Coral Gables

Exhibit highlights artwork by UM architecture professor

Images of the history of Coral Gables and Europe hang on the walls of Coral Gables Museum in the “Thomas A. Spain: A Retrospective” exhibition until June 30.

The exhibition goes through 30 years of drawings and paintings of Thomas Spain, professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Miami.

“His drawings are just extraordinary. I think we’ve never exhibit anything quite like his drawings here in the museum,” said Christine Rupp, museum director. “His attention to detail really reflects the attention to detail that the city planner and developer George Merrick had.”

Merrick was Coral Gables’ founder.

Spain’s images, done in pencil, ink, chalk, watercolors and oil pastels, show the architecture of Italy and Coral Gables.

The series of topographic drawings is the result of a study abroad program he taught in Rome in 1991. Spain took the students to the streets to paint what they saw. He noticed the students were not comfortable drawing on the streets, so Spain grabbed his pencils and sat beside the students to work on his own drawings.

“I noticed that for whatever reason, because I was willing to sit on their side on the streets and draw, they also would relax to sit on the street and draw,” Spain said. “I had a good time, they had a good time. When they get better, I get better.”

Since then, he always sat to draw with the students when he taught the class in Rome or Coral Gables. The topographic series include images done with pen and ink, pencil, color pastels, and black-and-white pastels and washes.

“You’re just documenting, describing the world that you see,” he said. “If you simply look at something you really don’t see it. If you sit and look at it closely, you actually begin to see all the aspects of it. It’s almost like a veil. The more you look, the more veils get removed between you and what you’re seeing.”

The second portion of the exhibition includes two series where Spain looked to tell stories and address other ideas and emotions.

In Natural vs. Built, the drawings in pencil show the contrast between natural and man-made environment. In the most recent series, The Backs, Spain painted the back of buildings in watercolors. Both series feature images of Coral Gables.

“They are re-constructions of the real world rather than descriptions of the real world,” he said. “It takes different pieces over time and around the place, and re-composes them into a plausible description of the place, but not an exact description of the place.”

The museum, 285 Aragon Ave., also offers public programs to go along with the exhibition. Andrew Georgiadis, a former student of Spain and now a professor at the University of Miami School of Architecture, will teach chalk pastel workshops to adults and families.

Read more Visual Arts stories from the Miami Herald

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