Stop 15 (The Mayan Courtyard)

Mayan Courtyard
Florence Banca in the ping pong room, ca. 1950

In this area and within the Mayan Courtyard, Smith fully explored world cultures and abstract shapes. As his own work matured, he sought to move outside of the conventional expression in art and yearned instead to enter an “adventurous age,” of “experiment, noise, and sudden crashes.” As part of this experiment, Smith freely created his own Revivalist blend of international themes, mixing Mayan, Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, and Asian iconography side-by-side into one, many-layered composition.

As you walk to the courtyard, take note of the relief sculptures along the pathway. The first appears to be a figure of St. Francis of Assisi in high relief, feeding a number of birds from his hand. The remaining four reliefs set into the east wall depict Assyrian, Polynesian, Meso-American, and Asian figures with fierce expressions. These reliefs are on the “backside” of the reliefs of saints and religious figures within the nave of the Chapel. Each one depicts a significant icon from around the world, including the Monkey King, a classical 400-year-old tale of a monk that traveled to India and contributed to the development of Buddhism in China. Other characters are similar to the bearded Nebuchadnezzar, a 6th century B.C. king credited with building the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the grimacing Hawaiian God of War.

There are a number of elements to explore here in the Courtyard, which was originally designed as a “playground” with grass in the center. To the right is the old shuffleboard court, framed by Egyptian and Asian figures. At the far end of the court is an enormous concrete shield depicting a Madonna and Child, created by visiting artist Wilma Wolfs.

This area is known as the Mayan Loggia, the most fully developed interpretation of Mayan iconography at the Research Studio. This three-sided open loggia measures 20-feet-wide by 14-feet-deep and contains a tightly articulated concentration of Mayan-Revival sculptural elements. Virtually every surface is concrete and covered with figures, faces, and animals inspired by Mayan and Meso-American cultures. The decorative reliefs along the rear wall were executed by John “Jack” Franklin Hawkins, an associated artist. According to Smith, Jack promised to paint a Mayan-inspired mural in this space over the summer, while Smith was away in Connecticut. But Jack never provided the preliminary drawings that André requested. Instead, when the director came back to Florida, he found that Jack had rendered the entire design in finished concrete. André created the reliefs decorating the side walls and the floor, probably assisted by Ralph Ponder. If you look closely, you can find cats, birds, and other figures in the tiles on the floor.

Hiding through a doorway near the fireplace is another enclosed patio, featuring an Asian-inspired relief composed of multiple panels and depicting fishermen in a tranquil river. The delicate concrete rosettes in the wall panels are possibly an interpretation of the ancient Chinese art of knot-tying, a tradition that has thrived for thousands of years and one that would have been familiar to André growing up in Hong Kong.

In 1937, André wrote about the significance of art in the understanding of life: “We, as its recipients, must accept [art] not only with willing and open eyes, but, above all, with willing and open minds…If, by using the subjective method in his work, the artist may envision and reveal to the world things formerly unseen and unguessed, a significant and valuable contribution will have been made to the Art expression of today.”

Mayan Courtyard
Looking towards shuffleboard area, ca. 1945
Mayan Courtyard
Side courtyard, ca. 1945