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The Hotel Today: Part 2

Simultaneously, while Belleview Inn’s restoration was being done, master Florida artist Christopher Still was conducting his own elaborate history project to create these commissioned works for the hotel.


THE STORY BEHIND THE BRUSHSTROKES

He went to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, worked with artists at the Vatican, and apprenticed in Florence, Italy. His modern masterpieces can be seen on display at the Florida House of Representatives, Tampa International Airport, and Ruth Eckerd Hall.
 
There’s no denying that Christopher Still, a native of Dunedin, Florida, is an accomplished artist. But he’s also an accomplished historian. That’s because before painting his subjects – which have included Greek sponge fishing heritage in Tarpon Springs, Pier 60 in Clearwater, and cattle ranching across the state of Florida – he spends a tremendous amount of time studying them to make sure that no detail goes untouched. One of his most extensively researched art projects to date? The pieces he was commissioned to paint for the premiere of Belleview Inn. While you’ll find several prints of his Florida landscapes throughout the entire property, there are a handful of works displayed specifically in the hotel’s public spaces that demonstrate his utmost attention to detail. That’s because they took three years to research, which involved traveling the country to learn everything he could about Henry Plant, the historic hotel, and the Plant family. And in the process, he (along with wife, Kelly) collected hundreds of photographs, artifacts, and documents – much of which inspired or are captured in these following works of art.

A New Day

Oil on Canvas, 60 x 108 inches

Hung prominently in the lobby, this billboard-sized painting appears to be your average water and sky scene, depicting how the hotel would have looked before 1920 (to frame it just right, Still had to scour the bluff overlooking Clearwater Bay to find the perfect vantage point looking back at where the hotel would have been). But upon closer inspection, the painting reveals dozens of additional historic hotel elements, including the train carriages that brought East Coast elites right up to the hotel, a spring house that once supplied water to the hotel, and a trumpeting bugler who symbolizes the years the hotel was a barracks during World War II. 

A New Day
A New Day – Christopher Still

Queen of The Gulf

Oil on Canvas, 72 x 60 inches

As a true still life would require, Still borrowed or collected actual historical artifacts and objects from the places he traveled (including the Southwest Florida Historical Society, P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History, the Henry B. Plant Museum, Branford House in Connecticut, and more). He then arranged and styled them so he had a three-dimensional composition of all the articles from which to paint. The end result is a depiction of two steamer trunks – like the ones visitors arriving via train to the hotel would have carried – that look as though the items are spilling out of them. While there are more than 50 artifacts featured (so many that a small guide had to be published to help viewers understand each reference), a few interesting ones to note: sheet music for The Belleview Waltz, which was composed in honor of the hotel opening in 1897; a double-stranded pearl necklace to symbolize those worn by Maisie Plant, the wife of Morton Plant; a circa-1920 golf ball from the hotel’s Donald Ross golf courses; and a Mumm champagne bottle, which was among the artifacts found in the basement of the hotel. While some of the items were returned to their original owners, many are displayed in the inn’s Morton’s Reading Room off the lobby.

Queen of the Gulf
Queen of The Gulf – Christopher Still

PORTRAITS OF HENRY AND MORTON PLANT

Oil on Linen, 14 x 17 inches

Of course, what would the hotel be if it weren’t for Henry Plant (1819–1899) and Morton Plant (1852–1918)? After spending so much time learning everything about these two individual’s lives, even visiting their respective gravesites, Still was compelled to paint portraits of both men (Henry’s portrait hangs in the lobby, while Morton’s is in Morton’s Reading Room). While there are no hidden artifacts or messages within these paintings, Still took extra care to get Henry’s portrait exact: He traveled to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where he posed a model next to a bust of Henry Plant from which to sketch. We certainly think Henry would be none the wiser.

Henry Plant
Henry Bradley Plant – Christopher Still
Morton Plant
Morton Freeman Plant – Christopher Still
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