Michelle Puentes is a sophomore student pursing a double degree in Art and Psychology with a Certification in Italian Language at Florida International University. She loves to explore and travel, learn new languages, draw and paint, play guitar and serve in her church. She aspires to become an art therapist for children with emotional or physical struggles, and wants to travel around the world to immerse in different lifestyles and appreciate the art and cuisine.
“Language of Art” by Michelle Puentes , Vizcaya as Text, February 18, 2022
Coming once again to the small piece of Italy in Miami was a delight, exploring all the wonderful masterpieces that truly make Vizcaya the beauty it is. Filled with European artwork that dates from centuries ago, James Deering truly took his time in filling each detail and corner of the room with thoughtful themes.
Being located in the city that is known for fulfilling hedonistic pleasures with wild partying and forgettable nights, Deering placed the very own concept of Miami since 1916. A city that booms today with a vivid nightlife and bursting diversity, Vizcaya makes the connection between Italy and Miami with Mediterranean style architecture and crawling tropical hammocks. Containing artwork from the Rocco period to Neoclassical, the mansion contains a wide variety of eye candy to look at, with eyes jumping towards every direction. Each room decorated with its respective art period and filled with curious things , it can translate what Vizcaya is really telling us about it’s home.
The entrance hall starts with the rigid, coherent, symmetrical nature of the Neoclassical art, each shape of the ceiling matching perfectly with the floor. Opposite to Miami’s spirit , it reflects the orderly, meticulous organization and culture the U.S has, from its perfectly square infrastructure to its tight religious values. Did James Deering attempt to embody Miami in this room? Most likely not.
The next room, the reception room, is covered in lightly decorated trees and plants influenced by the Rocco period in France. Known as the Marie Antoinette room, the role of it was to entertain the guests and impress them with the riches and wonders. Similar to what Miami’s attractions attempt to do, it expresses the luxury and possessions Miami shows off to the world. Additionally, it is arguably the most reflective room of the scenic nature of Miami, with graceful palm trees and pastel palette embodying the overall theme Miami is known for today.
And the last room, the music room, styles from Rocco art again. With a luxurious Italian chandelier flying from above, the room boasts with gold adorned walls and playful floral patterns, containing a grand piano and harp that were never played. Perfectly capturing the spirit of Miami in a room, the enchanting visual splendor and shallow use of the instruments mirrors the infamous reputation Miami people hold: beautiful on the outside but shallow on the inside.
What could have inspired Deering to decorate the room accordingly? Could it have been his vast extensive knowledge of European art history and its symbolism, or simply his aesthetic taste of how a room should be decorated to show his glory? It may never be known, but it definitely leaves a lot to discuss and question about. The most curious part of it all is that Vizcaya personified the way Miami is, even before it came true decades later.
“The Other Side of History” by Michelle Puentes, Downtown as Text, March 11, 2022
A beautiful, electrical city bursting with contemporary art and latin culture, Miami is known to be the nightlife city full of beaches, palm trees and young people. However, the picture everyone knows of Miami is not as accurate as its reality, having its own separate history and projects.
Miami was founded in 1896 by Julia Tuttle, also known as the “Mother of Miami” and being one of the few cities in the United States with a female founder. After her fathers’s death in 1890, she received his land and moved to Biscayne Bay. She used money from her family’s estate to purchase land around the Miami River, which would eventually develop to modern day Miami. She took the initiative to turn the wild mangroves and tropical wood hammocks into a prosperous city, and asked Henry Flager to extend his railroad to Miami. After numerous letters and even a personal visit to Flager, Tuttle could not successfully convince him to build the railroad. However,the Great Freeze turned in favor of Tuttle and reminded Flager of her story of the weather in Biscayne Bay. After sending his men to investigate the weather in Miami, he gave his order to extend the Florida East Coast Railway.
Of course, Miami would not be the abundant, prosperous city as Tuttle wished it to be without its innovating developers like Flager. But beyond that, the blood and sweat behind the development of Florida is not known much yet. In 1877, Florida’s Governor codified the leasing system in Florida, where prisoners could be leased out to private companies and industries. This was taken as the replacement method of slavery after the abolition of slavery during the Emancipation. Flager took this method and used convict leasing to build the Florida East Coast Railway. The convict leasing system was inhumane, with violent methods being used in convict camps and prisoners with injuries and diseases having to work despite their conditions. However, convict labor was not the only form of slavery used, debt peonage occurred too. Flager worked with Northern labor agencies to bring in immigrant workers, promising them the American Dream. But the living conditions of South Florida proved a living hell, with risk of diseases, heatstrokes, poisonous plants and insects everywhere. Many tried to escape and were beaten if they didn’t work. Many as 4,000 workers became slaves of this. But after legal investigation of Flager’s peonage system with the Florida East Coast Railway, he was able to cheat the Justice System and gain clearance of zero evidence of slave use. Flager manipulated the newspaper and media to hide his trials of peonage and was able to glorify his railroad work through his ownership in some newspaper. At the end, his deceitful news were spread and the congressional investigation concluded there was no immigrant peonage in the FECR camps. This has allowed history books to gloss over the cruel treatment Flager’s workers faced , and give honor and glory to Flager with numerous infrastructure named after him and a statue of him at Downtown Miami.
As a repeated moment of history throughout the world, the past of the greatest cities are often told with the brightest light, leaving the dark realities in the shadows to never be heard or seen again. And still, the statue of Henry Flager stands mighty and tall today in its power.
“Hidden History” by Michelle Puentes, South Beach as Text, April 1, 2022
A street full of tourists and heavy drinkers, aligned with crowded tables of restaurants under classy Art Deco buildings, South Beach is one of a kind place in the world. Surrounded by breathtaking blue green waters from the Port of Miami, it is immediately the center of attraction for anyone coming to visit. However, the only attraction behind this district is not only the stunning beaches and load of nightlife, it is also the rich history behind it’s unique infrastructure and developers, which many are unaware of.
In 1920, Miami Beach started rising, having South Beach’s mainstreets beginning to develop. In the 1930s, South Beach’s star was born. Art Deco buildings became popular among the street’s of South beach, bringing an architectural revolution. Art Deco was characterized by 10 common features: ziggurat rooflines, white facades with pastel highlights, three stories tall, curved edges, low relief sculptures, horizontal eyebrow shades, circular windows, glass bricks, terrazzo floors and bright neon strips. These unique features were inspired by the future, as the 1930’s viewed modern appliances such as refrigerators and toasters, or rocket ships and spaceships, as the future of the world. The signs of the building decorated with classy deco font highlighted with neon lines, it gave Art Deco buildings a new meaning and style by the night.
Thanks to the activism and efforts of Barbara Baer, Art Deco buildings were preserved in South Beach after her persistent efforts in preserving the unique architecture in 1977. Because of this, South Beach was added to the National Register of Historic Places and has received mass tourism today due to its distinctness and originality. However, as tourists and locals walk through the street, not much of them know of the rich history behind the pretty neon lights. Unfortunately, not much is given to bring awareness upon the past of South Beach, and how they are located in one of rarest places in the world. Hopefully in the future, the eventfulness and development of South Beach is one that children can learn and people can know through awareness and education.