In November, True Tours Historical Walking Tours based in the downtown Fort Myers river district is adding the ArtCalusa exhibition to its regular Public Art Tours. Offered on Fridays, November 8, 15, 22, and 29 at 10:30 a.m., the 90-minute sojourn through artistic landmarks of downtown Fort Myers shines a spotlight on the city’s early history from its inception as a wilderness outpost built for the express intent of deporting Florida’s Seminole Indians to reservations in Arkansas and Oklahoma as seen through the eyes of its public artists.
In addition to the regular tour that includes the inspiration behind Fire Dance, the art panels at the Justice Center parking garage (called Parallel Park), and a dozen more art treasures, the program will end at the City Pier Building for a walk back in time. With its focus on the life and experiences of Florida’s indigenous peoples, particularly the Calusa Indians through their contact with early European explorers, the ArtCalusa: Reflections on Representation exhibition picks up where the art tour ends.
“Once the Spanish realized that the Calusa could not be conquered to killed off, they made them trading partners,” observes Tom Hall, who leads the public art walking tours for True Tours. “But the Spanish traders brought the Calusa more than brightly-colored trinkets, cloth and cooking utensils. They brought small pox, measles, tuberculosis and yellow fever. By the time of the Second Seminole War in 1838, only a handful of these ‘Spanish Indians’ remained, and with the hanging of their chief, Chekika, and five of his warriors toward the end of 1840, the once mighty Calusa passed from the pages of history.”
“The Calusa did not leave behind a written record,” observes Maryland light sculptor Jim Sanborn. So when he was commissioned by Florida Power & Light in 2001 to create the dual-drum bronze sculptures that sit outside the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, he was forced to incise into the eastern cylinder an excerpt from the text of a Maskoki migration legend even though the Art Center was once the site of a Calusa settlement. The Creek, Seminoles and Miccosukee trace their ancestry to the Maskoki, not the Calusa. But with no extant Calusa text to work with, Sanborn had no choice but to “use the Creek/Seminole legend instead.” Still, he wanted to tie the symbolism of the text to the site, and so called the drum Caloosahatchee Manuscripts, and this is the name by which most people know the work today.
While the Calusa may have left no written record, they did leave visual imagery, and that serves as the jumping off point for the ArtCalusa exhibion. While co-curator Theresa Schober or other ArtCalusa docents will lead public art tour attendees through the exhibit, Hall will remain on hand to add input and point out connections to the more than 45 public artworks that dot downtown Fort Myers.
The True Tours Public Art Walking Tour leaves from The Franklin Shops on First. Reservations are a must. To make yours, please telephone 239-945-0405 or visit www.TrueTours.net.