Spain-Florida Foundation

Imagining La Florida, a multimedia exhibition

Date: May 30 to August 17, 2013

Location: The Freedom Tower at MDC Museum of Art + Design

600 Biscayne Blvd.

Miami, FL 33132

Gallery Hours: Wednesday–Sunday, noon–5 pm.

Admission: FREE

The important role that Spain played in Florida’s history will be highlighted by the multimedia exhibition “Imagining La Florida. Juan Ponce de León and the Quest for the Fountain of Youth.”

The exhibition is visually attractive and educational, focusing on the period between the expedition of Ponce de León in 1513 and the building of Fort Mose in 1739.


By Dr. J. Michael Francis, curator of Imagining La Florida

Five hundred years ago, Juan Ponce de León landed on what he believed was another Caribbean Island. In honor of the Pascua Florida, or Easter Sunday, he named the “island” la Florida. To commemorate the 500-year anniversary of Ponce de León’s 1513 Florida expedition, the Imagining Florida exhibition invites visitors to explore the historical legacy of Ponce’s voyage and the evolution of colonial society.

Divided into four sections, Imagining Florida takes visitors on a remarkable journey, told from both sides of the Atlantic. The journey begins in Seville, Spain on the eve of a trans-Atlantic voyage. Visitors enter a replica Spanish galleon as it prepares to depart to the New World. We learn about the navigational instruments, the technology, and the range of occupations of those who joined such expeditions.

Section Two focuses on the age of exploration, from Ponce de León’s first voyage to Florida to Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and the foundation of St. Augustine, the oldest permanent European settlement in the United States. We also see the rich diversity of Florida’s Indian populations on the eve of Ponce’s 1513 voyage.

The third section highlights the evolution of Florida’s early history, as Europeans, Africans (both free and enslaved), and Indians struggled to create a colonial society. Violent clashes certainly occurred, but so did long periods of peace and coexistence. Lasting alliances were forged; in the sixteenth century, Jesuit and Franciscan missions spread from south Florida north to Chesapeake Bay. And in the eighteenth century, Florida became the home of the first free black community in the United States, Fort Mose.

The fourth and final section explores the origin and evolution of one of the most enduring foundation myths in the United States, Juan Ponce de León and the Quest for the Fountain of Youth.

Imagining Florida aims to go beyond the myths of Florida’s early colonial history, revealing some of the many forgotten characters and episodes, all told through a careful selection of original art, artifacts, documents, and maps. Interactive exhibits allow visitors to trace the routes of the many expeditions that explored the southeastern United States in the century before the English first arrived at Jamestown. The exhibit also features model reconstructions of the seventeenth-century church, friar’s residence, and Apalachee Indian Council House at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee. Another model, the first of its kind, recreates the 1595 wooden fort in St. Augustine, reconstructed from original sixteenth-century illustrations.

Imagining La Florida offers a new perspective on the rich, yet long-forgotten history of colonial Florida. It is designed to open eyes and minds, highlighting one of the most intriguing and dramatic periods in US history.


Dr. J. Michael Francis, curator of the exhibit Imagining La Florida, is one of the country’s leading experts in Spanish Colonial Florida and a commissioned researcher for the Spain-Florida Foundation. He is the Hough Family Endowed Chair of Florida Studies at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg.

Imagining La Florida was produced by the Spanish government and Acción Cultural Española in cooperation with Miami Dade College, Spain-Florida Foundation, and the MDC Museum of Art + Design


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