Rebecca West: Words & Music

Orlando, the City Beautiful

by Bob West



In an earlier blog, "Miracle at Watertown Square," I told a little about our experiences during the two years we spent in Boston while I was enrolled in the New England School of Art, but I didn't show any examples of art work I was doing during that time. As I write this over fifty years later, there is not much that still exists to share. However, I find that I do still have four paintings from that period of my life. In spite of faded color, environmental damage, and other signs of aging, I have decided to include photos of them below.


Both of these paintings were done with designers' gouache (opaque water-based paint). The painting on the left is how I imagined a young Robert Fulton may have begun to think about the steamboat, which he would invent in 1803.


Painting of young Robert Fulton and steamboat vision Painting of blacksmith shop and auto filling station

The painting on the right depicts a time when the horseless carriage was replacing the horse and buggy. My grandfather was a blacksmith and my father became an automobile mechanic, so I experienced a little of that transition as I was growing up. Of course this painting illustrates a time a few years before I was born.


I had never worked with transparent watercolors before attending art school. We began by using thin student watercolor paper and that was okay. But after instructor J.W.S. Cox showed me the effects I could get by using 100# handwoven Fabriano watercolor paper and wetting it with a sponge soaked with water mixed with a drying retardant, such as gum arabic, before beginning to paint, I was hooked. This is the technique I used on the two paintings below.


Bob's water color of sand dunes and lighthouse

Bob's water color of marsh and morning dew

In August 1957 we moved to Florida and I began working in the advertising department of the home office of American Fire & Casualty Company on Orange Avenue in downtown Orlando.


Orlando was called the "City Beautiful" -- a small city located in the midst of the Florida lake region -- in fact, there were over 2000 lakes in the Orlando area alone. The city itself, built around lakes and shaded by great moss-hung trees, was surrounded by miles of citrus groves. Of course, that was before Walt Disney World and all the growth and changes that came with that.


Lake Eola Fountain
Orlando Lake Eola and fountain, c. 1960

My office was on the third floor of the six-story American Building. My window overlooked Orange Avenue in the city's downtown business district.


Bob at drawing board, 1957

The work of our department included national and local institutional advertising support for our agents. The 3-man department created the ideas, wrote the copy or script, and did the layout work and finished art for all the various advertising media employed -- magazines, booklets, TV slides and film, radio, city and telephone directories.


Joseph Landers and Bob West, January 1960
American Fire & Casualty Company advertising manager Joseph W. Landers consults with artist Bob West about the Annual Report, one of the big yearly jobs of the department.

Our son David was born June 17 while we were still in Boston. The following photos of Sylvia, Suzanne, David and I were taken Christmas 1957 in the front yard of our rented home in Casselberry just north of Orlando.


Bob and son David
Bob and Sylvia and son David and daughter Suzanne

To be continued...




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