21 Intriguing FloridiansFlorida Monthly spotlights 21 Floridians, excelling in fields from public service and film to technology and health, who intrigue us. They mirror the unique demographic and cultural makeup of the Sunshine State.
Community - John Fletcher, director of parks & recreation for the City of DeBary, has a new concept he’s trying to bring to the state—he’s attempting to create wheelchair-accessible treehouses. “The master plan for [a park in DeBary] called for an observation tower overlooking the St. Johns River. As a parent of a child with cerebral palsy, I’m keenly aware of the limitations such a structure holds for our disabled community. I went to an accessibility class at a conference I attended, and one of the speakers was the founder of the ‘Universally Accessible Treehouse’ concept. The solution I was searching for presented itself,” Fletcher explained. As of right now, the project is lacking funding, so there’s no completion date in sight, but Fletcher is optimistic.
“We have raised enough to have had the consultant from the founding company come down to identify the mother tree and give us a conceptual layout of this area with the treehouse. The treehouse committee has also printed a marketing brochure, and we are anxiously waiting for the positive turn (or signs thereof) in the economy to restart our marketing push,” he said.
As director, Fletcher is responsible for the day-to-day operations within his department, which includes budgeting, maintenance and programming of the parks, grant writing, securing sponsors, and coordination with other departments and staff members. Fletcher has more than 30 years of municipal recreation experience. He’s held positions in Brevard County, the city of Orlando and, now, the city of Debary.
Under his leadership, the park system is “generally recognized as the finest in Volusia County for the maintenance and upkeep of its park’s system. The parks and recreation department is also highly recognized for its assistance and support of all city of DeBary departments and functions,” he added.
The treehouse is one of Fletcher’s largest projects. It will be the first of its kind in Florida.
Jerry N. Uelsmann and Maggie Taylor are a powerhouse couple within the art world. The two have permanent exhibits in galleries around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Museum of Photography in Seoul, and the Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris. Although both of their styles contain layered images, the husband and wife artists utilize very different mediums.
Photography - For Jerry Uelsmann, photography started as a hobby. He enrolled in the Rochester Institute of Technology and graduated in 1957, later receiving his master’s degrees at Indiana University in 1960. That same year, Uelsmann started teaching photography at the University of Florida and later became a graduate research professor of art. Although now retired from teaching, he still lives in Gainesville and frequently shows his work.
Known as the pioneer of photo manipulation, Uelsmann has been pushing the boundaries of photography for more than 40 years. Since the 1960s, he has explored various darkroom options. Using multiple negatives, he assembles each piece of the final product, layering negatives to create vivid, shocking and engaging photographs.
“My hope is to create a visual universe through photography that is capable of expressing feelings and ideas,” he stated.
Although newer technologies would allow him to create a similar effect, he hasn’t budged from his darkroom technique, to many of his fans’ delight.
“All of my images are created in the traditional darkroom. I am sympathetic to the current digital revolution and excited by the visual options created by the computer. However, I feel that my creative work remains intricately linked to the alchemy of the darkroom,” he explained.
According to Uelsmann, each image can take anywhere from a day to a week to finish. “Sometimes I can work on an image for weeks. And sometimes, a year or two later, I will look at an image and realize I can make a new, more interesting version.” Using a large-format roll-film camera, he has earned an incredibly popular reputation for his evocative images that usually incorporate bodies of water, open hands, trees and more.
Uelsmann received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967 and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1972. He is a fellow of the Royal Photography Society of Great Britain and a founding member of The Society of Photographic Education, and his work has been exhibited in more than 100 shows.
Art - Maggie Taylor is one of the top digital imaging artists. She received her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Yale in 1983 and her master’s in photography from the University of Florida in 1987. In 1996, after 10 years as a still-life photographer, Taylor started to create images using a computer and flatbed scanner.
“As a way of experimenting with the scanner, I started to place my little objects on it. It was a quick and easy way to get files to work with. I did not want to shoot 4x5 film and send it out to be scanned,” she said.
Her colloguing technique creates unique, interesting and sometimes haunting images that each tell a story.
Taylor frequents flea markets and searches Ebay for tiny toys and tintypes to use in her images. For the background, she creates pastel drawings and then scans them, along with each of the objects, into her computer. Using Adobe Photoshop, Taylor makes each object into a layer and then arranges each layer to form one cohesive image.
