HERE IS a view of the rare clearing of the lush hardwood hammock forest covering much of his land that James Deering allowed, being (in the end) a sucker for dramatic effect.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of creating it, sitting outside, en plein air, splashing the paint on canvas with the luxury of actual view before me, even if I found myself crammed (along with folding seat, wooden easel, paints, brushes, and etc.) into an impossibly narrow wedge of bare earth between the thick forest at my back, and the driveway running so close in front that I had to take care to keep my toes from wandering on to pavement. You know how Miami drivers can be…
And in their goal of inspiring dramatic effect with this simple “open space in the wood,” Deering and project director Paul Chalfin, perhaps with the participation of young project landscaping whiz Diego Suarez, succeeded brilliantly. Midway between imposing front gate and sumptuous villa, in the thick of solid forest, incoming guests spy off to the right this sun-dappled field, haunted by figures poetically sculpted of stone by Italian hands of an era even then centuries past. Suggestive of the ancient and dreamily forgotten, its genius is in its simplicity. And like much of what is most delightful about Vizcaya, it paints convincingly and with a light touch an illusion partaking of the mythical.
Though subtle in its effect, the area remains nonetheless a mystery, nestled within the embrace of another, larger, and the whole of it given sanctuary behind striking walls decoratively “scratched”with geometric design that Chalfin demanded be done by hand and without the assistance of modern tools, and painted in pastel shades of yellow and pink.
From the very beginnings of the project the walls had been a personal priority for our friend James; he relished the very idea of them. They would define, or “outline,” protect, and serve as intriguing public “face” of the extensive private realms lining either side of South Miami Avenue, all matters of great importance to him.
Providing to those outside of the walls a finely crafted and elegant “face,” I suppose he’d hoped, might be sufficient, “enough of him,” to satisfy at last the endless hunger and restless curiosity that seemed to flutter restlessly inside of them. How could he possibly be expected to explain, and how many times? The people of Miami in fact loved, even revered the man, whose unlikely project, and the significant flow of cash it would generate for years to come, had been itself sufficient to lift their city above a dead-serious local depression in which it had become stuck, salvaging for many the dignity of a respectable means of economic survival. They loved him, but for whatever reason Deering could not feel it. And so, in the absence of close personal friendships he might turn to, and rely upon, the shy, lovely, and improbable man occupied himself with seeing to the construction on Earth of a heavenly vision that he’d probably figured all along would in time belong to the people.
James Deering valued nothing above personal privacy, or the native integrity of the virgin forest entrusted him by the fates for safekeeping. Even so, outside the walls his personal privacy suffered, as people apparently helpless to do otherwise became fixated on his provocative status as “bachelor,” developing a morbid obsession on the unspeakable question of “what manner of man” he might truly be.
And both Deering and brother Charles had by then been visiting the Miami area for some years, to spend time with their father at his winter home in Coconut Grove. They’d been coming long enough to see the changes, and witness with growing pain the damage so casually and as a matter or course wrought by man. They’d come to cringe at the way even the most extravagant and impenetrable green seemed to melt away from the Earth, like ice, once the mark of human footprint had been pressed upon it.
Inside the walls he gave unto us a great gift, which I set out one day to capture, and now share.