Maitland Art Center

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Maitland Art Center

Maitland Art Center

Amber’s Montessori School asked Mrs. LanceAround and I if we could help drive the students on a field trip to the Maitland Art Center. Since Grammy is visiting us for only two more days, we thought she would really enjoy having a day with her granddaughter and her school friends.  The purpose of the trip was to see an exhibition of Puerto Rican Carnival Masks.

I love art centers. Yet, sometimes little hole-in-the-wall art centers can be tedious. A display of Puerto Rican masks did not sound very enticing. At times like these, I try to remember the words from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream—“Never anything can be amiss, when simpleness and duty tender it.” Hmmm, didn’t work. I prepare for a boring morning.

Luckily, I was able to distract myself from the impending boredom.  Grafton, one of the students I am driving, forgot to buckle his seatbelt upon our departure so I was able to spend the forty-five minute drive to the art center consumed by a hilarious, witty, yet poignant lecture to Grafton, in front of his friends, about seatbelts and safety.  (My insightful exposé is further enhanced when we exit the van and a police officer serendipitously comes by with her windows down.  I pretend that she was summoned at my beckoning and the officer gleefully plays along and gives Grafton a further lecture on the value of wearing one’s seatbelt.)

I believe I am being ingenious and erudite.  My daughter just thinks I embarass myself.

Towards the end of our trip, as we turn onto Packwood Avenue in Maitland and bob along the narrow red brick road, I notice a large, wall-enclosed area on both sides of the road dotted with the most beautiful and tranquil Spanish style cottages decorated with Aztec and Mayan sculptures and bas relief cement blocks. This is my first clue that I could be wrong about my preconceptions of this day.

It would only get better.

The education begins when the 25 students ranging in age from 8 to 14 gather in a small outdoor theatre adorned with Hispanic carvings of various catholic symbols. The speaker is Nancy Rosado, a local aspiring artist who was born in Puerto Rico and spent 25 years in the NYC police force. She gives a short history of Puerto Rican culture and influences, including the many religious festivities, leading up to the fusion of Spanish, African, and Caribbean folk art tradition of masks and costumes. Although the talk was interesting and just the right length for such a young audience, I was musing on the inscription on the threshold of the theatre entrance that said something like, “Let your thoughts focus in a tranquil moment of love.” I know that is not exactly the correct quote, but in that small outdoor theatre adorned by Hispanic symbolism and covered by a canvas of ancient oaks dripping with Spanish moss, I was too focused on “being” rather than “thinking and remembering.”

The Masks

The Masks

Yet, It would only get better.

The main gallery of the art center displayed the most fantastic masks, paintings, costumes, and educational displays of how the art was made. I was mesmerized. So were the students. Small notebooks whipped out as the students took notes. Pictures were taken and you could see young minds at the height of engagement as they quietly and eagerly whispered and pointed at the displays.

Still, it would get even better.

Our guide for the day had prepared blank miniature masks made of acorns for the students to use to create their own works of art. We left the gallery and walked through an ancient, artistic gate, to an inner courtyard. Here, old brick walkways meandered around fountains with colorful, floating sculptures, past more gated archways weaving in and out of small Spanish-style cottages with bright red tiled roofs. In two of these were tables, chairs, small masks, and art supplies. The students quickly and eagerly went to work.

Mrs LanceAround and I took a stroll through the rest of the courtyard. I wish I were a good enough writer to convey the feeling. I wish I were a good enough photographer to capture the mood. Suffice it to say, that simply being in that environment inspired an artistic side of myself that has sat dormant too long. The courtyard complex was dotted with places to sit, nooks and crannies, sculptures, water features, intricately designed gates, brick paths, beautiful landscaping, small artistically designed buildings. There were studios (both indoors and out), areas to do welding, ovens to fire works of art, occasional containers of art supplies of various kinds. Every now and again we would happen upon someone engaged in work. Was it administrative? Artistic? Contemplative? We did not know, but we knew enough to not disturb. At one end of the courtyard was a very large lake. The entire area was, in itself, a fine work of art.

Literature at the center informs us that the Maitland Art Center was founded in 1937 by Jules Andre Smith with an additional gift from Mary Curtis Bok (later Mrs. Efram Zimbalist, Sr.) Normally, I like to research and post more detailed information about the topic of my blog. However, there is something about the Maitland Art Center that is calling to me to not focus on the history or factual. I will only report that in 1982 it was entered on the National Register of Historic Places and one critic has called it one of the “important examples of Fantastic architecture in America,” whatever that means.

It is a place designed for experience. Look at the photos, as imperfect as they are, and then close your eyes and imagine yourself here. If you want to know what the Maitland Art Center is really about, when your eyes are closed, imagine the most artistic experience you can. That is what the Maitland Art Center is all about. “But, “ you might ask, “How can I know that I got it right?” Like the wise sensei from the movie, The Karate Kid, I can only paraphrase, “If it comes from within you, it can’t be wrong.”

That is the Maitland Art Center. Definitely off-the-beaten-path and a Must See for the well informed traveler looking for More Than a Mouse™.

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3 Responses to “Maitland Art Center”

  1. andrew Says:

    I’ve been here, it was absolutley amazing.

  2. Kim Says:

    I have been a part of the Maitland Art Center for over 22 years. I came here in my early twenties wanting to learn scuplture and I am the immediate past chair of the Board of Trustees. This place enters your soul! It is one of the most inspiring and fascinating places you can visit. It is hard to believe that one man’s vision could reach out and touch the lives of so many this many years later . It is a must see if you have never been here and a must return to if you have. Enjoy!

    • lancearound Says:

      Thanks for all your service to the Art Center, Kim. Even though I have only spent two hours there, it was so obvious that everything you say is true. What a place! LanceAround

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