FLMNH display features underwater team photo

By Darcie MacMahon and Dr. William Marquardt

The Florida Museum of Natural Historyís new Education and Exhibition Center, Powell Hall, opened to the public in January, 1998. A permanent exhibit now under construction is the 6,050-square-foot Hall of South Florida People and Environments. This is the first permanent exhibit on South Florida in the 83-year history of the Museum. Upon completion, we expect that over 200,000 persons annually will see the exhibit and as many as 2 million more through electronic media.

Here is a brief tour through the exhibit. After an orientation, visitors will enter the Mangrove Forest Boardwalk and walk on a broad wooden boardwalk over simulated water in a full-scale diorama of a South Florida mangrove forest and seagrass estuary. Text and imagery along the boardwalk will introduce critical elements of South Florida environmental and cultural history, explored in more detail in the following gallery, the Jessie Ball duPont Natural Habitats Study Center. Visitors will next encounter the richness of the estuary in the Larger-Than-Life Underwater Walk-Through gallery, a 10-times-larger-than-life underwater diorama that features marine environments from the perspective of a small fish. This exciting gallery will bring to life the tiny, but critical organisms that sustain these systems at the foundation of the food web.

Next, in the Fishing Heritage gallery, visitors will discover the 6,000-year-old Gulf coastal fishing tradition. This artifact-rich gallery will focus on the fishing industry of the Calusa, their predecessors, and traditions that carried into the twentieth century. Included are topics such as fishing, nets, watercraft, and canals. Ambient light for the gallery is provided by two sources: a sculpture suspended from the ceiling, which represents a Calusa Indian paddling a canoe surrounded by fish; the other a floor-to-ceiling back-lit transparency of a Calusa Indian diver with his spear. The model for the diver is none other than the Aucilla River Prehistory Projectís Bill Gifford, who obligingly plunged, practically naked, into a cold spring in late January to pose for underwater photos taken by Joe Latvis and Tim Barber. The sketch by Merald Clark shows the approximate appearance of the diver. Bill declined to comment on speculation that he will soon pursue a professional modeling career.

Following the Fishing gallery, visitors will enter a Thatched Structure to find themselves in the presence of the Calusa Indian leader in the midst of a political ceremony. The scene (created with seven mannequins and associated models) is based on historical accounts. In other galleries, visitors will view carved, painted, and engraved objects made by Calusa Indian people. Visitors will also learn that the rich estuaries, rivers, and swamps of South Florida continued to provide prosperity for European immigrants and for Seminole and Miccosukee Indian people, who still inhabit South Florida today.

It takes the combined talents of many people to bring the South Florida story to life. We are very grateful to have the help of our colleagues on the Aucilla River team.