From the Sarasota Herald – December 5, 1995
Click on the link to read the article.
From the Sarasota Herald – December 5, 1995
Click on the link to read the article.
Rebecca Donelson knows what art is and what art isn’t. Above all she knows the art of living a full and fun life. Armed with a fine education to know all about the masters, you can easily imagine her with some of the most famous artists of the last forty years. Just as easily, you can imagine this southern girl riding a horse, with a fishing pole in one hand and a paint brush in another, not taking it all too seriously. She has worked at the National Gallery of Art and The Art Institute of Chicago, yet she fits right into a little fishing village, enjoying fresh stone crabs with family and friends, while taking in the art that surrounds her everyday life. Recently, I sat down with her and we took a look at some of the scenes from an interview of her life.
Tell me about your historic Florida roots.
I was born in Gadsden, Alabama near Rome, Georgia. We lived on a cotton plantation that General Sherman came within twenty miles of while on his famous March to the Sea. I’m a southern girl. My mom’s family, the Fulfords, was one of five families that came to Florida in the 1880s and developed the fishing industry in Cortez, Florida. There is only one left – A.P. Bell Fish Company – that is the last of the fisheries. We are all related in some way. Those old houses are still there and there is the Florida Maritime Museum in Cortez that represents the history of fishing. It’s the oldest active fishing village in Florida. It’s a tiny place that’s just charming. It’s a time warp that hasn’t changed. There is not much of “Old Florida” that still exists. Paint a picture of your childhood growing up.
My father was in the Air Force so we were mainly in Washington, DC. I would come back south to visit my grandmothers, either here in Florida or in North Georgia. As a child, I was either on a horse with no saddle, riding through cotton fields with a gun. Can you imagine that? A twelve-year-old with a gun. My cousin and I would shoot holes in watermelons. I would be gone the whole day on the beach playing or fishing from sun up to sun down. It was total freedom. It was like Huck Finn.
Describe your educational background.
I never went to school in this area. I went to the University of Edinburgh and the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence and I also have a degree from the University of Chicago.
How did you find your way to Sarasota?
I had one too many bad winters in Chicago and I remember walking through a winter’s day with Chicago winds and a temperature well below zero. I was crying and I said to my husband, “I think I’m going to die this winter from this cold. We have to go to Florida.” And he said, “Over my dead body.” So we just went down and rented a place to see what it would be like. He ended up falling in love with it.
You have been an art dealer and curator. What’s the most enjoyable part and the most difficult?
Interestingly, both the good and the bad part of the job is dealing with the artist. Back in the 60s and 70s, you would deal with many artists who would drink a lot and then in the 1980s there was more drug use. The most enjoyable part of the job is discovery and finding new things, seeing new ideas, and discovering an artist or helping an artist. Recently there was an artist being honored by the Hermitage Artist Retreat. His name is Sanford Biggers. I went to his studio in New York where he was working on quilts. He showed me his idea for the quilts and explained, “When slaves went north they were guided to free houses by people who would put quilts outside, to let slaves know that they were safe and could find refuge there. And they also guided themselves by the stars. What I want to do is take a map of the constellations and paint them on quilts and hang them up.” Sanford is going to show these quilts at the Ringling Museum in March. I asked him if he needed some quilts. He said sure. I have some, about 350 of them in total, that go back pre-Civil War. So I told him I would give him some to paint on. I was delighted to be able to help him with this project, but what is really interesting is that a lot of quilts came from my family, who did own slaves. Here is an African-American artist, painting on quilts about slaves fleeing to freedom, that I am giving him – the very quilts from my family who were slave owners. Do you think we have come full circle?
Can you paint?
I studied painting and print-making. I realized early on that I didn’t have the fire in my belly and I wasn’t that talented. I was adequate, but I wasn’t great. I switched to art history and the curator tract because I knew I wasn’t going to be a great artist. I can draw and paint, but I’m not a genius. I know my limits.
What is your definition of art?
