During the Depression era, American painter and sculptor Eugene Savage earned national prominence with his WPA-style murals gracing the halls of some of America’s higher institutions of learning. In the 1930s, Savage created socially conscious works on the campuses of Columbia, Yale, and Purdue and was later appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve on the Commission of Fine Arts for his growing artistic contributions to our nation.
But it wasn’t until 1935, after a winter vacation in the Everglades with his wife, Mathilda, that Savage began capturing the customs of the Seminole Indians and left his biggest footprint on American history.
At the time, a debate was raging between environmentalists who sought total protection of the Everglades and others defending Seminole culture. Inspired by the plight of the Seminoles, Savage spent the next 20 years documenting the tribe’s peaceful communion with nature amid the encroachment of urban strife threatening their traditions.
Savage created a unique vision of the Seminoles’ daily struggles by employing bold colors and patterns in romantic scenes reminiscent of life in a natural paradise where people are in harmony with their surroundings.
“Eugene Savage: The Seminole Paintings,” on view at the Frost Art Museum (10975 SW 17th St., Miami), features a vivid historical survey spanning two decades. It is considered the most extensive painted record of the Florida Seminoles from the early 20th Century and helped preserve a simple vision of life that thrives today.