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Sunshine Fusion: Florida Art, Music & History Merge in Landmark Symphonic Performance

| July 17, 2010

Jackson Walker florida painter painting where peaceful waters flow

Jackson Walker’s “Where Peaceful Waters Flow” (© Florida Museum of Art)

It’s about painting, it’s about music, it’s about writing, and it’s about merging the three art forms into an extraordinary, cross-cultural celebration of Florida history—and of Florida itself—in the Legendary Florida Artist Gala and Symphony concert on Sept. 18 at the Historic Courthouse and the Athens Theater in DeLand.

The story of the concert, dubbed “A Historic Portrait in Sound,” is itself something of a symphony in three movements.

First movement: Jackson Walker is a fifth-generation, 64-year-old Floridian painter, who’s developed a distinguished career rendering faithful portrayals of the historic spectacles and natural drama of his native state.

Jackson Walker

“My blood runs through this place,” Walker writes. “For many generations, my clan has survived this intemperate and sometimes deadly place. This evolution of family, among them cattlemen, lawmen and the occasional soldier when events of history required, along with their women companions who were both brave in the face of the pioneer struggles and bountiful providers in the comforts of the home, the trail that they blazed leads directly to me. Their bones lie buried in the sand the length and breadth of this land known as Florida – they rest in the very earth that provided their every need in life and that will forever embrace them in its history.”

And they lie, with the restlessness of vibrant art, in Walker’s paintings.

Walker completed two combat tours in the Vietnam War, returned home to rediscover his passion and talent for the state’s heritage, and proceeded to create a body of work imbued in the state’s rich, and to many, unknown history. The paintings evolved into a large collection of work, which he then exhibited throughout the state for many years, his van loaded down with his canvases of Florida history.

Eventually, Jennifer Coolidge, director of DeLand’s Museum of Florida Art, recognized the educational potential of this body of work, and made the artist an offer—let the museum buy the collection and use it to expand the curriculum of the local school systems, and broaden the reach of art through history (and vice versa).  Walker agreed.

Second movement: Robert Kerr, a young violinist and composer, was busy obtaining his music degree from the North Carolina School of Arts, and his Master of Music from the University of Tulsa. He was awarded the prestigious St. Andrew’s Fellowship in 1990 to study composition in Scotland with renowned composer Ronald Stevenson. He went on to compose works for Universal Studios, NASA, and the Walt Disney World Co. He wrote arrangements for the Orlando Pops Orchestra, and performed in Japan, Scotland, and throughout the United States as a member of the Emerald String Quartet. He moved to Central Florida early in the past decade, where he settled down with his wife to pursue work as an orchestral musician, solo violinist, composer, teacher and producer.

Kerr met Coolidge. A suggestion was made and a collaboration born.

Gary Mormino

Third movement: Gary Mormino is one of the deans of Florida history, and one of its most iconoclastic. (“GI Joe Meets Jim Crow,” a study of racism and violence in Florida military camps during World War II, is an emblematic essay). He holds a doctorate in history from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and has written a social history of Florida and two books on the immigrant experience (in St. Louis and in Tampa’s Ybor City). He’s also behind the Florida Humanities Council’s The Florida Dream, a one-hour documentary on immigrants’ golden-sunshine rush to Florida. Mormino, whose dexterity with words has a few things in common with paint brushes, wrote the narration to A Historic Portrait In Sound.

Together, Walker, Kerr and Mormino collaborated on the state’s pioneering symphonic interpretation of the Museum of Florida Art’s collection of paintings tracing the history of the Sunshine State. The result is the Legendary Florida Premiere Concert Celebration: A Historic Portrait In Sound, produced by the museum, presented by the Legendary Florida Society, and performed on Sept. 18 and 19 at the Athens Theater in DeLand.

Actor Harry Burney will perform as the narrator and will sing a solo piece. Burney graduated from Bethune-Cookman College in 1965, then went to New York City to pursue his own artistic calling and success on stage and screen, before returning home to work at the new Bethune-Cookman University Performing Arts Center.

Jackson Walker's painting of the inking of the SS Gulfamerica off the coast of Jacksonville by German submarine. April 11, 1942.

Walker\’s \’U-123,\’ depicting the sinking of the SS Gulfamerica off the coast of Jacksonville by German submarine, April 11, 1942.

Rounding out the evening’s extensive collaborative effort will be the Community Orchestra, consisting of local professional musicians, top-level student musicians from Volusia County Schools, and area university professionals.

The evening will begin with a gala artist reception at the Volusia County Historic Courthouse in DeLand, where Jackson Walker’s Legendary Florida collection currently resides, with a host committee consisting of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Grace Nelson, Volusia County Council Chair Frank Bruno and Mary Bruno, and U.S. Rep. John L. Mica and Pat Mica. After the reception and tour of the paintings, the festivities will move across the street to the Athens Theater for the main event, the concert performance.

The public is in invited, but it’s not cheap. At least not for the  Sept. 18 gala performance. (The next evening, there’s a free, community performance of the concert at the Athens Theater.)

For the Sept. 18 performance, a fund-raising event for the museum, museum members can buy tickets for $40 each. For non-members, the lowest-priced ticket is $55, and it’ll get you into the concert with free parking and a souvenir program. No reception with the bigwigs. A $100 ticket will get you reserved seating at the concert, but still no reception with the bigwigs. For that, you have to pay $150. You’ll also get VIP seating, valet parking and a few autographs from the performing artists. You’ll be helping them out any of the three ways.

The Florida Humanities Council is a supporter, along with community and business partners,  who make possible the free community performance the following evening.

For ticket and sponsorship information, call the Museum of Florida Art in DeLand at 386-734-4371, or visit the website at

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2 Responses for “Sunshine Fusion: Florida Art, Music & History Merge in Landmark Symphonic Performance”

  1. dlf says:

    Very interesting article, well written and of interest, thanks.

  2. Tom Campbell says:

    I think that it is wonderful. They are giving a free family concert on Sunday.

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