(She looks at her watch) How many hours do you have? It is such a difficult question. Art is different to every person. I know what art isn’t. That’s a lot easier. Saying what art “is” is much more difficult. Sometimes I’ll go back to something I loved ten years later, and say, “My gosh, that’s really bad”. I like Picasso’s definition. “Art is a lie that shows us the truth.”
Describe the art scene in Sarasota.
There are a lot of people involved in the art scene in Sarasota. I’m impressed with what Ringling Museum is doing, bringing in the James Turrell installation. That is an enormous feat and that is art of the highest order. That is great art. And then there is art scattered all over the area. Some is okay and some isn’t, but at least people are trying to decorate and enhance their lives.
What would you do to make it better?
I like a lot of things going on here and again, Ringling Museum is doing great things. I think Ringling College of Art and Design is amazing and exciting. They’re involved with animation and digital. I would love to see a digital film festival and digital arts festival here because I think that is the new direction of art. I think drawing on Ipads, like David Hockney is doing, is the “right now”. Artists are using new media and forms. The art schools are great and the museums are growing. Look at all that’s happening, from SMOA trying to build a contemporary museum, to the Hermitage Artist Retreat bringing in amazing playwrights and composers. I wouldn’t change anything. I think it’s heading in the right direction. I think the level of some of the outdoor sculpture could be brought up, but I think it’s heading that way.
What is your take on Seward Johnson’s Unconditional Surrender statue that has created some controversy downtown within the art community? I see so many people taking photographs of the statue and enjoying it. It brings happiness and interest to a lot of people. It’s nostalgic. It’s difficult to judge art. So I won’t play God. It’s entertaining and entertainment fills a void for some people. Veterans who live here take pride in it so I won’t put it down. I will say that if you go to the Museum of Modern Art, you will not find a Seward Johnson. But recently I went back to Chicago and guess what I saw? A huge Seward Johnson of Grant Wood’s American Gothic and a Marilyn Monroe. And Chicago has Picassos and a lot of great art. There is a place for everything. I smile every time I pass the statue, although I don’t think it’s located in the best spot.
If you have one piece of art that you can take and put in your home so you can see it every day, what would it be?
It’s too hard to take one piece, but I will tell you, I have three minor Picassos in my living room. Picasso to me was the greatest artist that ever lived. So to be able to live with these Picassos, I don’t care what it is. It could be a poster or print. He did great art and he did it over a long span of time.
You have represented many famous artists over the last forty years. Is there a common thread that made them all great?
They all are inquisitive and they all ask questions. They listen and there is a child-like quality in all of them that they never lose. I spent a lot of time with David Hockney and he is just so very enthusiastic about everything. He is so playful. There is a twinkle in his eyes. They are always looking and searching.
Tell us about some famous artists with the first words or story that comes to mind.
Robert Motherwell: Patrician, elegant and insecure. Helen Frankenthaler: One tough cookie. She gave us as good as she had and wanted to be considered one of the boys. She was a painter and she let you know that.
David Smith: America’s greatest sculptor.
Jim Dine: Spent a lot of time in his bathrobe taking valium. Jules Olitski: A Russian intellectual – a big Russian bear.
Larry Poons: He had a lot of cats and he would open cans of cat food and he would throw them at the wall next to his paintings, so the cats wouldn’t attack him. Subsequently he did some paintings that look like cat food running down the wall.
Frank Stella: A wonderful artist who has false teeth that he likes to take out now and then.
Sam Gilliam: Sam Gilliam is a wonderful Color Field artist who I represented. He was full of fun and loved life and especially loved a good party. Around 1981, I took him with me to a fancy opening at The Metropolitan Museum of Art for a famous Chicago art collection being donated to the Met. The party, fueled by much champagne, went on until the wee hours of the night. By then, we were seen having wheelchair races in the grand entrance hall of the Met racing against the director of the Whitney Museum, two other famous artists and three curators until the museum guards finally showed us the front door. That was the 1990s art world in a nutshell….fun. Describe a favorite moment you witnessed from an artist’s exhibit at one of the great museums at which you worked.
