There are some 50-odd items and artifacts packed into this 72- by 60-inch still life hanging in the lobby of Belleview Inn, created by master Florida artist Christopher Still to pay homage to the inn’s illustrious history. While we can’t cover all of them in this one blog post, here are a special few to pay attention to.
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 – several of which were arranged and styled to create his 72- by 60-inch oil on canvas titled the “Queen of the Gulf.” 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), there are a few really special ones to note.
(1) White Roses
Dispersed throughout the large floral arrangement in the middle of the painting, you will spot several white roses, which symbolize the hotel’s given moniker: “White Queen of the Gulf.” It is also an ode to the fact that, when originally opened in 1897, the luxury hotel led to the “blossoming” of the West Coast.
(9) Belleview Waltz Sheet Music
This sheet music bearing the notes for “Belleview Waltz” was originally composed in 1897 to commemorate the opening of the original Hotel Belleview and was dedicated to Mrs. H.B. Plant, wife of the hotel’s original owner Henry B. Plant.
(13) Maisie’s Pearls
In 1917 Morton Plant, son of Henry Plant who took over operations of The Hotel Belleview after the death of his father in 1899, traded his Fifth Ave mansion in New York to Cartier for a double strand of natural south sea pearls for his new bride Maisie.
(29) Babe Ruth Baseball Card
The hotel saw many notable guests throughout its 122-year history, including the likes of the Studebakers, the DuPonts, and the Vanderbilts, while the property’s golf courses hosted some of the most famous athletes in the country – Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Joe DiMaggio, and Babe Ruth. The Babe Ruth baseball card on the bottom of the painting’s foreground is a nod to that (and that the big hitter was said to have been almost as fond of driving a club, as he was of swinging a bat).
(41) Glass of Champagne
The antique crystal glass of champagne acts as toast the hotel’s grand re-opening in 2018 and a new era for the White Queen of the Gulf.
(50) Front Desk Bell
During its renovations, special care was taken to preserve the original Belleview lobby, including its lack of columns and grand staircase. This nineteenth-century lobby bell symbolizes that, and – if you look really closely in the painting – depicts reflections of important players in the hotel’s renovation, including Belleair mayor Gary Katica and Mike Cheezem, owner and CEO of JMC Communities, the St. Petersburg–based property developer that restored Belleview Inn from 2016 to 2018
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