Clyde Butcher’s haunting black-and-white landscapes of the Florida Everglades are considered artistic masterpieces. His images have been widely showcased in books, on calendars and through major museum exhibitions throughout the U.S.
Butcher’s art has been ranked alongside that of Ansel Adams, whose dramatic photography of Yosemite National Park inspired him in the early 1960s.
Documentarian Ken Burns, who in 2009 produced and directed The National Parks: America’s Best Idea for PBS, said that the work of Adams and Butcher “reminds us of the abiding kinship we mortals share when we work together to preserve these magnificent places.”
So when the legendary photographer, whom Burns called “a national treasure,” agreed to visit Winter Park and bring his camera to Mead Botanical Garden, it was an important milestone in the 77-year history of “Winter Park’s Natural Place.”
While the garden has been significantly restored, thanks largely to volunteer labor, it’s sometimes overshadowed by the city’s more glitzy dining, shopping and cultural attractions.
Mead Botanical Garden Inc., the nonprofit organization that operates the city-owned expanse of woods and wetlands, was able to snare Butcher in part because he and his family — including wife Niki and daughter Jackie Obendorf — were already going to be in Central Florida, where they own a timeshare.
But more importantly, Butcher is an outspoken conservationist who finds it difficult to resist using his celebrity to raise awareness of local parks
“You need to protect what’s in your own backyard,” says Butcher, 75, a white-bearded happy warrior who’s known for wading waist-deep in alligator-infested muck to get just the right shot.
While he was in Winter Park, Butcher headlined a $100 per ticket fundraiser dubbed Lens Envy: An Evening with Clyde Butcher, at the Winter Park Civic Center on New England Avenue. The event, which quickly sold out, featured the amiable artist discussing his career and projecting images of his work.
He subsequently made three trips to Mead Botanical Garden to soak in the atmosphere and capture its ambiance with his camera. Winter Park Magazine was granted exclusive rights to reproduce the resulting images, which are shown on the cover of this issue and on pages 30-37.
In a follow-up telephone interview from his home in Venice, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Butcher says he enjoyed his time at Mead Botanical Garden because it combined untamed natural areas with “controlled spaces” that appeared well used.
“I hope people understand what you have there,” he says. “I would advise people who visit not to rush through it. Go slow. Watch what happens. You could easily spend a whole day there. And when you come back next, it’ll be an entirely new experience.”
For some of his photographs, in typical Butcher fashion, he positioned himself squarely in the middle of Howell Creek. “That’s the kind of thing you have to do,” he says. “You want to connect to a place; to really become a part of it.”
Mead Botanical Garden is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to dusk. It’s located north of Orlando, just off U.S. 17-92 in Winter Park. Coming from Orlando, turn right (east) onto Garden Drive just past the Winter Park city limits. Coming from Winter Park, turn left (east) onto Garden Drive, just past Orange Avenue. Garden Drive leads directly to the main entrance. In addition to being a beautifully unspoiled nature area, the garden boasts a number of facilities available for public use. Among them:
• The Grove. This multipurpose, open-air venue hosts an array of musical and theatrical productions. It’s a great place to bring a blanket or a lawn chair and watch a performance in the glorious outdoors. For rental information, call 407-599-2800.
• The Amphitheater. uilt in 1960, the amphitheater has for decades been one of the most popular settings in the region for weddings and other special functions. Outdoor bench seating can accommodate up to 300 people. For rental information, call 407-599-3397.
• Picnic Pavilion. ooking for a place to hold a picnic, family birthday party or class reunion? The pavilion, located near the main entrance, offers a shady setting and several tables. For reservation information, call 407-599-3397.
• The Winter Park Garden Club. his 3,000-square-foot building accommodates up to 175 people for weddings, receptions, meetings, retreats and other events. There’s a fully equipped kitchen and a lovely patio that overlooks lush wooded areas. For rental information, call 407-644-5770. The Florida Federation of Garden Clubs has a similar facility adjacent to Mead Botanical Garden. For rental information, call 407-647-7016.
Mead Botanical Garden also has a community vegetable garden and a popular summer camp as well as birdwatching expeditions, guided hikes, a fall plant sale and such events as the annual Great Duck Derby — the racing ducks are of the rubber variety — which supports the garden’s environmental education programs. For more information and a calendar of events, visit meadgarden.org.
MEAD BOTANICAL GARDEN PORTFOLIO
By Clyde Butcher