The artist was Georgia O’Keeffe and in 1970 she came to the Art Institute of Chicago for a retrospective we were opening. She arrived the first day of installation dressed in a man’s tweed suit, a man’s shirt and tie, and mannish Brogue shoes. She was a tiny woman and had her hair pulled back in a tight bun. She wore absolutely no make-up and had a slightly hairy upper lip. Her face was very craggy from years in the sun. She strode into the museum gallery early in the morning, greeted all of us, and said she was ready to work. She mounted the nearest tall ladder and started up the steps. She was in her eighties at the time and was used to doing all her own work in her studio. She looked at her large painting, White Cloud, which is about 20 feet wide and 12 feet high and was the center piece of the exhibition. She shouted, “Let’s raise it; it’s too low.” We all scrambled to get her off the ladder because we were afraid she would fall and hurt herself and we were responsible for her. It was a big fight to get her down from the ladder but she remained in the gallery and commented on every painting as they were being hung. She cared about every detail and she knew what looked best and she was a worker. She worked until day she died. She was simply one-of-a-kind and one of the greatest American painters ever. It was a privilege to meet her and work with her. I’ll never forget it.
What makes Sarasota so special?
One of the nicest things about Sarasota is that the people are so open and friendly and because it is a small town, people have time to talk to each other. We have a lot of great friends from all over the country and we travel to get our big city fix. I love the quirkiness of Sarasota. This is a circus town. There are so many aspects to this town that you can’t find anywhere in America. When we come back to that spectacular little airport we are always so happy to be here. You and your husband have been married a long time and have busy schedules.
How do you make it work?
My husband, Robert Blattberg, and I have been married for 39 years; however, because of both our work and travel schedules, we have actually only lived together, under one roof, for 20 years. That is what keeps our marriage fresh, exciting and we can say that we have only really “been together” for 20 years, which makes us sound so much younger. Also, we have been together even less time if you account for the fact that he gets up every morning at 4 a.m. to work and have breakfast and I get up at 8 a.m., which means we’ve been together even a shorter time. We rarely have breakfast together, except on vacations, but we are excited to see each other for dinners and maybe a lunch now and then. We are never bored with one another.
Describe your perfect day in Sarasota.
I would walk my dogs across the John Ringling Bridge, maybe all the way to Lido Beach and back. Then I would get in a car, drive to Cortez and the Star Fish Restaurant and have stone crabs out on the water. Then maybe some windsurfing under the Bridge without a wet suit; then I might catch a play at Asolo Rep and maybe catch some jazz at the Broadway Bar.
If you could choose one painter to paint your final portrait, who would you pick?
He is not a portrait painter, but I would choose David Hockney, who I know. He is a wonderful artist and he is so much fun to be with. You have to spend time with a portrait painter.
After all the paintings have been seen and all the sunsets enjoyed, how do you want to be remembered?
I would just like to be remembered, because I think that’s a lot to ask. I’ve always liked the saying, especially when I was younger, “Live hard, die young and leave a good looking corpse.” Well, I’ve lived hard, and not having died young, I just hope that I leave a good looking corpse, because I put a lot of money in it!”
Congratulations and best wishes to Ted Adams on his retirement from Manatee County Government.
Ted has been a tireless worker, good friend and steady rock at the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez for many years.
He retired this week and plans to spend the summer visiting friends and family up north but promises to come back to Cortez in the fall and volunteer at the Museum!
March Water Excursions Explore Manatee’s Past and benefit Manatee Historic Organizations
Manatee County Department of Historical Resources in partnership with Island Pearl Excursions will officially launch heritage water tours in March using the Explore Manatee’s Past – 2,000 years of Archaeology and History map as a template. A portion of proceeds will benefit three historic organizations including the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez.
