Highlands Hammock State Park will be celebrating International Museum Day in partnership with the Sebring Public Library during the month of May. The park is home to the State of Florida Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum. David Schmidt, CCC Museum curator, will be present in the library as a featured guest to chat about the “Prehistoric Life in Florida” mural by the great American wildlife artist Charles R. Knight, who became internationally famous for his groundbreaking and authoritative paintings of dinosaurs, mammoths, and the early humans of ancient earth. Schmidt, who is a Roosevelt scholar, has conducted extensive research on both the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Project Administration (WPA), two of the most successful New Deal programs initiated by Franklin Roosevelt to counter unemployment during the Great Depression.
Knight completed the WPA mural of saber-toothed cats and mastodons for the Sebring Post Office in 1942. The mural was moved to the Sebring Public Library in 1994 when the post office, which was also constructed as a WPA project, became the Sebring Police Department. These informal discussions will be held in the library on two consecutive Tuesdays, May 14 and May 21 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Events are also scheduled at the park and will be held in the CCC Museum on Saturday, May 18, which is officially International Museum Day. Museum volunteers will be offering tours during regular museum hours from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and two special programs, which are approximately one hour in length, will be held on the museum stage.
Former park ranger and museum curator Darrel Smith brings the Great Depression to life in his living history presentation “The Best of Times, Worst of Times” at 10:00 a.m. The narrative is based on the oral histories and informal conversations that were conducted by Smith over a period of eight years with former CCC alumnus Velmar Mack. Smith reflects on those “another day, another dollar” times of a young corpsman circa 1936, when working in the Civilian Conservation Corps became “a vacation from poverty. Join “the CCC Man” as he honors Mack and the legacy of our “CCC boys” who built Highlands Hammock and parks all across America.
In addition to the library discussions, David Schmidt will present “Charles R. Knight: The Artist Who Saw Through Time” at 12:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1874, Knight developed a passion for drawing animals as a child and later taught himself anatomy by making meticulous studies of wild animals he observed in the taxidermy department of New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Knight worked with several legendary pioneering paleontologists including Henry Fairfield Osborn, who created the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology at the museum and Edward Drinker Cope, who had discovered some 1,115 prehistoric animal species which amounted to a third of all those known at that time. They sought to create visually dramatic and scientifically accurate displays which brought prehistoric creatures to life. Their efforts has an enormous impact on museum paleontology and changed how museums exhibited their collections. Knight’s work extended into the motion picture and entertainment industry, influencing the realization of prehistoric animals in films from ‘The Lost World’ and ‘King Kong’ to ‘Fantasia’ and ‘Jurassic Park.’
In the early twentieth century, Knight created three great murals of prehistoric life that were completed between 1923 and 1930. The series included the following: American Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Man murals, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s Rancho La Brea Tar Pits mural, and 28 panels depicting the pageantry of life on earth from its earliest beginnings through the Age of Reptiles to the Dawn of Man for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. According to David Schmidt, “Knight was paid $130,000 for the Field Museum panels.” He stated, “This indicates the value placed on his paintings during his professional heyday, and I think that Sebring is incredibly lucky to have someone of such national stature to have done the WPA mural for the post office.”
All of the Museum Day programs are free and open to the public. Park entry fees of $6.00 per vehicle (up to 8 people) and $4.00 per single occupant vehicle apply. Park entry fees are waived after 6:00 p.m. The Sebring Public Library is located at 319 W. Center Avenue in downtown Sebring. Highlands Hammock is located at 5931 Hammock Road, Sebring.
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