Adramatic exhibit of Matheson Hammock atoll pool, bayscape and marina images by South Florida photographer Tom Smith opened at Red Fish Grill on July 16 and will hang there through late summer.
The iconic bayside pavilion inside Matheson Hammock Park has housed Red Fish Grill since 1996, and is the former beachside refreshment stand that dispensed hot dogs to generations of Miamians. Its interior and patio were transformed into a tropical fine dining oasis by the Hausers, who also own Christy’s, another Coral Gables dining landmark.
The Hauser family had followed Smith’s trajectory as a fine art photographer with an affinity for Biscayne Bay imagery for nearly a decade. They recently invited the artist to create a solo show dedicated to Matheson Hammock Park. Much of the 400-plus acres that comprise the park today were donated to the county by William J. Matheson prior to his death in 1930 with the intent that the gift be used as a park “to preserve the wild and natural beauty” of the land.
The enduring coral rock outbuildings and man-made atoll pool around which Smith has shot so many of his Matheson images were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s; their workmanship has survived numerous hurricanes over the intervening decades.
Smith is in his element at Matheson Hammock in the summer when humidity and temperatures are high. He can often be found at daybreak circumnavigating the pool’s perimeter, camera in hand.
“When storm clouds are gathering over the Everglades and blowing east, I want to be here to record the drama,” he said. It’s the singular moment when cloud, water, light and wind converge that has come to define Smith’s body of work — from his signature Matheson Marina boat hulls, Biscayne bayscapes and Everglades alligators.
A seminal image in his Matheson Hammock portfolio, shot early one summer morning, earned Smith first place in Grove House Gallery’s 2010 “Miami Moments” Exhibit. He had been photographing the atoll pool for years, but from that point forward, the founder of Wine News and former Hurricanes and Miami Dolphins running back gained increasing notoriety for the images he had been capturing at Matheson Hammock.
Smith, an Iowa native, developed his affinity for fine art photography while studying art at UM.
“I picked up a camera in 1970, and basically never put it down,” he said. Because of Smith’s abiding love affair with Biscayne Bay and Red Fish Grill’s proximity to its waters, the photographer plans to donate a portion of exhibit sales to the recently formed Biscayne Bay Coalition. Comprised of a number of regional entities, foremost among them Biscayne Bay Waterkeepers, Friends of Biscayne Bay and Tropical Audubon Society, Biscayne Bay Coalition advocates for the integrity, preservation and restoration of a healthy, viable Biscayne Bay.
Members of both the Biscayne Bay Coalition and the Matheson Hammock Yacht Club attended the exhibit’s midmonth opening.
Laura Reynolds, director of Tropical Audubon Society and a member of Friends of Biscayne Bay’s board of directors, is pleased that Smith chose the Biscayne Bay Coalition as a beneficiary.
“Shining a spotlight on Biscayne Bay via an art exhibit like this is a wonderful way to raise community awareness and appreciation for this fragile natural resource that we all tend to take for granted,” she said. “Biscayne Bay needs more people who are passionate about preserving it, so the exhibit is giving Biscayne Bay Coalition muchneeded exposure and support.”
Biscayne Bay is the exhibit’s common thread: colorful, abstract boat hulls shot in Matheson marina, jewel-box-like aquamarine reef images captured inches above the bay’s surface and the emblematic Matheson Hammock atoll pool documented in dramatic and subtle variations.
The public can view the Matheson Hammock Exhibit through late summer during regular restaurant hours (Tuesday through Thursday, 6-10 p.m.; Friday through Sunday, 5-10 p.m.; closed on Mondays). The Red Fish Grill dinner menu is so sophisticated and tempting, exhibit patrons may want to savor a meal in the evocative bayside setting that Smith finds so inspirational. For beachgoers yearning to revisit their youth, hot dogs are still sold out a window concession by day.
Red Fish Grill is located inside Matheson Hammock Park at 9610 Old Cutler Rd. in Coral Gables. For reservations, call 305-668-8788.