“We are thrilled that the Island Pearl’s maiden voyages will be a series of water excursions exploring the rich heritage of coastal Manatee and benefiting historic organizations,” explains Tracey Dell, Owner of the Island Pearl. “Coastal Manatee waters are a precious resource worthy of thoughtful stewardship, and the Island Pearl intends to maintain, promote and utilize green technology where ever possible.”
The tours coincide with the celebratory spirit of the month of March’s Manatee Heritage Days that will focus on the county’s history. The historical narrative will be given by county historian Cathy Slusser.
Tuesday, March 27: Island Pearl to leave from PIER 22 at 1:00 PM and return at 5:00 PM to benefit Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez . The excursion will travel past Anna Maria to Cortez and back into the Manatee River towards the Braden River ending at PIER 22.
Tickets will be $25.00 per person/tour. Make your reservations today by calling 941-780-8010 and speak with Captain Jeff Stephens. For additional information visit http://www.amishuttleservice.com/.
The Island Pearl is available for Private / Corporate charters and excursions.
by Cindy Lane | sun staff writer
CORTEZ – Mullet has been the staple food of Cortez for more than a century, served at everything from fishing festivals to church cookouts to family dinners.
Cindy Lane | Sun
Bottarga, made from mullet roe, is produced
in this Cortez shack and shipped worldwide.
Finally, the rest of the world is catching on, according to restaurateur Ed Chiles.
Once locally considered the poor man’s fish, mullet is gaining popularity around the world, said Chiles, the operator of the Sandbar, BeachHouse and Mar Vista restaurants in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key, where he has been serving mullet for about a year, smoked in a dip, broiled and fried.
"Mullet is wild, and it’s good for you," Chiles said, adding that its local history makes it interesting to customers. "It’s the ultimate sustainable seafood."
Catch statistics are not yet in for this winter’s mullet season, but local commercial fishermen say it was the best in many years, despite restrictions – gill nets were banned statewide in 1995, weekends are closed on silver mullet from July 1 to Jan. 31 and there’s a 50 fish per person or vessel limit on striped mullet in the Manatee River from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The season has ended, but Chiles’ restaurants will begin serving mullet again when they’re fat, in late summer and early fall, he said.
Mullet could easily become the next big thing, like redfish a few years back, Chiles said.
"At one time, I couldn’t sell redfish. That won’t happen with mullet," which already is popular in Europe and New York, and is selling for $8.95 a pound in Maine, he said.
The longtime popularity of mullet roe, or eggs, in Asia, which can cost up to $300 a pound, may pave the way for the acceptance of inexpensive mullet fillets.
Chiles partners with Seth Cripe, of Anna Maria Fish Co., who makes Cortez Bottarga in Cortez and Lola wine in California, selling the products at his eateries. They also partner with Mote Marine to sell locally-farmed Siberian sturgeon caviar.
Cortez Bottarga is mullet roe caught locally, then pressed and dried with sea salt. Known as poutargue in France and karasumi in Japan, it can be shredded over salads, pasta and even grits, which hearkens back to the way whole mullet has been enjoyed in Cortez since before Anna Maria Island was inhabited.
"It’s a heritage product," said Chiles. "It’s a fabulous fish.”
Come down to the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez for “Music on the Porch.”
Bring your instrument and/or voice and join in for a great jam session or just bring a lawn chair and enjoy the music.
Saturday March 17, 2012 from 1-4 pm.
You can listen to a recent interview on the history of Cortez on WSLR 96.5 Radio at the link below:
Part of Manatee County Heritage Days:
Learn about the history of Cortez during World War II and come prepared for some hands on learning as we plant seedlings to recreate a victory garden. Participants will take home a plant. Appropriate for children to attend. FREE!
Reservations required. For more information or reservations, call (941) 708-6120.
Saturday, March 3, 2012 at 10:00 am
By CINDY LANE | SUN STAFF WRITER
CORTEZ – Ask a Cortezian about the village, and stories fly like mullet being tossed into a boat cooler.
Here are some snapshots of the Cortez of yesterday – some fond, some funny, some frightening – told mostly in the words of the reminiscers, and, like all fish tales, mostly true.
