Lightner exhibits reveal the dreams, observations of long ago


The Lightner Museum’s open house on Oct. 28 featured a first look at two new exhibitions that offer insight into the past.

“Tom Schifanella: Faces of the Alcazar” presents a compelling insight into the lives of working-class employees at Henry Flagler’s Alcazar Hotel.

Meanwhile, “Picturing a Nation: American Art from the Lightner Museum” presents a vibrant vision of the country on a local and national scale through late 19th- and early 20th-century American art.

Schifanella’s photography has been published in National Geographic, Southern Living and The Washington Post. He has been selected by National Geographic as one of 25 photographers for an international photo exhibition, “Planet or Plastic?”

His exhibit, “Faces of the Alcazar,” is the culmination of two years of work. He was granted access to parts of the museum not open to the public, the onetime quarters of immigrant staff who lived and worked at Flagler’s hotel more than a century ago.

There, Schifanella found fragmentary clippings from motion picture magazines of the silent film era pasted to the walls. He photographed them and made large-format prints of the images.

The museum’s executive director, David Bagnall, asked Schifanella to put together the exhibit.

It is nearly impossible to accurately date the clippings, though Schifanella said they were from the late 1910s through the early 1920s. It was a time of great interest in movies, as there was a budding film industry in North Florida.

But who are the people depicted in the fragments?

“We can guess at the names, but unfortunately, there’s no record of any of these,” Schifanella said. “These obviously came from old film magazines, or they might have been from press photos, but we can’t definitively identify any of them.”

Alas, time and the elements have left only these fragments to testify to the dreams and aspirations of the working-class employees of Flagler’s enterprise.

“For them, these stars were kind of like something that they could aspire to,” Schifanella said. “Just like we do today. We look at celebrities on Instagram. In those days, it was these magazines with the stars that they looked up to.”

He said the reception by the public has been positive, and that “it’s fantastic” to see people experiencing his work.

“Faces of the Alcazar” will be on display through March 7 and is supported by a grant from the Dr. JoAnn Crisp-Ellert Fund at the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida.

The other exhibit, “Picturing a Nation: American Art from the Lightner Museum,” is a major reinstallation of American paintings and sculpture from the museum’s permanent collection. Visitors will recognize the artists’ names and get a look at how they portrayed the Nation’s Oldest City – among other places – in the post-Civil War era.

These works will be on display until Sept 30. The exhibit is supported by a grant from the St. Johns County Tourist Development Council.



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