This spring, we have had the incredible opportunity to have Philip Juras and his wife Beth Gavrilles here at Little St. Simons Island. Philip is a landscape painter whose work has largely been inspired by the journals kept by William Bartram as he traveled through the Southeast in the 1770’s. Bartram, one of the first American-born naturalists, kept detailed notes and drawings, painting a picture in words of a very different landscape than what we see today across the Southeast.
With Philip’s understanding of botany and ecology and his artist’s eye, he went in search of the landscapes Bartram had so eloquently described. Much has changed across the Southeast since the late eighteenth century, so it wasn’t necessarily the case that Bartram’s guidance led Philip directly to his points of interest. In some cases, Bartram’s landscapes had been lost entirely, and Philip had to recreate them from the descriptions in the journals and his own research. In doing so, Philip has reinvented a panorama of the South, before it was divided, cultivated, manipulated by European settlement.
In 2011, a collection of 68 paintings was displayed in The Southern Frontier: Landscapes Inspired by Bartram’s Travels exhibition at the Telfair Museums in Savannah.
Over the past year, Philip has continued his work in oil, painting the vistas of Little St. Simons Island, vistas that Philip claims are “some of the most amazing natural landscapes to be found on any barrier island along the Atlantic seaboard.” Field research has occupied much of the time he has spent on the island, but this spring, we have turned the barn into a gallery, decorating the walls with the familiar, yet brilliant scenes that Philip has captured with his brush, and we have had the opportunity to hear Philip speak more about his work and his passion.
While the paintings in themselves are remarkable, the message behind them is not to be overlooked. “It is my intent in these compositions to give a sense of stepping into the scene, thereby sharing with the viewer my passion for these natural environments and my desire to see more places like Little St. Simons Island preserved for the future.”
Philip’s style resembles that of Hudson River School painters Albert Bierdstat and Thomas Moran, who depicted glorious scenes from the Western Fronteir, work that in Philip’s mind helped to create a sense of wonder and awe regarding these landscapes that led to protection through national parks. If the early colonizers had seen the South through Bartram’s eyes, would we be experiencing a different landscape than those that blanket the South today?
For many, nature inspires art, and for some art inspires conservation. Either way (or both), we are truly glad to have Philip share his work with us!