Art & History Museums of Maitland
Building Name: Art & History Museums of Maitland
Address: 231 W Packwood Ave, Maitland, FL 32751
Link to location on Google Maps: Art & History Museums of Maitland - Google Maps
Year Built: Opened 1937
Architect of Record: Jules Andre Smith
Design Architect (if different): -
General Contractor: F.A. Heigel
Other Contributers: Landscape Design: M.J. Daetwyler, Mulford B. Foster, and Hughes Planting. Architectural contributors: Attilio “Duke” Banca, Ralph Ponder
Noteworthy Architectural Features: Structures covered In Mayan ornamentation throughout a campus of artists’ studios with galleries, classroom, outdoor chapel and event spaces. Residencies for artists are awarded annually, providing the public, an opportunity to see the creative process in action.
How to Visit: open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11-4pm
Architectural Style: Mayan Revival Art Deco architecture
The Research Studio at Maitland, Florida, is an outstanding example of Mayan Revival Art Deco architecture in the U.S., completed under the guidance of architect and artist Jules Andre Smith (1880-1959), with the funding of his patron Mary Louise Curtis Bok (1876-1970). This artist’s colony differs from others in its interpretation of Mayan, Asian, Christian, and Buddhist icons, etched in concrete as reliefs and sculpture, and painted in murals throughout the campus. All of the art was created on site by Andre and the resident artists and then installed, using the buildings and the landscape as their creative canvas. This eclectic collection demonstrates Smith’s admiration of artistic and cultural achievements of the past combined with his own unique worldview.
The Maitland Art Center consists of two separate sites designed by Smith: a Studio complex and Gallery started in 1937 and a Chapel and Recreation Area located across the street. Smith continually added to the site over the next two decades, adding more sculptures and reliefs until his death. In 1969, the City of Maitland purchased the profusely decorated Research Studio to save it from demolition. In 2015, the National Park Service recognized this unique artists’ retreat as a National Historic Landmark, the only one in Orange County and the surrounding four county area.
His creation of “scenes” as a stage designer informed the architectural composition of the Research Studio. Each space unfolds before the viewer in turn, with foreground, background, and subject defined by the decorative sculpture, loggias, courtyards, and landscape features. The site includes eleven buildings, including a Central Garden Courtyard, Andre’s own home and studio, and a gallery building and tower surrounding a courtyard dedicated to actress Annie Russell. A number of other buildings were constructed to accommodate the creative and practical components of daily life at the Research Studio, including five separate studios surrounding an enclosed courtyard, with a nearby rectory or kitchen, as well as a dining room, garage, and gatehouse. The gallery, with its cantilevered window overlooking the central gardens, also featured an innovative “Laboratory Gallery” distinguished by a series of separate lighted stalls for each artwork, inspired by zoological displays. In constructing the site, Smith was assisted by Attilio “Duke” Banca, Ralph Ponder, and builder F.A. Heigel, with M.J. Daetwyler, Mulford B. Foster, and Hughes Planting contributing to the landscape design.
Born in 1880 to American parents in Hong Kong, raised in New York and Connecticut, and educated at Cornell University, Smith worked for several years as a draftsman and architect before embracing the fine arts. He quickly found success in his new field: in 1915, he was awarded a gold medal for etching at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Smith’s work rose to international prominence during World War I, as one of eight artists chosen to capture scenes of encampment and battle with the U.S. military forces in France. Their collected works, featured in a 1919 exhibit in Washington, D.C., helped shape popular images of the heroic American soldier in the Great War.
Upon his return from Europe, Smith published a volume of 100 etchings that represented the best of his military-commissioned work. He settled in Stony Creek, Connecticut, to work as an artist, excelling in sculpture, painting, and set design. In the years after the war, Smith suffered from serious illness, in part related to his damaged leg, which was amputated in 1924. Andre described himself as renewed after his recuperation from this surgery, in spirit and body, and began a “marked departure in his technique as well as the subject matter of his etchings,” moving from realistic scenes to modern surrealist expressions. At his home in Stony Creek, Connecticut, Smith led a summer studio and art school by the name of “Marsh House” in a building that resembled the one he later erected in Maitland. His home in Stony Creek is also recognized as an historic site and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Smith's designs for the Research Studio drew heavily upon the "Mayan Revival," an expression popularized by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s and influenced by the travel journals of nineteenth century explorers in Latin America. For his serene, meandering campus, Smith skillfully blended multi-cultural symbols with contemporary Art Deco scale and style. Described variously as Aztec or Mayan Revival, Fantastic, or Plastic, the sculptures and reliefs at the Research Studio and Chapel, at least two hundred in number, adorn nearly every door opening, patio, roofline, or arch.
These experiments in “carved cement” propelled a burst of creativity as Andre explored this new medium. To create the reliefs seen throughout the Research Studio and chapel, Smith created his own distinct method. The wet cement was poured into a flat frame and a preliminary sketch created on the surface with a small bristle brush; mistakes could be rubbed out again and again with a trowel while the surface was wet. Smith used everyday objects such as pins, paintbrushes, teaspoons, and grapefruit spoons—his own favorite instrument. Smith devised a “teeter-table,” a wood frame worktable with a balancing pipe underneath that permitted a shallow box to swing from a horizontal to an upright position. Once the design was completed, the artist brushed the surface with a whisk broom to give the cement a final stone-like texture.
For most of the next twenty years, a new set of visiting artists arrived each winter at the Research Studio by Smith’s invitation. Although originally initiated as a program solely for men, by 1939 the policy for the studio had changed to include a number of women artists as well. A few of the artists would serve more than one term, including Crozier Galloway, Harry Shaw, Milton Avery, and Elizabeth S. Jones. Smith wrote that: “The Research Studio is a workplace for painters and sculptors. It has for its purpose the encouragement of American artists toward an adventurous and experimental approach to the art problems of today…In its monastery-like enclosure, its location, as well as the design and arrangement of buildings and courtyards, the Research Studio has been planned to insure an atmosphere creative of work and contemplation.”
Photos courtesy of AHMM, Macbeth Photography