by Alfred R. Frankel M.D.
It was back about 1989 that I
first met Asa Cassidy. Asa had been dead 43 years. I was walking
down an isle approaching a friend's booth at the Larry Engle
Antiques Show. My friend had, in my opinion, the best booth at
the show, but back then few people seemed interested in Florida
antiques. Incredibly, I was probably his best customer. Entering
the booth was like entering my living room on Christmas morning
as a kid, full of goodies. I had to remind myself to be cool
or his price might go up.
There, hanging on a side wall,
was a small part of the gift Asa Cassidy has left the state of
Florida. The gift was a painting of a group of sea gulls, hovering
over a blue green sea, with puffs of Florida clouds hanging behind
them. I loved it. The dealer explained the painting had been
done by an artist who lived in Tampa back in the 50s. A few hours
later, my wife Barbara and I happily took the painting home to
our condo on the beach.
The painting was hung in our living
room and, admiring it, I wondered what else this fellow had done?
Two or three years later I got
a call from my friend, the antiques dealer. He was in Clearwater
and had found a Florida painting. It was in the rear section
of a high end antiques shop with the less desirable merchandise.
Hey, what was the name of that artist you liked so much
who did the seagulls? Was it Asa Cassidy? Yes it
was! A few days later I met with the dealer. Asa had painted
a grand Spanish style mansion with spring blossoms in bloom.
It was a neat picture and the original owner had written on the
back, Paid the artist $500 for this in 1930. I bought
the painting and told my wife this was probably an important
home somewhere in the Tampa Bay area and that someday wed
One afternoon I was at the Sarasota
Historical Research Center on route 41, trying to learn more
about early Florida artists. While looking through the 1926 Sarasota
city directory, I was surprised to find a listing for Asa Cassidy,
with a studio on the third floor of the Blackburn building. This
is the same year the Sarasota Art Association was founded. Many
of the Sarasota directories have been lost but, according to
a 1940 issue, Asa still had a studio there in 1940.
Several months later, having been
to the center a few times, I talked to one of the curators and
explained that I knew Asa Cassidy had been one of the first artists
in Sarasota but that I just couldnt find anything more
about him. Asa Cassidy, she said, I think we
have one of his paintings. Just a minute. She walked to
a back room and then, turning back, asked me to follow her. Walking
up a flight of wooden stairs, my head peaked above the
second floor landing and I could see a painting leaning against
the rear wall. Here was Asa Cassidy once again! In front of me
was a 5 by 3 foot painting of a 1920's bathing beauty riding
the back of a tarpon in Sarasota Bay. Wow! Titled, The Spirit
of Sarasota, it was pure 1920's Florida. The painting had hung
in the Sarasota city hall for years and the image was once used
as a logo on Sarasota Chamber of Commerce stationery.
I learned that Cassidy had been
a lithographer in New York City and was associated with the early
motion picture industry. He designed all the sets and advertising
posters for D.W. Griffiths, The Birth of a Nation. Cassidy
painted portraits of Mary Pickford, Enrico Caruso and the naturalist,
John Burroughs. In 1921 he sold his business and moved to Florida
to spend more time painting.
In the spring of 1997, Barbara
and I were at the Manatee County Historical Park. We were leaving
the country store when we noticed a poster on a bulletin board
announcing that the Crosley Mansion was being restored and was
open to the public for a designer showcase. The photograph
of the mansion looked familiar. A painting of a similar Spanish
home was hanging in our living room. The mansion was open that
day and we rushed to see it. Was it Asas house? The long
driveway from route 41 led us to the rear of a great home. The
front of the building faced Sarasota Bay. We cautiously walked
around to the front. Yes! This was the home Asa Cassidy painted
for John Crosley in 1930, the year the house was finished. Crosley,
a multimillionaire, was the maker of the Crosley refrigerator,
the Crosley car and the Crosley radio. He built his home just
south of the Ringling Museum. We were getting to know Asa better.
Asa Cassidy was also a poet. He
self- published two books. The first, Who Knows?, was published
in Tampa in 1931 and is a thoughtful collection of poems on the
meaning of life. The dedication reads as follows:
To my wife, Mary Josephine, whose companionship has been
my greatest joy, whose suffering my greatest sorrowwhose
patience, cheerfulness and courage my greatest inspiration for
a fuller and more rational understanding of life, this volume
is reverently dedicated.
If, even in a small way, it shall assist mankind to a saner or
more hopeful outlook, my purpose will have been achieved. ASA
Cassidys second book, The Rubbernex in Florida, published
in Tampa in 1938, is a happy story of a family tour through Florida
by car. Starting in Jacksonville, Cassidy takes us on a rhyming
road down the east coast to Key West and then across the state
to Ft. Myers and up the west coast to the Suwanee River.
Pa:Well, come on Ma! Get ready Rex,
And all you little Rubbernex!
Lets get away from slush and snow
To where the summer breezes blow
And flowers bloom and trees are green"
Ma: Why! Floridas the place you mean!
Pa: Yes, Florida, the brightest gem
In natures brilliant diadem.
Her lure enthralls me and I fain
Would revel in her charms again--
Would breathe the perfume of her air
And bask in laughing sunshine there.
The beauty of her beaches white
And glamorous magic of her night
Have cast a spell that calls me on.
Said Ma, Then, Pa, why not be gone?"
afternoon I was antiquing in Tarpon Springs as I do every few
months. Over the years Ive found some great things. I wandered
down one side of the street, winding in and out of antiques shops.
Nothing. I crossed
The Garden Spot of the Sea
the street and began the same familiar pattern. In the
next to the last shop, I slowly browsed my way to the back and
was suddenly startled to see a beautiful painting of two pelicans.
I immediately thought of an Orlando artist, but I bent down to
find my old friend, Asa Cassidy. On the back of the canvas Cassidy
had written, That wonderful bird, the pelican.
The New York Times tells us that in 1942 Cassidy was in the Bahamas
where he was probably the first, if not the only, painter to
do a canvas while underwater. Using a $50,000 bell-shaped diving
device equipped with windows, he averaged four hours a day down
in the diving bell over several months. Depicting marine flora
and fauna, Cassidy entitled the painting, The Garden Spot of
before 1934, Cassidy moved to West Platt Street in Tampa. He
was elected an honorary member of the Tampa Art Institute. Cassidy
died of a stroke on February 19, 1946 at the age of 81. In his
obituary, the Tampa Tribune called him, An Outstanding
Artist .... nationally know."
Asa Cassidy was a good deal more than just an outstanding artist.
Having read his poetry and seen his paintings, Cassidy was clearly
a warm, thoughtful gentleman, full of happiness and the joy of
life.With the soul of a poet, he spent a good deal of his life
celebrating the Florida he loved so much.
Well, that's Asa Cassidy. I hope
you liked meeting him. It was a privilege to introduce him to
you. Someday, when your out antiquing, if you're lucky, you may
suddenly turn a corner and meet him again.
About the author:
Alfred Frankel is an avid collector of Florida antiques and
memorabilla. He lives on the west coast of Florida
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