'Behold, A New Eden: Laura Woodward and the Creation of Palm Beach' at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens in West Palm Beach

  • WEST PALM BEACH, Florida
  • /
  • January 29, 2018

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Laura Woodward (American, 1834-1926) Path with palm and blossoms, ca. 1890s. Watercolor. Flagler Museum, Palm Beach, Florida.

Long before “Discover Florida,” Laura Woodward was one of the State’s earliest publicists – using a paintbrush instead of a pen to entice Henry Flagler to look southward—to Palm Beach and Boca Raton—in search of the “New Eden” of oceanside tourism. The Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens will honor Woodward’s important influence on our area in Behold, A New Eden: Laura Woodward and the Creation of Palm Beach, to be exhibited at the Gardens from Saturday, February 10, 2018 - Sunday, May 6, 2018. 

Mr. and Mrs. Jose P. Fanjul, Jr., are the chairmen of the exhibition which has been sponsored by Florida Crystals and Iberia Bank. Sandra Barghini Coombs served as guest curator of the exhibition and it is presented in association with Edward and Deborah Pollack Fine Art, Palm Beach.

Born in up-state New York and very accomplished as one of the Hudson River School painters, Woodward had joined others of that group by the late 1880s for their winter sojourn at Henry Morrison Flagler’s famous Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine, Florida. She tired of the landscape and ventured farther south in search of the more lush, tropical “jungles” of which she had heard intriguing reports. By 1893, she had persuaded Flagler to extend his East Coast Railroad and build the Royal Poinciana Hotel, which both enabled and attracted tourism to Palm Beach and all around the Lake Worth Lagoon, as it was called at the time.

“Integral to the early development of Palm Beach County, Laura Woodward’s works are important to our local history and offer great insight into the region before it became one of the country’s most desirable places to visit or call home,” said Dr. Roger Ward, President and CEO of ANSG. “This exhibition brings together several of the extant oil paintings and numerous watercolors of sites from Jupiter to Miami, which Woodward used to entice Henry Flagler to venture south from St. Augustine. Our art committee felt strongly that the artist and her subject fit perfectly into our agenda of special exhibitions for this year. Much like Ann Weaver Norton, Laura Woodward wanted to preserve and share with others the extraordinary and exotic beauty of the landscape, flora, and fauna of this coast—so uniquely blessed by nature.” 

The exhibition features 31 important works from various collections including those of the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, Palm Beach; the Lightner Museum, St. Augustine; the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art at the Museum of Art & Sciences, Daytona; and private collections in Jacksonville and Palm Beach.

Laura Woodward (American, 1834-1926) Royal Poinciana at Lake Worth, ca. 1889. Watercolor. The Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art at the Museum of Arts & Sciences, Daytona Beach

According to the voluminous and comprehensively researched biography by Deborah C. Pollack (2009), when Flagler was constructing his Palm Beach Hotel, Royal Poinciana, in 1893, he established a home and studio for Woodward there; a permanent atelier was included when the hotel was completed in 1894. His newspapers also acknowledged Woodward as being responsible for publicizing the allure of the east coast of Florida to the entire nation. Although she often made return visits to New York, and traveled elsewhere in Florida, Woodward made Palm Beach her primary home from 1893-1926. 

Laura Woodward (American, 1834-1926) Twilight on St. Augustine, ca. 1899. Oil on canvas. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. J. Hyatt Brown

The historic Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens, Inc., is a recognized 501(c)(3) organization, established in 1977 by Ann Weaver Norton (1905-1982) to preserve the Historically Registered house and surrounding gardens in West Palm Beach, Florida, where the artist lived from 1948 until 1982.  The rare palm and cycad gardens, Norton’s monumental sculptures, exhibition galleries and studio offer visitors a unique opportunity to experience the sculptor’s holistic vision in its original setting. Located at 2051 S. Flagler Drive at Barcelona Rd. in the historic El Cid neighborhood of West Palm Beach, ANSG is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Admission to ANSG is free for members, $15 for non-member adults, $10 for seniors (age 65 and older), $7 for students, and children under five are free. Gallery and garden exhibition talks are available on Wednesdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. The Gardens are also available for private events and are closed on major holidays. For more information, please visit www.ansg.org or call 561-832-5328.


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