Some of Broward’s most magnificent pieces of public art are hidden from public view.
A striking collection of nature prints by famed photographer Clyde Butcher, acquired with public funds, hangs behind locked doors in the airport administrative offices, far from the airport, in Dania Beach.
“Viewing is by appointment only,” the county advises on its website, offering no contact information.
Added to the county’s art collection years ago, the prints have been viewed over the years mostly by top aviation officials and their office guests.
Other public art that is hard to find includes a disparate collection of paintings kept in administrative offices at Port Everglades.
The remainder of works in Broward County’s vast public art collection are easily seen on road sides, outside public buildings, in the hallways in public corridors.
The Butcher originals hang across from a janitor closet and a bathroom in a office hallway. They are displayed at the office reception desk and in the wellness lounge. Three of the prints hang in a conference room in which Aviation Director Kent George recently met with top officials from Broward Sheriff’s Office, for example.
“They have always been in the offices,” George said.
Though the art is available for viewing by appointment, county officials said no one has requested a viewing.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is so chock full of public art, there’s nowhere to put it there anyway, George said. What’s not decorated with art is under construction or renovation, he said.
The county for years dictated that 2 percent of the cost of public construction projects be spent on public art. Though that was loosened in 2011 to allow the art spending to be waived, the law resulted in so much art at the airport, it might be the closest thing to an art museum that Broward County government owns.
George said the 12 Butcher pieces were purchased in 1994 for aviation offices that were built in an airport terminal. When the offices moved off-site, officials took eight of the photos with them. The four left behind are in a terminal, past airport security.
Purchased for $10,000, the dozen photographs are appraised at $64,300, said Jody Horne-Leshinsky, interim director of the county’s Cultural Division.
Some 4,000 to 5,000 visitors pass through the aviation offices a year and see the photographs, said Christina Roldan, an aviation project manager overseeing public art installations. They are consultants, contractors, airport tenants and government agency officials. Compare those numbers with the 23 million travelers reported at FLL airport in 2011.
Horne-Leshinsky said the art’s limited viewership is akin to the public art in places such as homeless assistance shelters or the Emergency Operations Center, also viewable by appointment only.
“The purpose of it was to put something attractive on the walls for when they brought people in for meetings and conferences, and the interns see them and the staff sees them,” she said.
Though some of Butcher’s other works hang in the airport, the traveling masses won’t see these — a collection of eight black and white gelatin silver prints depicting Florida’s wilderness.
Butcher remembers when they were removed from public high visibility. He said originally they hung in a terminal.
“A lot of people were very upset when they took them out,” Butcher said in a telephone interview.In the photos, he captured a clearing in the Everglades, Spanish moss hanging from a cypress tree, brought home the unfathomable smoothness of the Kissimmee River in a shot he said he waited three years to make for the right wind, light and water conditions.
“Everything was lush, the water was flowing. It was like a jungle in there,” Butcher recalled from his Big Cypress Gallery off Tamiami Trail, where he’s planning a 20th anniversary celebration over President’s Day weekend Feb. 16-18.
Now 70 and living in the Venice-Sarasota area, Butcher has been called “Florida’s Ansel Adams.” He and Adams did a show together at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, said his daughter, Jackie Butcher Obendorf.
Butcher said he used to work for the money. Then in 1986, his son, Ted, 17, was killed by a drunk driver in a car accident in Fort Myers.
Devastated, Butcher said the wilderness was a “spiritual necessity” he fled to “in hopes of regaining my serenity and equilibrium,” his artist statement to Broward County recounts.
Butcher said his photos are meant to remind people that sanctuaries like these must be preserved, and that everything we do in one place of the globe affects those somewhere else.
Butcher said he’d like his pictures to be seen by as many people as possible.
“I’d love to have them in the airport themselves,” he said.