The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is a beautiful, historical and popular space for locals eager to immerse themselves in Jacksonville’s arts culture. Serving as the largest fine arts museum in Northeast Florida since its opening in November 1961, it’s nestled right along the St. Johns River and offers a scenic backdrop for visitors to the Gardens.
In speaking with the museum’s Director of Strategic Engagement & Communications, Joanna Blinn, I had the opportunity to learn more about the Cummer Museum. It’s built on the site of the former home of Ninah and Arthur Cummer, a Michigan-rooted couple that moved to Jacksonville to pursue their love of charitable work, art and advancing public access to garden environments. When both Mr. and Mrs. Cummer passed, their will served to establish the remains of their estate as the DeEtte Holden Cummer Museum Foundation. The original house had to be reimagined and redesigned, but the Museum still preserves the atmosphere of the original Cummer residence through a period room in Tudor Style.
For those that have never visited the Cummer Museum, it’s something to behold. Specifically, the Gardens emanate a very relaxing and charming vibe.
“The Cummer Gardens are among the most precious works of art in our permanent collection,” Joanna says. “They went through a recent restoration after Hurricane Irma swept through Jacksonville on September 11, 2017. As a result of the storm and subsequent flooding of the St. Johns River, the lower tier of all three formal garden spaces were believed to have been submerged in as much as four feet of water for more than 24 hours.”
As Joanna explains, the damage was quite significant.
“The water uprooted plants, detached the railing along the river, contaminated the soil and damaged the physical infrastructure of the gardens, including drainage, electric, fencing and the well that services the landscape.”
Necessary restorations of the space, thankfully, restored and (improved on) its beauty and preserved important elements of the initial blueprint.
The $1.3 million reconstruction of the lower tier of the Museum’s historically significant English, Italian and Olmsted Gardens started in January 2019,” Joanna says. “Historic records from the Cummer family archives, including plant logs, photographs and invoices, were incorporated into the reconstruction plans to preserve the original intent and historic character of the riverfront gardens, which were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.”
The Cummer Gardens actually serve as a wedding venue space very regularly, with facility use and catering options.
The Art at the Museum features both permanent and rotating exhibits.
“We have a permanent collection, but we rotate the works in those galleries,” Joanna says. “Our most popular exhibit, at the moment, is ‘Rebecca Louise Law: The Journey.’”
This exhibit, which showcases a mixture of dry and fresh plant materials to create a mesmerizing visitor experience that portrays the human-nature relationship, is on display until January 2022.
There are also popular recurring annual events at the Cummer Museum. Joanna made note of the “Summer at the Cummer” event and the “Dinner Party Series.” Summer at the Cummer takes place once a week for three months, with games, live music, beverages and appetizers. The Dinner Party Series focuses on Mr. & Mrs. Cummer’s legendary hosting skills by celebrating different dinner themes throughout the series. While you need to reserve tickets for these events,, the tickets often include free admission to the museum, as well.
The Cummer Museum has a lot of upcoming events, including a Friday Night Picnic on September 24. Enjoy the beauty of the Gardens from 5-9 p.m. and some delicious eats during your picnic. The picnic offers access to seating throughout the Museum’s 1.45 acre property, as well as museum admission.
Standard admission to the Cummer Museum is $10, and children under 12 and students get in free. If you work up an appetite, there are plenty of menu options at the Café, managed by Chef’s Garden Catering and Events.
There is no time like the present to check out the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, as this is their 60th anniversary year. The environment is intellectually stimulating and relaxing, with a creative staff that caters to guests.
“My favorite part of working at the Museum is being around passionate and creative people, Joanna says”