Commercial fisherman, former state president of Organized Fishermen of Florida
I grew up on crews. When I was just a little fella, before I could earn half a share, I was with Uncle Joe Capo on dad’s boat. We would fish for days at a time and ice them down, and get a truck to come to the Skyway, and we’d unload into the truck and they’d bring us ice. A guy we called Shorty was cooking on the boat – pompano, rice and tomato gravy. Uncle Joe was steering and I was down in the cabin. Shorty said you could eat the backbone of a pompano like potato chips. He fried it up. It was the finest kind, and I was eatin’ it. He couldn’t hardly hold himself from bustin’ as I spit it over the side of boat.
I remember milk being delivered in Hoods metal boxes. Selling mangos and guavas to the Yankees in Cortez Trailer Park; they either loved them or were allergic to them. We used to drink water out of jelly jars from the water tanks with wiggle worms floating in it. Before we had indoor plumbing I remember going to the Albion Inn and running through it and flushing all the toilets. Guys knocking down the walls of the (Cortez) bridge during construction to keep the bridge from being built. The mosquito control district spraying that yellow fog (DDT). Hearing on the (marine) radio, “Blue’s lost his leg.”
Thomas ‘Blue’ Fulford
Commercial fisherman, Manatee County Agricultural Hall of Fame inductee
People used to pull together. When one hurt, they all hurt. It used to be a good place to grow up, but something has happened to the dear hearts and gentle people in my hometown. It ain’t like the good old days. People don’t work together like they used to. It’s not cohesive like it used to be. I couldn’t say exactly what happened, but the main thing was the net ban.
Blue crabber, granddaughter of Cortez settler Vernon Mora
Everyone used to come out to the Friday night fish fries during mullet season at the volunteer fire station. Ol’ Man Coarsey from the post office always had his harmonica in his pocket. The menu was fried mullet, hush puppies, cole slaw, grits and sweet tea. The men would do the cooking, the women would make the desserts and the kids would clear the tables. After the net ban, we stopped doing them. There’s a lot of stuff we did that we can’t do anymore since the net ban.
Mary Fulford Green
Co-founder, Cortez Village Historical Society
When I was about eight, my Grandpa, Capt. Billy Fulford, asked me to go to the store for him. He had just one leg; that meant walking down the path to the store. When I returned I gave him the change and one dime was missing. He asked if I had bought candy. That would have been OK with him. I told him “No.” My mother wanted to prove that I was telling the truth. She left everything she was doing and walked back down the path and found the dime that had dropped in the grass. That was a wonderful lesson to learn – the value of truth. Today I do not lie. To me a white lie is a lie.
Mary Fulford Green’s son
I used to spend summers and school holidays in Cortez and loved going fishing with my grandfather, Tink Fulford. We didn’t fish on Sundays because almost everyone went to church, but Sunday night it was OK to go fishing. My grandmother insisted we go to the Church of Christ both Sunday morning and Sunday night. Grandpa Tink didn’t go to church on Sunday night and he wanted to leave as soon as possible, but he wasn’t going to tell my grandmother we couldn’t go to church. We would have to run from the church building to the dock as soon as the service was over. Grandpa knew exactly what time we should be there, and he would untie, start up the boat and take off from the dock as soon as he saw us getting close. We had to run and jump on as the boat was pulling off. I don’t think he would have left us if we missed the boat, but he sure acted like it.
Bandleader, Richard Culbreath Group, veteran
I remember getting electricity and running water to our house, our first icebox and later a refrigerator, our first washing machine with hand-cranked wringer and indoor plumbing and a bathroom with a toilet.
I think the one thing I have to put ahead of the rest is family. I grew up in two large families, the Julius Mora and James Culbreath families. I learned family values and traditions, including music, and have been able to carry that through life.
