Planning a trip to the Mennello Museum of American Art? Check out these Earl Cunningham facts to impress your friends and family!
1. Earl Cunningham often painted from memory rather than on-location.
One example of this is Gabriel Overlooking Boothbay Harbor painted in 1960, 11 years after he settled in St. Augustine, Florida. Cunningham was born in Edgecomb, Maine, and spent some of his life in the folk-artist community of Boothbay.
2. Cunningham was known to use commercial paints he picked up from yard sales.
Cunningham painted with a collection of artist paints as well as commercial paints like house paints. He was known to purchase cans of paint from yard sales and have as many as 20 to 30 cans in his studio. It’s possible that the pinks, greens, and yellows so prominent in his works, such as this one Sunrise at Pine Point, Maine, are commercial paints.
3. Cunningham may have been inspired by other artists to pursue themes of nature and people in harmony.
Cunningham might have begun to consider his works in terms of related ideas and was inspired to develop themes around known places in Maine, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, which could provide range and appeal for museum exhibitions not unlike his own gallery. One example is the above work, Seminole Village, Deep in the Everglades, which is one of many works featuring the Seminole people living in harmony with the natural wonders of the Everglades.
4. Despite the utopia of many of his works, Cunningham sometimes included reminders of tragedy and the destruction of progress.
A recurring theme in Cunningham’s otherwise idyllic works is a bit of tragedy. Typically, as in this work titled Everglades Winter, tragedy appears in the form of fallen trees. Trees have been sawed rather than felled by natural means — meant to symbolize human destruction.
5. The Everglades by Cunningham was acquired by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
Although Cunningham stated that The Everglades was purchased by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy for the White House restoration, in a letter from her social secretary, Letitia Baldrige, Kennedy thanks Cunningham for the painting, making it appear more likely that he gifted the work to her. It is possible that the First Lady admired the work during her own visit to Cunningham’s St. Augustine studio. The acquisition of The Everglades by the Kennedy White House demonstrates the high esteem held for art reflecting the peoples of America. In 1961, it hung prominently in the White House where it could be glimpsed during presidential television interviews.
View the largest collection of Earl Cunningham’s work at the Mennello Museum of American Art.
Learn more about Earl Cunningham