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The Lake: A Documentary Exploring the Land and People of Lake Apopka
September 15, 2017 @ 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
On September 15, 2107, Crealdé School of Art, in collaboration with the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, unveils The Lake: A Documentary Exploring the Land and People of Lake Apopka. The exhibition is a culmination of work by documentary photographers and plein air painters who sought to capture the culture and landscape of Lake Apopka over the last seven months. At the unveiling, 50 fine art pieces will be exhibited with accompanying historic text, connecting the area’s past with its future. A collection of local and nationally known artists produced 10 plein air paintings, and a master class of photographers created 40 archival black-and-white photographs with oral histories.
The Lake Project will be on exhibit at the two Crealdé Winter Park locations through January 13, 2018. The project will then be shown at the City of Winter Garden’s Public Art Gallery in City Hall, the S.C. Battaglia Memorial Winter Garden Branch Library, and the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation in the winter of 2018, inaugurating a state-wide traveling exhibit.
For more than 30 years, Crealdé School of Art has led the community in documentary photography. Beginning in 1984 with The Winter Park Documentary, Crealdé has been a photographic witness to the culture and history of Central Florida. Crealdé has continued in this role with The Hannibal Square Heritage Collection, a tribute to the historic influence of Winter Park’s African-American community. The Lake Project is the latest Crealdé documentary effort in Central Florida. The story of Lake Apopka has national significance and in many ways represents the pioneering spirit of the American dream, at times jeopardized by the exploitation of land and people.
For this project, professional documentary photographers and Crealdé senior faculty members Peter Schreyer and Sherri Bunye led a master class of students in creating an exhibition of visual art and oral histories that explore the relationship between the lake and the diverse people who call the shores of Florida’s second largest lake their home and place of work. For the first time in a Crealdé documentary project, plein air painters were involved; their efforts were led by Crealdé Senior Faculty Tom Sadler, who is sometimes called “the father of plein air painting” in Central Florida.
The participants in the master class explored the lake’s history, including the citrus and tourism industry of the early 1900s and the mid-century muck farming industry. This project also addressed the partial draining of the lake, which led to massive environmental destruction and public health issues, along with the current efforts of restoration, responsible land and water management and the emerging eco-tourism industry.
“This is about the story of Lake Apopka, the people and the land and their relationship with each other,” says Schreyer. Crealdé has an ongoing relationship with the Apopka community. The school has been offering free after school art classes for youth through John Bridges Community Center in South Apopka since 1998 and has been involved with the farmworker community since 1992. Furthering the longstanding relationship with the Florida farmworker community, Crealdé recorded the last season of farming on Lake Apopka in a documentary project in 1998 that resulted in a traveling exhibition titled The Last Harvest, a selection of which was exhibited in the University of Central Florida traveling exhibition In the Eyes of the Hungry earlier this year.
For The Lake Project, the contribution of former Winter Garden Heritage Foundation Director Kay Cappleman was crucial in developing text panels to document three major eras relevant to the lake’s history. The first era documented in the exhibition will be the early 1900s when the citrus groves were established and tin can tourists arrived. During this time, the first railroads and hotels were built. Winter Garden’s Edgewater Hotel, which still stands, is a relic of Lake Apopka’s early history.
In the next era, which came during World War II, revolutionary farming techniques turned parts of the lake into farmland to address the food shortage experienced in the United States at that time. These farmlands were created by draining part of the lake to access muck, the incredibly rich soil beneath the lake. Although the ability to flood and drain the land at will made the land more productive, the farmers encountered pests that destroyed some of the crops. This led to regular use of pesticides, including DDT, which ultimately contaminated the land and affected people and animals nearby.
The current era is a time of reclaiming the lake and surrounding land and managing it responsibly. Many of those former farmlands are now beautiful recreation areas. Ecotourism is a burgeoning industry near the lake. People now come from all over the country for the bird watching. And the bike trail around the lake, which is about seventy-five percent complete, is anticipated to be the longest bike trail in the state of Florida. It is by sharing both the beautiful and devastating facts about Lake Apopka through visual arts projects such as The Lake Project, Schreyer believes, that artists can engage the community with this important story.
The opening event for The Lake: A Documentary Exploring the Land and People of Lake Apopka on Friday, September 15 will begin with a reception from 7-9 p.m. at the Crealdé main campus, including a brief gallery talk by the curators, and festivities will continue with live music at the Hannibal Square Heritage Center from 8-10 p.m.