The Lightner Museum’s ‘Faces of the Alcazar’ examine the dreams of hotel staff

‘Faces of the Alcazar’ highlights the collage left by the hotel staff;

The fourth floor of the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine is generally closed to the public.

But photographer Tom Schifanella made a special tour of the area, which provided living quarters for some staff when the building was tycoon Henry Flagler’s Hotel Alcazar.

Schifanella was inspired by what he saw on the walls, he said: early 1900s magazine clippings, mostly faces, that would have been arranged by people who worked there.

These clippings are the basis of his exhibition at the Lightner Museum entitled “Faces of the Alcazar”. This is one of the recently launched exhibits in downtown St. Augustine.

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“The exhibit documents the fragmentary clippings of early 20th-century film magazines pasted on the walls of the Alcazar’s staff quarters by the immigrant staff who lived and worked at the hotel,” according to the museum. “Flagler’s large hotels required an enormous workforce to keep them running smoothly. Staff at resort hotels like the Alcazar included a large and diverse group of working-class employees: men and women, black and whites, and newly arrived immigrants from Europe all found jobs in Florida during the winter tourist season.

Schifanella took photos of the clippings and enlarged them so that the details of the images were clearly visible. They are largely unpublished. He just teased the colors a bit, he said.

The exhibition launched at the end of October and will be on display until March 7 at the Lightner Museum. Tickets are $17 for adults, but the museum offers a variety of discounts. Details are available at

According to information provided by historian Tom Graham, author of “Mr. Flagler’s St. Augustine”, an account of the clerk system is provided in the book “Open for the Season” by Karl Abbott, who became head of reception at the hotel. .

Abbott observed a “caste system” at the hotel. At the top of the system was the manager. Then there were the first officers, including the assistant manager, room clerk, auditor, butler, housekeeper, doorman, steward, chief engineer and secretary of the director, according to Graham’s summary. The first officers had rooms in the hotel and ate in the main dining room, although they entered through a side door.

The second officers had a separate dining room and the rest of the personnel ate in a cafeteria.

The first and second ranks did not socialize outside of work, according to the book.

The hotel, along with Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel across the street, “has hosted some of the richest and most influential people in the world,” including presidents, royalty and celebrities, according to the Lightner Museum. St. Augustine has also hosted silent film stars; the city was a backdrop for silent films.

“Many staff members have found respite from their daily toil in the glamor and excitement of movies. Fan magazines have brought the fleeting images of the silver screen within easy reach,” according to the museum. “Cutting pictures of their favorite actors from magazines, the staff pasted them on their dorm walls as role models to aspire to and emulate.”

Schifanella said working on the exhibit made her think of her grandfather Gaetano Giuseppe Schifanella, an Italian immigrant who settled in Alabama. Like her grandfather, some Lightner staffers were likely trying to find a better life in the United States, Schifanella said.

“I’m sure in those movie stars that they pinned on the wall…they aspired to try to be like those stars, or I’m sure they tried to emulate them somehow “Schifanella said.

Schifanella did not identify the celebrities with 100% certainty, he said. But they could include Marlene Dietrich, an actress and singer; Clara Bow, a silent film actress; and actress Joan Crawford, among others, according to the museum.

Schifanella said the exhibit aimed to convey “the idea that fame is fleeting and temporary.”

“Memories are the same way, what we think and see and experience today is fleeting. … I think that’s sort of the underlying theme of all of this,” he said .

St. Augustine Art Exhibit Focuses on “Exposing History”

A few blocks away, another exhibit uses common materials to highlight slave labor and exploitation.

The exhibit “Exhibiting History: Color, Taste and Textiles” is on the second floor of the Tovar House in the oldest house museum complex at 14 St. Francis Street.

“The work in this exhibit shines a light on the people who produced essential and desirable goods in northeast Florida during colonization,” according to a statement prepared by artist Laura Mongiovi. “Crops such as indigo, sugar, cotton, citrus, and rice occupied the landscape of northeast Florida, bringing wealth to many people through an elaborate system of oppression known as the Atlantic slave trade name.

“During the English occupation of St. Augustine, the native people were imprisoned in Fort Castillo San de Marcos, a structure their ancestors were called upon to build under the previous Spanish occupation. The need and desire for fur and skin in Europe led to the exploitation of resources on the European continent, driving trappers to explore wildlife in North America.An extensive trading system between indigenous peoples and settlers developed in the north, forging a way to our current location in the southeastern United States.

The exhibit features hand-sewn pieces and incorporates materials such as sugar, indigo, cotton, and rice into more than a dozen works, including a Menorcan-style fishing net. The Minorcans worked as indentured servants on an indigo plantation in New Smyrna before fleeing to St. Augustine due to harsh conditions.

Mongiovi learned how to make the tenderloin from Menorcan descendant Mike Usina, a St. Johns County resident.

Mongiovi, professor of art and design at Flagler College, said in his artist statement about the exhibition that the Tovar House, which dates back to the 18th century, “served as an overarching theme regarding the concept of home during the colonization.

“The stories are arranged in three rooms. The fireplace (hearth), symbol of the house, plays an important role in each room: to communicate imprisonment in one’s homeland (Fur Room), to recognize the work of domestic slaves (Cotton , Citrus, Sugar, Rice Room) and to represent those who were abducted from their homes and put on ships during the Atlantic slave trade (Indigo Room).”

The titles of his works are taken from poetry and songs. One of them is called “White Man in the Dining Room Eating Cake and Cream”, a title taken from the African-American folk song called “Chips from the Smokehouse Floor”.

The piece includes cotton, stacked sugar cubes and a glass dome. It is “inspired by sugarcane crushers driven by humans and animals”, according to Mongiovi.

Another piece uses indigo-dyed cotton, coquina bricks, wood, and paint. A fan moves the fabric, which hangs in front of a fireplace, to depict the sails of ships used in the Atlantic slave trade.

Mongiovi said in an interview with The Record that she has used materials that evoke memories of touch, comfort and sensuality – materials that can provide comfort and safety as part of a home that is meant to make the same thing, but not for people who were enslaved.

“These stories are important to the culture of contemporary society. My intention is to raise awareness of the stories of slaves, contractors and conscripts so that we can recognize our place in the present, enabling us to practice citizenship and build a future of inclusiveness,” according to Mongiovi.

The ‘Displaying History’ exhibition is on display until December 10 at the Oldest House Museum complex. Admission to the exhibit and museum complex is free for residents of St. Johns County. Non-resident tickets are $10 for adults, but the museum offers a variety of discounts. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 14 St. Francis St. For information, visit

Peter M. Doran