Women of the History of St. Augustine
Five women from Karen Harvey’s book Daring Daughters: St. Augustine’s Feisty Femaleswere selected as subjects for five historic portraits. Artist Marianne Lerbs was commissioned by Richard Kessler, founder of The Kessler Enterprises Inc., to create themed works for the Casa Monica Hotel in downtown St. Augustine.
The women chosen by Ms. Lerbs spanned five centuries and represented five diverse cultures. All are reflected by different historic sites in and around St. Augustine.
Antonia, the Indian bride of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, begins the sequence. She is followed by Mary Evens known as “Maria” associated with the “Oldest House” in St. Augustine. Abbie Brooks wrote about Florida in the late 1800s and died in St. Augustine in 1914. Anna Kingsley is the black women, a former slave, who became the wife of a plantation owner and a wealthy woman in her own right. Her story is told at Kingsley Plantation, Jacksonville, Florida. The last of the five is Luella Day McConnell known as “Diamond Lil” who, more than a century ago, created the Fountain of Youth attracting visitors from all over the world.
The story behind the paintings accompanies the images in Five Women, Five Stories. More can be learned about these women and others important to St. Augustine’s history in Daring Daughters.
Marianne Lerbs is a Venezuela native who arrived in St. Augustine in 1992. Her work was seen by hotelier Richard Kessler, of The Kessler Enterprise Inc., who commissioned her for a portrait of Seminole Indian leader Osceola, which is now displayed in the Celebration Hotel in Orlando, Florida. In 1997 Kessler purchased the former St. Johns County Courthouse on Cordova Street and restored it as the Casa Monica Hotel. He approached Lerbs about using her designs and flare for color to enliven the décor of the Casa Monica.
She is a graduate of the Instituto de Diseño Neumann in Caracas, Venezuela, and has attended schools in a wide variety of art fields. Her commissioned artwork in Venezuela and the United States is an eclectic mixture of materials creating murals, sculptures, paintings and fabric furnishings. Her artwork in Florida and Georgia includes such diverse creations as marble horse heads and bronze sculptures. In Jacksonville she painted trash cans with colorful designs portraying St. Augustine’s Lincolnville musicians, and designed “ethnic door murals” on St. Jose Elementary School doors. For two years she was Artist in Residence for the Duval County School System.