Creative Drive Helped to Inspire Pierre Henri Matisse Art Exhibition

Nov 22, 2019

by FSC Staff

Sue Stauffer ’84 considers herself to be “kind of a ninja” within her chosen field of promotional marketing. The truth of her lighthearted self-description is evident in Stauffer’s spirited motivation to shape and share stories about the people, places, things, and ideas that inspire her passions.

The Circle of Love
"The Circle of Love” cut-paper image by Pierre Henri Matisse

It was this boundless creative enthusiasm that led the FSC alumna to become actively involved in the development of a two-site exhibition of artistic works by Pierre Henri Matisse at both the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College and the on-campus Melvin & Burks Galleries. A broad selection of works by the late artist—grandson of the legendary French painter Henri Matisse—were on view at both locations from September until November 2019.

“To promote is to help raise the value of something,” Stauffer said. “I create alliances to celebrate awareness and bring things to a receptive audience.” The alliances Stauffer created in connection with the paired Matisse exhibitions had come about, she said, from a “magical intersection” of factors.

The first catalyst, about five years ago, came in the form of an unexpected introduction to Matisse and his wife, Jeanne, by way of renowned marine life painter and muralist Robert Wyland. Stauffer, whose marketing background included jobs in television and at Universal Studios Florida and Walt Disney World, had gotten to know Wyland through his gallery at Disney’s BoardWalk resort. When Wyland had an opportunity to spend a day painting with Matisse, who was living in Port Orange, his excitement about the experience sparked the beginning of Stauffer’s art-inspired adventure with the Matisses.

Homage to Vincent
“Homage to Vincent” painting by Pierre Henri Matisse

“They were very welcoming, approachable people,” Stauffer said. “Pierre was a beautiful mashup of Walt Disney, Willy Wonka, Jacques Cousteau, and Jack Sparrow. He was a great creative storm, a visionary—family-oriented and innocent, but on a spiritual journey. And he was a little bit of a pirate. A benevolent, playful pirate.”

The French-born Matisse fought the Nazis with the French resistance during World War II, made a career as an artist and photographer, then traveled to the U.S., moving to Florida in the 1960s. Like his legendary grandfather before him, Matisse came to approach life as an artistic celebration. He explored innovative artistic approaches in a wide range of media, always with the goal of encouraging creativity in others.

As Stauffer’s friendship with the Matisses blossomed, she was able to take her art-loving niece, Emma Woodring ’19, to meet Pierre and Jeanne. Woodring attended FSC as an art history major, and Stauffer became acquainted with her faculty advisor, Dr. H. Alexander Rich. Stauffer introduced Dr. Rich to the Matisses, as well.

Family photo
Sue Stauffer ’84, Emma Woodring ’19, and Lynda Stauffer Woodring ’86

In early 2019, Dr. Rich was named executive director and chief curator of the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College in addition to his role as chair of the Department of Art History and Museum Studies. With this development, the second part of Stauffer’s “magical intersection” fell into place. During subsequent discussions with Dr. Rich, a two-site concept for a Matisse exhibition began to take shape, as a way to bring the artist’s distinctive works to FSC and the larger Lakeland community.

“We are so fortunate to have Sue as a loyal and enthusiastic alum of Florida Southern College,” said Dr. Rich, who embraced the idea of broadening the exhibition to include the Polk Museum. “When she shared her tremendously exciting connection to the Matisse family, we knew the cards were aligning in an incredible way. That we were able to bring Pierre’s work to Lakeland is a testament to Sue’s dedication and to the rewards of collaborative teamwork.”

The exhibition in FSC’s campus galleries, “Sparks of Creativity,” was organized to spotlight the artist’s irrepressible creative processes, while the Polk Museum retrospective, “Stories of Creativity,” explored the narrative tales behind his wide-ranging stylistic experimentation, which included his extensive development of colorful cut-paper imagery. Both shows demonstrated Mattisse’s innovative and imaginative nature, while also displaying the deep inspiration he drew from the work of his grandfather.

Matisse, who passed away in June 2019 at the age of 91, had been excited about plans to have him visit the campus and museum, to attend the exhibitions, and to work on a collaborative installation with FSC students.

“He was all about mentoring,” Stauffer said, “to awaken the love of art in everybody. He believed art is a life-giving force.” Referring to Matisse as one of the most vibrant people she has known, Stauffer remains exuberant about sharing his work “with my people in Lakeland,” she said.

“You want the College to do well when you’re a legacy,” said Stauffer, whose sister, Lynda Stauffer Woodring ’86 (Emma’s mother), is also an FSC legacy.

“And I wanted to make Emma proud.”