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Poster exhibit highlights Pensacola’s lost and forgotten sites

Currently on view at the Voices of Pensacola Multicultural Center is “Lost Pensacola,” an exhibition of posters and artifacts that explore the city’s lost and forgotten architecture. Inspired by vintage travel and advertising media, each poster details a Pensacola landmark in an artistic style that was appropriate during that building’s heyday.

“The idea of the project was to have a conversation about historic preservation and these beautiful, significant structures that we’ve failed to preserve, while also glorifying them in a medium that offers an idealized form of the building,” said Joe Vinson, creator of “Lost Pensacola.” The exhibition was made for Vinson’s capstone project for his Masters of Arts in Public History.

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While Vinson originally created his posters for fun, he soon hit a creative block. He says that pursuing this as his capstone project was a way of forcing him to stick to a deadline.

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Hunter Morrison
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WUWF Public Media
Joe Vinson

“This felt like a good way of using something that I have some talent at in making [history] accessible to the public through art,” Vinson said. “That is what public history is about, it's about how the public experiences history outside of academia. Graphic design is one way of communicating that.”

This series of 12 posters highlights lost Pensacola landmarks like the San Carlos Hotel, Frisco Passenger Depot, Fort McRee, and others. After researching each landmark, Vinson creates a 3D model of the building using an architectural software program. He then illustrates on top of that using Adobe Illustrator and other digital tools.

“I’ve always loved vintage travel posters,” Vinson said. “Although they are idealized depictions of these places, it also kind of carries the time period through the graphic style. I’ve always thought ‘man, I wish that Pensacola had something like this, I wish someone had made a really cool poster for this landmark or this place,’ and since they didn’t, I thought I could go ahead and do it.”

“You get this kind of variety of art styles and a huge range of types of places and experiences that I think makes the project more fun than if it had just been one or two posters,” he added.

Included with each poster is a brief history of the landmark, as well as where Vinson drew artistic inspiration for the poster. He also includes unique anecdotes for each location.

“There’s just so many funny stories that I’ve tried to include in the interpretive text on these panels,” Vinson said. “Little things like that I think make these not just hunks of brick and wood, but real parts of the story of Pensacola.”

One of Vinson’s favorite posters from the exhibit highlights the Pensacola Opera House, which operated from 1883 to 1920. The poster portrays famed French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt, who performed in Pensacola as part of her last American tour in 1917. This would be one of the last performances for both the Opera House and the performer.

“It was a remarkable experience for those who were able to see her perform,” Vinson said. “Sarah Bernhardt, who was 50 years into her career, really made a name for herself in part by Alfons Mucha, the illustrator and lithographer who made so many posters for her performances, that I really wanted to do something that was in his style. It was a lot of fun mimicking that style as closely as I could.”

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Hunter Morrison
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WUWF Public Media
A plate from the San Carlos Hotel

Vinson, who is the associate director of digital media strategy at UWF’s office of institutional communications, started his career as a graphic designer at the Appleyard Agency. He credits the late John Appleyard, an avid historian, for inspiring his love of history.

“Hopefully this exhibit is getting people to think about these amazing buildings we’ve lost and hoping to avoid having that happen in the future,” Vinson said. “We have a lot of preservation success stories thanks to the Historic Trust and other organizations, but there are many places that we weren’t able to save.”

Vinson says that this group of posters may only be phase one of the “Lost Pensacola” series. Time permitting, he may highlight up to 30 more buildings.

“We’ve lost a lot of beautiful and significant buildings,” Vinson said. “Hopefully people who see these posters and read about the stories walk away thinking ‘we need to do better about our preservation.’”

The Voices of Pensacola will be hosting a lecture with Joe Vinson on November 29 that will further detail the history of these forgotten landmarks. Vinson will also be selling prints of his work featured in the “Lost Pensacola” exhibition, with 20% of all sales going to local historic preservation organizations.

“Lost Pensacola” will be on display at the Voices of Pensacola Multicultural Center until summer 2023. The museum is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.

For more information about the Voices of Pensacola Multicultural Center, click here. The museum is located at 117 E. Government St., downtown Pensacola.

Hunter joined WUWF in 2021 as a student reporter.