UF School of Art + Art History Professor of African Art Robin Poynor, and his co-author Amanda B. Carlson, are the recent recipients of the gold medal in visual arts for the 2014 Florida Book Awards. Nominated by the University Press of Florida, the award-winning book Africa in Florida: Five Hundred Years of African Presence in the Sunshine State (University Press of Florida) is an interdisciplinary text with emphasis on visual information in order to frame questions within and across disciplines.
“The reason that my co-author and I originally decided we wanted to do the book, besides the fact that it was a fascinating subject, was that we knew that in 2013 there would be a great deal of celebration about the Spanish presence in Florida and European impact on the United States,” says Poynor. “We wanted to make it clear that at the very same moment that Europeans stepped onto Florida soil, at least one African stepped on the Florida soil.”
Poynor relays the story of one such man, Juan Garrido, an associate of Ponce de Leon’s who accompanied him on that initial voyage in 1513. They returned in 1521 with the intention of colonizing Florida. Ponce de Leon was killed and Garrido subsequently attached himself to Cortés, later playing an important role in the Spanish presence in Mexico.
“We wanted to use that initial 1513 visit by a person of African descent to begin exploring the various waves of African presence that came during the next 500 years,” says Poynor. “So, it covers from 1513 to 2013, which was the 500 year celebration of that.”
In the book’s introduction, the authors use a portrait that they believe represents Juan Garrido. An illustration featuring Cortés, his companion and Garrido, are the only figures whose faces are represented, while all of the rest of the Europeans are depicted in armor.
“This shows that Garrido’s presence was seen as something remarkable in the eyes of the person who created the illustration,” says Poynor.
“Overall, what interested us was the fantastic number of ways that African presence has manifested in the state throughout its history that most people are unaware of.”