Chicago-born artist Frederic Clay Bartlett created Bonnet House in 1920 on South Florida oceanfront land given to him and his second wife, Helen Louise Birch, by her father, Hugh Taylor Birch, a prominent Chicago attorney, real estate investor, and naturalist. For more than seventy years, Bartletts and Birches then resided on and sustained and enhanced these 35 acres, their buildings, and decorative contents. Today, the estate is a preeminent house museum dedicated not only to historic and environmental preservation, but also to learning and creative expression – much like the Bartletts and Birches themselves.
In both words and lush color photography, Bonnet House: A Legacy of Artistry and Elegance, tells the story of both Bonnet House Museum & Gardens and the creativity of these families. Click here to view sample pages.
Thrice married and twice widowed, artist and collector Frederic Bartlett joined his life with three artistically talented women. His first wife, artist Dora Tripp, helped design some of Frederic’s early Chicago murals. Helen Louise Birch wrote and published piano music and romantic poetry and assisted Frederic in assembling a preeminent collection of post-impressionist art. Third wife Evelyn Fortune Lilly painted and exhibited vibrant portraits and still lifes. She also collected china and animal figures, raised a thousand orchids, and nurtured a virtual menagerie. Their influences can all be seen at Bonnet House today.
Chicagoan Hugh Taylor Birch gave birth to the Bonnet House story in 1894 when he began to acquire hundreds of acres of undeveloped oceanfront land where he could grow fruit trees and other tropical flora. Son-in-law Frederic Bartlett’s eclectic design for a Caribbean-style plantation house then provided the canvas on which to display both the family’s extensive collections and Frederic’s whimsically painted decorations on walls, ceilings, and floors.
The history of Bonnet House also reflects more ancient times when not only aboriginal people camped here, but so did early Northern European explorers who predated even the Spanish conquistadors. Thus, the story of Bonnet House Museum & Gardens told here spans and parallels virtually all of American history and makes a visit both to these pages and to the estate a uniquely educational and entertaining experience.
Bonnet House Mission Statement July 2013
Bonnet House Museum & Gardens stewards the legacy of the Bartlett and Birch families by preserving their historic estate and providing programming that nurtures creative expression, delights the senses, educates, and honors the natural environment.