When I moved back to Florida in 1980, I knew nothing about art in Florida. A year or two later I bought my first Florida painting by Sam Stoltz. In a pecky cypress frame, it depicted a flamingo and egret flying side by side over the Everglades. I hung It on a blank white wall in my condo on Pass a Grille.
As my interest in Florida art grew, I began to hear from antique and art dealers about the Vickers and their collection of Florida art. One day I opened The Magazine Antiques and found an article reviewing the Vickers collection of early Florida art, picturing, as I recall, amongst others, the work of Martin Johnson Heade in St. Augustine. Wow! I could only dream.
A few years later, on a sunny Saturday morning, now living out on Boca Ciega Isle on St. Pete Beach, and enjoying a weekend off from the emergency room, I got a call from Sam Vickers. For me, it was a unique opportunity! I remember this as my son Brian was about two years old and playing nearby. Sam and I chatted about Florida art for an hour. A treat for me. We discussed the possibility of a museum of Florida art and perhaps some of my art joining with his collection. That has always been a dream of mine as well.
In 1995 Celebrating Florida Art from the Vickers Collection was published. I looked through the book and found John Rogers Vinton’s The Ruins of the Sugar House, 1843, at New Smyrna Beach. I remembered the day it was auctioned in southern Maine. By that time the walls of my home were covered with early Florida art. Over the years occasional conversations with Sam continued. I remember his suggesting I use Freda Durrett Nichols of Atlanta and Inglis, for art restoration. Freda has been conserving my art for the past 25 years.
Years later I was invited to visit and spend the night at the Vickers’ home on the St. Johns River to view their collection, a treat for anyone interested in Florida art. My antique dealer friends all wanted to know what would happen to the Vickers collection. Freda told me the President of the University of Florida had visited them.
Perhaps four or five years ago, I called Sam just to catch up and see how they were doing. I was invited up for lunch and Sam talked about what might happen to the collection. I remember Robie was certain it would go to a museum. My website artistsofoldflorida.com was now up and Sam had printed out a copy of my book. He said it was the best thing he had read in two years! Ask Sam. I was grateful for that comment.
This past Spring the Vickers Collection finally found a home at the Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville. The donation, a Copernican moment in the history of Florida art, now forms a base in Gainesville and the University of Florida, where anyone interested in art, particularly Florida’s art and artists, can study and enjoy the beauty of a Florida that is too rapidly disappearing. Congratulations to the Vickers and The Harn Museum. Floridians who love art and this state are celebrating!