Volunteer, Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez
My dad would take me with him in his boat up to School Key (now Key Royale) to cut a red cedar tree to be used as our Christmas tree. The result would be the fragrant red cedar aroma in our little house throughout the Christmas season. I think most families in Cortez did this. I can’t remember anyone buying a spruce or pine. Indeed, my dad would cut several to share with elderly neighbors who couldn’t get one on their own.
Richard ‘Chips’ Shore
FISH board member, Clerk of Manatee County Circuit Court and Comptroller
My parents ate at the Albion Inn two or three times a month. As a child it was an adventurous trip, especially in the back near the water and over towards Bell’s (A.P. Bell Fish Co.). There was always some activity going on and the food was second to none. Our favorite was the pompano (en papillott) done in brown bags.
Former Cortez postmaster, veteran
John Blackburn was a good teacher, but if you did something wrong, he’d make you cut off a branch from a palmetto bush and pull off the leaves to make your own switch. It worked, too. You’d never do that again.
Henry Clayton ‘Jap’ Adams
Commercial fisherman, veteran
In 1940, Jap Adams swam out to the Regina, a sinking molasses barge off Bradenton Beach, and saved two crewmen from drowning in the storm that sank her. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II in Africa under Gen. George Patton. He and his five brothers served in three service branches: Cleveland “Cubie” Adams, Clyde Dillard “Doc” Adams, Leon “Buddy” Adams, Willis Howard “Snooks” Adams and William Hugh “Man” Adams. Four of his brothers who served in the Navy were separated because of the Sullivans, five Iowa brothers who were killed serving on the same ship in 1942.
Artist, Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival coordinator
When I moved here in 1983, it was a sleepy little town. In the summertime, if one or two cars would go by it was a lot. It’s not like that now. People drive around and look. You can’t blame them because there are so few of these places left. They feel like it’s somehow a part of them. Word of mouth is telling people it’s a real place and not a tourist attraction. But you never know how long it’s going to last.
The Lifelong Learning Academy will present a class at the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez starting in March.
SP12-13 –MM MARITIME HISTORY OF CORTEZ
This course will present a series of talks relative to the history of maritime activities, particularly commercial fishing, in and around Manatee County by people knowledgeable in these areas.
The history of Cortez, once the largest commercial fishing port on Florida’s west coast and still a working waterfront, will be presented by D. M. “Sam” Bell whose family has been active as commercial fishermen and dealers since 1901. Sam is also a volunteer docent at the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez and helped organize the museum from its inception.
Commercial fishing through the twentieth century to current day will be explained by Karen Bell, manager of A. P. Bell Fish Company and Star Fish Company in Cortez. These firms operate a fleet of deep sea fishing vessels and buy from independent operators. In addition to fish, the industry includes crabs and the harvesting of roe to export, particularly to the Far East.
The history and art of wooden boat building will be presented by Robert Pitt, who is a fifth-generation wooden builder. He will explain the design, techniques, and materials used in manufacturing wooden boats. Bob is the manager of the wooden boat shop at the Florida Maritime Museum.
Jeff Moates is a master degreed archeologist with the Florida Department of Archeology assigned to the University of South Florida and has done extensive research on shipwrecks on Florida’s west coast. Jeff was formerly curator at the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez.
The creating of a maritime museum from site selection to exhibits and the day-to-day operations will be presented by Karen Riley-Love, who is presently Site Manager of the Maritime Musuem. Karen reports to the Manatee County Clerk’s office, overseer of all county-owned historical sites.
“Sissy” Quinn will present the history of Anna Maria Island. Sissy is a permanent resident of Anna Maria and was recently instrumental in the 100th anniversary celebration of the Anna Maria City Pier. Sissy has done extensive research into the history of the island from its creation as a holiday resort, through its first settlers, to its present status as a residential and resort location.
Mondays, 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
6 weeks, March 12 – April 16, 2012
This Course will be held at the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez
SP12-13 –MM MARITIME HISTORY OF CORTEZ
Class series is $65 and registration is found through this link:
For additional information, please contact Karen Riley-Love at Karen.Rileylove@ManateeClerk.com or phone 941-708-6120.