We’re on our way to the Big Cypress visitor center when we stop at the Big Cypress Gallery of Clyde Butcher. If you don’t know his work, you are missing out on the photography of a master. He’s often compared to Ansel Adams and rightly so but his work is genius in its own way.
His own art is not the only art in the gallery. Before we even open the door we admire this wonderful metal bench
and this stone one just inside the door.
In front of us when we enter is a huge photogrpahic landscape of Big Cypress National Preserve which has for years been the muse for Clyde Butcher’s art. Not that he doesn’t photogrpah in other wonderful and beautiful places in this country and fairly recently in Cuba, but this place, Big Cypress, has been his home for decades and his love for it shines through in his work and in all he has done to promote its protection. He lived here in this exact location for over 20 years.
Clyde Butcher has been very generous in putting many of his photogrpahs on line. If you’d like to see more than the three I’m putting in this post, check out his phography website as well as the gallery website. You can find pictures of Big Cypress, of other places in Florida, New York, Maine, South Dakota, Colorado to name only a few.
On the website, you can also learn about how he makes his mural sized prints and about his large format cameras like the one seen here in this self photograph of him at work which stands just to your left as you enter the gallery.
Clyde Butcher is a man spreading his love for the Big Cypress Swamp in his life’s work. He’s a conservationist of the first order. His traveling exhibits bring people from all over to experience this special ecostystem first hand. Clyde obviously believes in the adage, you must know something before you can love it and you must love it before you will want to protect it.
As you know if you have ever tried to photograph in a gallery, the very lights used to enhance your experience of the art reflect when you try to take pictures of it as do things on the opposite walls. You really must see these photographs in person.
With that caveat, as you can see I am a HUGE fan of Clyde Butcher the man and of his art so here are three pictures of his work. The first two are of the Big Cypress
The third, I believe, was taken in the Great Smoky Mountains. How does he enable me to actually hear the water flowing over these rocks?
The gallery consists of several rooms of Clyde’s art, a room of the art of his wife Niki and one of another a traditional color phographer. But the majority of the works here are those of Clyde Butcher. Their size and detail overwhelm me. I could spend hours in here looking at these amazing works. Wish it was a museum with benches in front of the pictures. I wonder what they’d say if I brought in a chair and just sat down in front of one and stayed. HA!
Clyde’s wife Niki is and has been with him every step of the way in both finding this spot in Big Cypress and making both the gallery and their home here. She creates beautiful art work of her own. In the room featuring her art, I learn that 30 years ago she began taking photographs of “old Florida” as it was changing and fading away. She too does black and white phography but then she hand paints the scenes giving them an old postcard effect. This butterfly orchid and rain drops is one of my favorites of her pictures on display.
In the hallway behind Niki’s room we see some of the cameras Clyde has used over the years. There are several hand held cameras in the glass case. There is also a video playing of him at work in the darkroom. A link is given to his You Tube channel so you can watch this video and others.
Around the corner is a great poster showing Clyde at work in many locations. I’m going to quote from it in answer to the question “How does he get those shots”?
“Each dramatic landscape is the reward of patience, perseverence, and determination. Clyde will wiat for hours until the light, clouds, and composition come together. Carrying camera gear that weighs up to 120 pounds, he crosses difficult terrain, stands in chest deep water for hours, and occasionally risks his life on steep mountain slopes. Although Clyde will always be identified with the Everglades, he is deeply committed to recording precious landscapes throughout the world.”
Living in a motor home doesn’t give me any wall space for one of his beautiful prints so for this visit to the gallery I choose to purchase a copy of the 2nd edition of his latest book. Big Cypress Swamp: The Western Everglades. It contains photographs, stories, adventures and history. Can’t wait to get started reading it.
I buy my treasure from some of the luckiest work campers I’ve met. This is C and Andy. Both they and their spouses are full time RVers who spend their winters working and living on this 13 acre property in the middle of Big Cypress Swamp. They both tell great stories of the Butchers as generous and wonderful employers.
I am also taken with the skirt C is wearing which I’ve never seen before today in this shop.
With her hand at her side, C looks as though she might be holding the skirt up but in the picture below you can see that it snaps up to the length she is wearing in the gallery. When I ask about the skirt she tells me that she really loves it especially when hiking or camping becasue she can let it down to cover her feet when either no seeums or mosquitos are thick. The fabric is sun and bug proof.
It also can be made into shorts or harum pants. Sadly they don’t have my size. C and I both agree about the wonderful advantage of skirts if you need a bathroom break and are hiking in the woods. If you are interested in them and can’t get to the Big Cypress Gallery to buy one, they are available from the creator at macabiskirt.com.
After the purchase, David and I go out back to walk the short trail on the Gallery property. This is some of the very land of Clyde Butcher photographs. He was once quoted as saying that beauty is everywhere you look and that some of his best photographs have been taken by the side of the road.
When asked “Where is a good place in Big Cypress to photograph” he has been quoted as saying “my parking lot”. And he’s absolutely right. Look at the pictures I take of his pond right next to the parking lot.
This picture was taken from the driveway leading back to the Swamp Cottage and Bungalow which are for rent on a nightly basis now that Clyde at age 75 and his wife Niki have moved to Venice to be nearer their daughter. The color struck my eye and reminds me a bit of mimosa flowers but I can’t find any identification for it. Can anyone familiar with South Florida, the Everglades or Big Cypress identify it? Sure is striking.
Clyde gives me one big laugh as we are leaving the gallery. I’m not sure who did this metal sculpture of him and his camera but I love it. That’s the Tamiami Trail on the very far left. The Gallery is located between the Visitor Center and Midway Campground on the South side of the road.
We do go on to spend a short time at the Visitor Center as we’d first intended but I’ll save that for another post.
We get home just in time for a walk around the pond on this beautiful day here in Big Cypress. Puffy clouds reflect in the water.
From across the pond, I take this picture of Winnona in her site here at Midway. Pretty Sweet!
After dark, I spend a wonderful time savoring my new book.
I cannot recommend highly enough a visit to the Big Cypress Gallery of Clyde Butcher or to his gallery in Venice, Florida or to see his traveling exhibits if they are anywhere near you. The schedule of their travels is on his website here. Currently they can be seen in Bradenton, Punta Gorda, Coral Gables, and Marco Island.
Clyde Butcher is a gifted landscape artist legend and a vocal proponent of preserving the beauty of our natural landscapes.
He and his work are just simply not to be missed.