Miami Stories

Miami Stories: Love of art and teaching drew this couple to Miami

Jane Harris and her husband Kenton.
Jane Harris and her husband Kenton.

The road trip began in northeastern Pennsylvania and ended in Miami in August of 1985.

The plan was two years of grad school at UM for my spouse and then back home.

Seemed like a doable plan. We took an apartment at Red and Bird Road. We walked to Allen’s Drugstore for breakfast. Walgreens and Piggly Wiggly were there to make life easy.

The semester began at UM. Kenton was a teaching assistant as well a doctoral candidate. He was engaged in scholarly activities. I explored.

Kenton came from a dance and musical family; his brother had moved to Miami years earlier and operated a dance studio at 114th Avenue and Bird Road.

Teaching at the dance studio provided additional income and involvement in the arts. I did a stint at their reception desk for a short time, passed out samples in a supermarket and did telemarketing at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, transitioning to special events. Great fun and interesting people.

When Thanksgiving rolled around, we found ourselves having dinner outdoors in a garden. We marveled at the streets lined with palm trees. (Still do!) Shortly thereafter, wearing shorts, I sang “Here comes Santa Claus’’ with other parade goers on Sunset Drive in South Miami. I enthusiastically drove out-of-town visitors around — the beaches, Coconut Grove, Calle Ocho, Dadeland Mall and the Everglades.

In anticipation of the move to Miami I had subscribed to the Miami Herald, voraciously reading about this temporary home. The thing that I found to be particularly intriguing was an article about a new project, which would provide studio space for artists to work. It was called the South Florida Art Center and it was located on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.

I had a degree in art education but had worked in retail management in Pennsylvania for 10 years. There were no art classes in my small mining-town high school. No art lessons; my first visit to an art museum was as a sophomore in college. I yearned to be an “artist.”

So off I went to find this “Lincoln Road.’’ which surely, I thought, would be made of yellow bricks.

The street was sluggish, devoid of any references to our idea of the energy depicted in Miami Vice. Empty cavernous storefronts, small haggard businesses. Disquieting.

I remember sitting in a temporary office. Across the desk was a woman named Ellie Schneiderman, an incredible visionary willing to do the deed no matter what it took. And the deed was to give artists a place to work in commune with each other and the community. It was a dingy and dark loft space and I was scared to death. By the time the interview had ended I was officially an artist at the South Florida Art Center.

Over 10 years I changed studio spaces three times. I exhibited at the Art Center and many venues in South Florida, the Northeast, as well as Costa Rica and California. The South Florida Art Center had become my art school. The other artists were integral to my growth as an artist. We shared, critiqued, tossed ideas around and socialized with like-minded new friends who offered many different perspectives and cultural histories. In those early days we literally owned “The Road.” It was magical.

I was also blessed to have several mentors during this time. One, an accomplished printmaker, taught me many techniques, offered advice and shaped my view of the importance of process in the making of art as integral to the completed piece.

Another introduced me to the tradition of hand papermaking. I had no clue that paper could be made in one’s back yard or indoors in a studio, your laundry room or your kitchen counter (on a smaller scale), using fabrics and plants to produce the pulp necessary to make sheets of paper. After learning and creating my own paper pieces, I actually traveled to Costa Rica to exhibit and participate in a workshop where we made paper from local plants.

I met both of of my mentors at the Metropolitan Museum and Art Center, then housed at the magnificent Biltmore Country Club. It was in walking distance of our small apartment on Southwest 39th Street.

Kenton enjoyed his UM days as well as teaching and performing dance. He participated in the dance segment presented by Disney for a Super Bowl game. Definitely a fun time.

These were but a few of our wonderful experiences. It has been a glorious time for us.

Kenton did complete his studies at UM and began to teach as an adjunct at Barry University, St. Thomas University, UM, Miami-Dade and Florida International University.

After almost 30 years, I guess we’re staying.

Coincidentally, this year is the 30th anniversary of the South Florida Art Center, now known as ArtCenter/South Florida.

I continue to make art in a studio in the Bird Road Art District, and Kenton is a professor of philosophy at FIU.

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