Not just a metaphor—it’s an absolute fact that in and around Jacksonville, Florida there are many bridges to cross—east to west, north to south—all spanning the incredible St Johns River.
The St. Johns River is the longest river in the United States—310 miles long, winding through or bordering twelve Florida counties. It is one of the few rivers in the U.S. which flows north. There is no way to live in or to visit NE Florida and not have to traverse one bridge or another to get where you’re going—whether it crosses the St Johns River, the Intracoastal Waterway or various smaller rivers that feed into the St Johns.
FYI: The St. Johns was named one of 14 American Heritage Rivers in 1998 but was included on a list of America’s Ten Most Endangered Rivers in 2008.—Wikipedia.org
Upon my return to Jacksonville (where I lived from 1996-2004) I was once again inspired by the beautiful and diverse landscape. Having depicted several bridges and roadways in Seattle and in Tacoma it was natural to maintain an urban focus. In Florida this means being surrounded by water. In Jacksonville this means being surrounded by the St Johns River.
Last week I drove over the MATTHEWS BRIDGE—heading toward downtown after enjoying a morning of white sand, warm ocean waves and balmy air. The Matthews, a cantilever bridge was actually the first bridge I painted in my St Johns River bridge series almost two years ago. My painting captures the burgundy colored bridge at sunset from the perspective the driver—me ! Yes, I do take pictures driving at 40 mph to get an accurate architectural perspective !
The MAIN STREET BRIDGE, an intensely cerulean blue, makes it one of the most recognizable architectural features of the Jacksonville skyline. This downtown draw-bridge is heavily trafficked by cars and pedestrians above and when opened—by boats passing below. This is the 2nd incarnation of the Main Street Bridge. A photo of the original bridge is collaged into my painting.
I really wanted to include the BRIDGE of LIONS in the series although it spans the Intracoastal Waterway vs.the river because it is so unique and historically significant. It would indeed be a huge challenge to represent this bridge in its entirety on a manageable size canvas. I decided to feature aspects of the bridge’s architecture and its setting and surrealistically impose the two Medici lions guarding the bridge into the background . The Bridge of Lions is located directly across from the Castillo de San Marcos at the St. Augustine waterfront—built when Florida belonged to Spain.
An interesting yet horrific historical fact: (but after all, St Augustine is all about history )while under U.S. control, the fort was used as a military prison to incarcerate members of various Native American tribes beginning with the Seminole tribe.
What interests me most about the ACOSTA BRIDGE is watching the trains traverse the old, yet fully functional train trestle which flanks the bridge. The neon blue lights define the bridge railings at night—creating a dazzling riverscape. Walking with my dog Ocho along Jacksonville’s Riverwalk presents me all at once with views of the Acosta, the Fuller Warren, the Main Street Bridge and in the far distance—the Hart Bridge. River taxis and events which celebrate and bring awareness to the environmental concerns of the river take place along this part of the riverfront regularly.
The DAMES POINT BRIDGE (officially the Napoleon Bonaparte Broward Bridge) is a design whereby parallel cables hang from pylons to support the bridge deck. It very much conjures up a modern version of an old clipper ship, especially at night. I had intended on using white coated wire for the cables but it looked a little too much like a kids’ project. I have driven this bridge many times on my way to Big Talbot Island or Amelia Island, but it is beyond exciting to drive it at 65mph (175 feet the highest point) for nearly 2 miles while trying to encapsulate the visual essence of the bridge itself.
The HART BRIDGE, aka the “Green Monster”—is a continuous truss bridge, with a cantilevered main span. Connecting the SE part of Jacksonville to downtown, it makes up a significant segment of the 5K / 15K Gate River Run held annually in Jacksonville. Running the Hart for almost 3/4 mile has been a favorite part of the race since it began in 1978. The drama of the bridge lights against a brilliant sunset inspired me to paint it as a nightscape. My painting includes the original Maxwell House Coffee plant which can be seen as one drives toward downtown.
The FULLER WARREN is perhaps the most travelled of all the bridges I painted because it is the part of Interstate 95. It is the corridor between the north and south banks of the St Johns River. The reconstructed Fuller Warren (2003) provided new opportunity to actually use the area beneath the bridge on the north bank. Thanks to some Jacksonville visionaries, the parking area in use during the week became RAM (Riverside Arts Market) on Saturdays. Part of the Riverwalk, it is a scenic, popular destination to enjoy music, various foods, crafts, produce, a constant procession of dogs, yoga classes, and special events.
It was challenging to decide which view of the bridge to depict. Ultimately, I combined the view from the remarkable Olmsted gardens at the Cummer Museum (next door to RAM) with a mere suggestion of Saturday market activity. Another lane with additional support columns is planned to be added to the Fuller Warren. It will accommodate pedestrians, those on and with wheels, and of course—dogs. My painting just suggests this highly anticipated addition.
I saved the BUCKMAN BRIDGE for last because it is sooooo long. Really wide canvasses make it a major task to merely cover the surface. I found it more exciting to capture the bridge’s 3.1 mile trajectory and river’s color variations. Having grown up in Miami, the Buckman ( except for the 65 foot elevation) reminds me of the causeways crossing Biscayne Bay.
When one Googles photos the Buckman, lots of crash images come up. An artist friend of mine who drives the Buckman daily helped me get a better understanding of the bridge’s terrain without my having to ‘drive and shoot.’
Painting eight bridges in less than two years has been an amazing exploration of the St Johns River, bridge architecture, NE Florida geography and lifestyle….and similar to doing research for my book “eclectic COFFEE spot in Puget Sound,” it has provided me with artistic challenges and rich experiences. The journey has also anchored me once again in Jacksonville.
— Marsha Glazière https://www.facebook.com/marshaglaziereartist