JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the past 50 years, the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens has been committed to engaging and inspiring through the arts, gardens, and education in Jacksonville. With a permanent collection of nearly 5,000 objects and historic gardens on a riverfront campus attracting 130,000 annual, the museum is moving forward with its next feat, the Olmsted Garden Restoration and Landscape Enhancement Project.
We recently sat down with Hope McMath, the Director of the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, and Holly Keris, the organization's Chief Curator, to discuss the Museum's transformational project.
For an hour we discussed the massive project and the thoughts behind the changes. We discovered not only how much work went into the planning of the campus expansion, but also the ambitious plans for the Cummer's future as it becomes one of the more unique and important museum and garden institutions in the southeast.
The restoration and landscape enhancement project is going to significantly change that stretch of the main connection between Riverside and Downtown, partially because it finally unifies the Cummer properties (the original museum, the rather pedestrian brick bank and the magnificent and historic Womens Club and grounds) and unites them on a bona fide campus.
The Cummer has greatly expanded over the past 20 years as it has made an astonishing leap from a tasteful gallery with a beautiful garden into a full-fledged credentialed museum, and the only building specifically designed for the purposes of a museum/gallery.
In the process of expansion, the museum absorbed two more buildings on either flank of rather different architectural styles, which in their present state aren't clearly connected to each other as one unit, and leave the impression that they are still separate. Many people, in fact, have muddled about trying to decide whether the old bank building on the north is actually part of the museum until they visit through the main entrance and are led to the children's wing internally.
Also, let's face it, the parking lot across the street has been described (often by Cummer staff) as the "ugliest property in Riverside." Sadly this is no more than the truth. When designing this project, the team felt like they had several problems to overcome and a few objectives to achieve, and we think that the plans solve all of them nicely.
- Terrible parking lot.
- No visual unity between the different properties
- Pedestrian architecture of the bank building takes away from the spare elegance of the Museum Building
- The current landscape design along Riverside is stiffly formal, not inviting to the public to use the grounds (or get close enough to the magnificent red Takashi Soga kinetic sculpture on the front lawn to see how it operates) and serves to completely separate the museum from both the public and the eyesore parking lot across the street.
- Create a unified perception of the Campus.
- Clearly mark the beginning and end of the Cummer property
- Expand the cafe service and available area
- Bring pedestrian activity to the grounds along Riverside Avenue
- Unify the disparate buildings of the campus
- Make the Campus open and inviting to the public
Notes From The Olmstead Garden Restoration
One of the more fascinating things about the restoration is the process of revelation and discovery that surrounds the Olmsted Gardens (the area behind the bank building).
The first revelation is that the Cummer history has traditionally followed the narrative of Ninah Cummer, with little regard to the other members of the Cummer family. The history provided below is a retelling of the Cummer property story that includes the significant portions of land that belonged to the rest of the Cummer Family Compound on the St. Johns River.
By the 1990s that history was lost to most, and the current team had to work together with descendants of the Cummers who still live in Jacksonville to restore that heritage. There were surprises along the way...
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Source: Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
Article by Stephen Dare. Edited by Kelsi Hasden