Katerina Vignau: Miami as Text 2022

Katerina Vignau is an Honors college student at FIU, majoring in Natural and Applied Science with a minor in Business. Katerina is hoping to move on to become a Physician’s Assistant. She is currently learning sign language and enjoying her last year at FIU. She loves to spend time with her family, God, and her church family.

She looks forward to experiencing Italy and taking full advantage of whatever adventures she encounters along the way.

“Who Preserves History” by Katerina Vignau of FIU at Deering Estate

The Deering Estate has three stories.

One of the rich landowner, Charles Deering, who lived in opulence, comfort, and abundance.

One of the Bahamians that built his Richmond Cottage and Stone House.

And one was that of the Tequesta that originally inhabited the land.

One fact that caught my attention was how the Tequesta had left their marks in the forms of burial grounds and shell tools, yet large parts of who they were had disappeared.  For some reason, there is no historical record of their language or any images of them.

Who decides whose history is important enough to preserve?

Fortunately, Charles Deering didn’t ruin the Tequesta burial mounds.  But that’s the point. Deering was the man who was able to decide how much of the history on his land he wanted to preserve.  It’s interesting how it is up to the people of influence whose legacy lives on.  The rich have the choice to make something that stands the test of time.  The Deering Estate is a testament to how people of influence can choose if and how their story is told.

To this day you can see his Stone Cottage, fortified by cement laid down by tons of Bahamian men.  He made his house, and therefore his name and story secure. 

Now, I’m not sure the exact reason why the Tequesta don’t have any records of their language or of their faces.  But, I can’t help but wonder how much influence other men had on this. 

Was it because people didn’t care enough to preserve their culture?

Thinking about erased histories, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other groups of people have been erased with time intentionally.

Tequesta tools and Deering Estate Cottage. Photos by Katerina Vignau/cc by 4.0

Vizcaya as Text

“Nothing’s Original” by Katerina Vignau of FIU at Vizcaya

It seems that every few years, the old fashion trends come back.  Today, you can see girls wearing scrunchies or converse from the ’80s.  Items that were once considered trendy are now fashionable again.

There are two ways to look at using ideas from the past.  Either they are stolen and unoriginal, or simply took inspiration from the past to make something new.

James Deering was no stranger to this idea.

He saw the beauty of Europe (specifically Spain and Italy) and strived to make his own “Vizcaya” in the United States.

His house is scattered with inspiration from Italy.  Oftentimes he would just buy the already-made Italian products and just install it into his house.  He transported Italian paintings, ceilings, and even a village’s fountain from Italy. 

However, he did have original artwork made for his house as well.  But, the originality of these is also in question since they were either based off of famous European art or European art styles.

His home made me think about how often people adopt each other’s ideas.  I couldn’t help but think about how intriguing and revolutionary it would have been if he used his resources and architects to make completely original work that wasn’t a knock-off of what he’d seen abroad.

Then, I thought about the fact that most things we believe to be original are often inspired by things that already exist either in art or in nature.

Are there any truly unique ideas?

It seems that there truly is nothing new under the sun.

Fountain bought from an Italian village. Photo by Katerina Vignau/cc by 4.0

Downtown As Text

“Hidden in Plain Sight” by Katerina Vignau of FIU at Downtown Miami

Most of the students in my class are Miami natives and yet so much of the Downtown Miami walk lecture was brand new for them.  As a fellow Miami native, I was astounded by how much of Miami’s history was still available to be explored.  I always thought that Downtown Miami would be so developed that there wouldn’t be any historical centers left.  Though that was true for the Tequesta burial site that now has a Whole Foods over it, I was surprised to see many sites still in tact and on display.  Places like the Wagner Homestead, Fort Dallas, and Fort Dallas Park were all in plain view yet often overlooked.  The Fort Dallas park can easily be seen as old and run-down buildings that are yet to be torn down and developed into something new and useful.

            These pieces of history are nestled in corners surrounded by modern buildings.  Most people would walk right past it on the way to their jobs and may not realize that they have any significance at all. 

            Miami’s kilometer zero is another example.  There are no signs to indicate the spot is unusual or noteworthy. Yet, that is the spot that divides Miami into quadrants of southwest, northwest, northeast, and southeast.

            The Miami Circle looks like nice landscaping that people even have let their dogs go to the bathroom on.  But taking a closer look, you’d realize that it is a sacred spot that was formerly a Tequesta midden.

            It’s extraordinary how much of my hometown’s history is hidden in plain sight, ready to be discovered and appreciated.

Fort Dallas, Miami Circle, Wagner Homestead, Fort Dallas Park-Photos by Katerina Vignau/cc by 4.0

South Beach as Text

“In Pursuit of Individuality” by Katerina Vignau of FIU at South Beach

Both the United States and more specifically Miami have a culture of individuality. They strive to stand out and be original.  This is evident throughout the South Beach scene.

As you walk along the buildings at South Beach, you encounter unique architecture that is seen nowhere else in the world.  The art deco style that originated in France is its predominant inspiration.  The Miamians created their own style- MiMo (or Miami Modern) from Art deco inspiration.  It is characterized by colorful paint and neon signs.  The buildings have “eyebrows” that stick out from the sides of the buildings, ziggurat-shaped tops, curved edges, relief art, glass bricks, porthole windows, and decks that look like they belong on a ship.  The colors and vibrancy pop out at you.  It is a street that demands to be seen. 

Barbara Baer Capitman was a leader in preserving the look of the street in Miami.  She recognized, early on, that the strip is what makes Miami special.  Little did she know it would be an iconic part of Miami.  It is what many foreigners think of when they think about Miami.  It became one of the city’s biggest attractions.  Not to mention, Barbara Capitman herself was unique and revolutionary for striving to protect the MiMo architecture when people desired to break down the buildings for high-rises.

Then there is a building that seems like it doesn’t belong there.  The Versace home has terracotta roof tiles and an older style.  He is an icon of individuality.  He paved his own way in the fashion industry with new styles and was one of the first notable people to find South Beach alluring.

Lastly, the Betsy Orb.  This ridiculously large sphere defies gravity, seemingly lodged between two buildings.  Its main purpose- is to make something distinctive and jarring. 

Miami continues to push creative limits and strives for originality.  Time will tell which new visionaries will make Miami more extraordinary.

Typical Art Deco style, Barbara Baer Capitman memorial, Versace Mansion, Betsy Orb- Photo by Katerina Vignau/cc by 4.0

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