Well who am I to talk, just one who is at this time removed from activity. Who takes over the real drudgery? Are we through the national art magazines represented? To be in Winter Park again this time with many whose hearts and efforts have sustained our Florida Federation of Art would be a real privilege. Greetings to FFA, especially to those who inquire about me and who carry on. Em. B.
Emmaline died in Miami in 1973 at age 85.
The FFA continued to “carry on” until 1977, when a letter was sent out to members: “Due to many unfortunate circumstances . . . no annual meeting of the FFA was held in 1976, new officers were not elected for this year and office equipment was liquidated to pay outstanding bills.” After fifty years of passionately promoting the artist’s expression of life’s beauty on canvas, the Federation was gone; the end of a golden era in Florida art.
Today Buchholz’ painting of George Washington, after Gilbert Stuart, hangs at the front of the Florida House of Representatives chamber: a fitting tribute to Florida’s First Lady of Art.