“The more I work, the more complex these things get. Usually they have a minimum of 50 layers, sometimes several hundred. It takes anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to finish an image.” Her artwork is known for having a 19th-century daydream-type feel.
Taylor has five series: Ladies, Gentlemen, Boys & Girls, This & That, and Almost Alice. In 1996 and 2001, Taylor received the State of Florida Individual Artist’s Fellowship, and in 2004 she won the Sante Fe Center for Photography’s Project Competition. In addition to her collections, Taylor creates commercial book and CD covers. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Maggie Taylor’s Landscape of Dreams, Solutions Beginning with A, and Maggie and Jerry all feature her artwork.
For Taylor, art is exciting. “Every day is different and unexpected,” she added.
Medicene - Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr. has had an astonishing career within the world of medicine. Born in Tallahassee and raised near Quincy, Leffall earned his bachelor’s degree summa cum laude from Florida A&M University and his medical doctorate from Howard University College of Medicine, where he ranked first in his class. His medical training took him to many different hospitals, landing him at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center as the senior fellow in cancer surgery. He later served as chief of general surgery for the U.S. Army Hospital in Munich, Germany, before becoming a professor at Howard University in 1962. Eight years later, he became chairman of the department of surgery and held that position for 25 years.
Leffall focused his career on the study of cancer, specifically how it relates to African-Americans, as well as surgical oncology with a special interest in breast cancer. In 1979, he was the national president of the American Cancer Society and launched a program to study the increase of cancer in African-Americans and how it compares to other minorities. “I’m proud of that initiative and the good work that continues to this day,” Leffall stated. In 1987, M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute and Intercultural Cancer Council created the Biennial Lasalle D. Leffall, Jr. Award in recognition of his contributions to prevention, treatment and education in cancer research.
In 1992, Leffall received the title of Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery and occupied the first endowed chair in the Howard University College of Medicine’s Department of Surgery. He’s received numerous honors for his work, served as a visiting professor and guest lecturer to more than 200 medical institutions around the world, and authored more than 140 articles. He’s received the first Heritage Award for his contributions to oncology and had his memoir, No Boundaries—A Cancer Surgeon’s Odyssey, published in 2005. He is the past president of the Society of Surgical Oncology and the American College of Surgeons and currently the chairperson for the National Cancer Institute President’s Cancer Panel.
“In addition to my medical career … I consider teaching one of my most important accomplishments,” he said. “I am pleased to have had the opportunity to do my best in all of those areas with such bright and talented students over the years.”
Leffall’s career certainly has evolved since he was 9 years old and found a little bird with an injured wing in front of his house. “My father suggested that I try to heal it, so I took the tiny thing inside and set the wing with a splint,” he explained. “After a week or so it healed. When I watched it fly away, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, look what I’ve done.’ And from then on, I knew I would be a doctor.”
Heritage - As the distinguished research curator of the Florida Museum of Natural History, Kathleen Deagan has built a solid place for herself within the archaeology world. In 1974, during a time when no other woman was majoring in her field, Deagan earned her doctorate from the University of Florida in anthropology. Today, she teaches seminars as the adjunct distinguished research professor of anthropology and an adjunct professor of both History and Latin American studies. She’s also a Lockwood Professor of Florida and Caribbean archeology.
Deagan’s main focuses are culture contact in historical archaeology and Spanish Colonial studies. Her studies of the Spanish Colonial period are widely recognized across the globe, earning her the reputation as one of the leading archaeologists in her field. She researched heavily in both St. Augustine and the Caribbean, focusing on Spanish colonization and cultural development in both areas. She’s currently discovering more information about Columbus’s first settlement in Hispanola from 1492. “I’ve worked a lot there. It’s exciting to predict what we might find— and then finding these things,” Deagan said.
In addition, she’s been on yearly excavations to St. Augustine for the past 30 years, conducting additional research on the original site of the 1565 Hispanic settlement, which is located within the Fountain of Youth Archeaological Park.
Her work at the Museum of Natural History has provided an enormous amount of historical data. Currently, the museum is trying to make some of its collections available online to reach a wider audience.
Deagan is the author of nine books and 67 articles. She loves the idea of discovering something new. “Everything is new,” she said. “It never gets repetitive or boring. There’s always that excitement of what might be found next.”