SUBMITTED BY THE BOCA GRANDE HISTORICAL SOCIETY – Louise Crowninshield is mentioned often in Boca Grande history, but her husband, Frank (Francis Boardman Crowninshield), is no less interesting.
According to an article by Sara C. Junkin (2005 Connections, a publication of the Boca Grande Historical Society), “Frank was more reserved than his wife and was noted for his strong political opinions and delightful sense of humor.”
He enjoyed fishing, hunting, sailing, writing about his boat “Cleopatra’s Barge II” and his family history and painting.
Frank was a self-taught artist who developed “an increasing expertise in the use of color and sophisticated brush work and used a three-point crown within a shield, literally a ‘crown-in-shield,’ as his signature.”
He painted the scenes around his and Louise’s various homes – spring and fall at Eleutherian Mills in Delaware, summer at Seaside Farm in Peaches Point, Marblehead, Massachusetts and winter at Las Olas in Boca Grande.
He exhibited his work at the Stockbridge (Massachusetts) Art Association in 1925, 1930 and 1931 and at a one-man show in New York’s Ferargil Gallery in 1944. After his death, a final one-man exhibition was held at the Delaware Museum of Art in 1951.
Seventy-one of his watercolors are known to exist today, with about 22 showing aspects of Boca Grande. Eight of his paintings – six of Boca Grande scenes and two of the rose garden at Peaches Point – were given to the Health Clinic by the Crowninshield’s niece, Toddy Hammond. The Boca Grande scenes are of the Crowninshield home, its pool and garden.
It’s reputed that Frank, also an amateur architect, designed the Spanish- style guest houses behind the three homes the Crowninshield’s owned on First Street, as well as his studio and guest house that can be seen from Gilchrist.
Sara Junkin’s article reports that Frank and Louise were first drawn to Boca Grande by the abundance of tarpon in the Pass as reported to them by Frank’s brother, Benjamin (Benny). They rented Benny’s cottage on the Gulf in 1916 or 1917. Later they bought a house at First and Gulf Boulevard. (This street was west of Gilchrist and in front of the homes currently on the beach and has since eroded away.) By 1923, they were Florida residents.
Over time they bought additional houses on the south side of Gilchrist, fixed them up and invited friends to visit and enjoy the beaches, fishing, birds and tropical atmosphere of the island. Sam Whidden of Whidden’s Marina was Frank’s hunting and fishing guide for more than 25 years.
Some of these friends and Louise’s brother, Henry Francis du Pont, bought properties of their own and, thus, a winter social colony was added to the already existing fishing community and phosphate port.
Around their house they created gardens, paths, statuary, a beautiful swimming pool, a pool house and the studio, all of which Frank documented in his watercolors. Their garden was “one of only four gardens in Florida listed in the 1925 [edition of] ‘Garden Clubs of America Visiting Gardens Directory.’ ”
Junkin ends her article with these comments: “Frank’s Boca Grande watercolors depict a way of life and a time when the island was much smaller and less complicated. They celebrate the beauty of the outdoor world of tropical gardens and Gulf views that characterize this community.”
Note: Sara C. Junkin’s family have been winter residents in Boca Grande for many years. Sara received a Ph.D. in Art History from Boston University in 1986 and has since taught, curated, lectured and written about art and consulted on collections management.
To find out more, visit the Boca Grande Historical Society’s Museum and Gift Shop at 170 Park Avenue. Check out our website at bocagrandehistoricalsociety.com, or like us on Facebook.