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Guy LaBree to be inducted in Florida Artists Hall of Fame

Artist Guy LaBree grew up in Dania, went to school with Seminole Tribal members and spent his career painting his passion: Seminole history, legends and people.

The Florida Department of State will honor LaBree’s legacy by inducting him posthumously in the Florida Artists Hall of Fame on April 4 in Tallahassee.

Established in 1986, the Hall of Fame recognizes artists, either those born in Florida or transplants, who have made contributions to the arts in in the state.

LaBree passed away in 2015 at age 73.

“He had inside knowledge of the Tribe and had many Seminole friends,” said Pat LaBree, Guy’s widow. “Guy’s specialty wasn’t portraits, but when Tribal members wanted him to do portraits, he taught himself to paint them.”

Guy LaBree works on a painting in his studio in 2014. (File photo)

Other than a high school painting class, LaBree was a self-taught artist. According to his widow, he painted about 1,000 paintings of which about 500 were Seminole related. His paintings are popular collectables among Tribal members and some have large collections.

One of LaBree’s close friends, Alan Jumper, bemoaned the fact that young Tribal members weren’t interested in their history.

“He told Guy that if he painted that history, they might ask about it,” Pat LaBree said. “It turned out to be true. They got a dialogue going between old and young about their history.”

So began LaBree’s journey into Seminole history and legends.

Since 2017 the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum has assisted Carol Mahler, author of “Guy LaBree: Barefoot Artist of the Florida Seminoles,” in nominating LaBree for inclusion in the Hall of Fame. The museum has about 40 LaBree pieces in its collection.

LaBree was known as the barefoot artist because of his aversion to wearing shoes.

“We were happy to be [Mahler’s] nominating partner,” said Tara Backhouse, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki collections manager. “LaBree learned to paint the legends because of his relationships with Tribal members. If a painting of a legend was wrong and a Tribal member pointed it out, LaBree would repaint it.”

Like most painters, LaBree strived to get better over the years. Pat LaBree said he was never 100 percent happy with his paintings and would keep painting them forever if he didn’t make himself to stop.

The museum paid tribute to LaBree with a one-man show in 2015, but his work has been displayed in numerous exhibits with other artists based on the theme, such as legends and Seminole war battles.

“No one else has painted battles the way the Seminoles see it,” Backhouse said. “His paintings are more realistic and have the Seminoles wearing very little clothing. They didn’t really fight in long shirts.”

LaBree painted many portraits of the Jumper family and illustrated Betty Mae Jumper’s 1994 book “Legends of the Seminoles.” The walls of the Betty Mae Jumper Medical Center in Hollywood will showcase 17 prints of LaBree’s paintings when it opens, including a portrait of the family.

Married for more than 52 years, the LaBrees have a daughter, two sons, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

“We got married as teenagers and were still in love when he died,” Pat LaBree said.

Other than the date, April 4, details of the induction ceremony in Tallahassee have not yet been released.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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