March 12, 2015
Florida’s Mysterious Women
May Have Originated In Java
By STEPHEN HUDAK
Apopka, FL (AP) For nearly a decade, the mysterious stone women lay quietly in a bed of fallen leaves behind the Museum of the Apopkans.
They were not from here, it was clear. They did not belong here, it was clearer.
Unearthed in 2005 by a work crew digging up a broken water pipe on the grounds of the Highland Manor banquet and wedding venue, three of the unusual figures depict busty, topless women —some say Indonesian goddesses— adorned with jewelry and headdresses but toting earthen pots. Each weighs several hundred pounds.
A fourth is a large stone head.
``Maybe they’re some kind of glorified lawn art,’’ said Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer, citing one of the many casual explanations for the carvings.
Perhaps they are junk, perhaps they are art, thought Annie Belle Gilliam, the 93-year-old curator of the museum, a nonprofit repository for Apopka history. The carvings had been in her care ever since workers on the city crew dumped them in the museum’s backyard because they didn’t know where else to take them.
No one claimed or could explain them. They were mostly ignored.
Gilliam said she once had considered creating a small garden to feature the figures, some of which were in pieces. But she worried that a limb from one of the oaks might snap in a storm and fall and break the stone women worse than they are already broken.
``If they’re of no value, let’s get rid of them,’’ Gilliam finally said last month to museum volunteer Phyllis Olmstead. ``But if they are, they don’t belong here.’’
Olmstead, a former educator known as ``Dr. O,’’ sought to solve the mystery by posting photographs of the figures on social-media sites and asking for help on the Internet. ``Do you know about these objects,’’ she asked in a Facebook post. ``Please contact us.’’ Olmstead scoured the Web for clues and suggestions.
A message from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement directed her to the Harn Museum of Art, which hosts a collection of African, American and Asian art and artifacts at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Olmstead sent photos to Allysa Peyton, an assistant curator at the museum.
``I saw enough in the photographs to make me curious,’’ Peyton said.
Olmstead explained that the Apopka museum was nonprofit and couldn’t afford to pay Peyton for her expertise. She came nonetheless.
Peyton immediately arrived at one conclusion:
These figures were not lawn art.
They are made of volcanic rock, and there aren’t any volcanoes in Apopka.
``Seeing these in person is extraordinary,’’ Peyton said.
The sculptures could be as many as 1,000 years old and likely originated in the Indonesian region of East Java, a small island between Malaysia and Australia, she said. The giant head, bearing an expression of contentment, may depict Bodhisattva, a being who has achieved nirvana but remains on Earth to help others attain enlightenment.
Peyton declined to estimate a value for the carvings.
But how did they ever get to Apopka?
``That’s the absolute biggest mystery,’’ she said. ``Right now we’re putting together pieces of a puzzle.’’
It also may never be solved.
Peyton said the Harn Museum posted photographs of the figures on lost-art registries and is probing stolen-art databases to ensure they were not swiped from a private collection many years ago.
In the meantime, the stone figures were carried from the Museum of the Apopkans to a city storage building where they were placed on pallets and locked up for safekeeping.
If proved authentic, unclaimed art, they will likely be donated to the Harn Museum for exhibition.
``I’m glad they’ll have found a home,’’ Olmstead said.
Project Healing Waters Helps Veterans Through Fly Fishing
By NORMAN MOODY
Merritt Island, FL (AP) Jason Redler patiently watched and encouraged Russ Marek as he slowly wrapped thread around a fish hook and feathers to craft a fishing fly.
Redler is a volunteer instructor with Project Healing Waters, an organization that works to help in the physical and psychological rehabilitation of military veterans with disabilities from wars.
Marek, 43, of Viera, lost his right leg and right arm and suffered a brain injury and burns over 20 percent of his body, as well as other injuries when a roadside bomb exploded under his tank during a mission on Sept. 16, 2005 in Iraq.
``It helps me out, and it helps someone else,’’ said Redler, a Gulf War veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. ``It helps both of us out.’’
Marek, who was a staff sergeant in the Army, and others with the Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 453, are receiving instructions from Project Healing Waters in fly tying and casting, and eventually will go on fly fishing outings.
Some of the veterans who participate in Project Healing Waters
``It’s a new challenge,’’ said Marek, who is commander of Chapter 453. ``It expands your imagination. I feel comfortable. I feel happy that they are teaching us something new.’’
The Military Order of the Purple Heart is composed of military men and women who received the medal for wounds suffered in combat.
Among those participating in the project are veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to World War II who recently completed the third session of fly tying and casting.
John Boyer, a Vietnam-era veteran, worked for years to start the local chapter of Project Healing Waters and is now its coordinator.
``This is our third meeting, and we’re running,’’ he said. ``We’re not going to grow it too big.’’
Boyer, 62, said he wants to make sure he has enough volunteers to help the veterans.
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing began in 2005 serving wounded military service members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then it has expanded nationwide, establishing its program in Department of Defense hospitals, warrior transition units, and Veterans Affairs medical centers and clinics. It has 140 programs in 46 states and affiliate programs in Canada and Australia.
Marek, whose health has markedly improved in the years since he was injured, said the project has already been of great help to him and others. He has a prosthetic leg and a prosthetic arm. Marek uses a fly-tying vise called an Evergreen arm. The vise has magnets to help him get the intricate parts in place.
``You’ve got to be very imaginative for these things,’’ he said. ``It takes your mind off everyday struggles. For newer veterans coming home, it will take their minds off war issues.’’
Reynaldo Lebron, who served as a medic in the Army in World War II, the fly tying is a chance to get out and interact with fellow veterans.
``It reacquaints me with people who shared my experiences,’’ said Lebron, 90, of Satellite Beach, as he completed a fishing fly. ``I’ve never fished but I might want to go fishing now.’’
Alf Fischer showed Lebron the step-by-step basics of fly tying.
``You go over two, three, four times, then you snip it off,’’ he said as he wrapper orange thread around a fish hook and feathers to form a fly.
Fischer, 71, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Merritt Island, said he wanted to help some of the veterans including some from recent wars who are suffering from PTSD or other issues.
Bill Grady, 40, who served in the Navy, said he simply wants to share his passion of fly fishing while helping fellow veterans.
``It’s a little thing compared to what these guys have done,’’ he said. ``Besides, this is my passion. I do this all the time.’’