by Tim Gilmore, 5/28/2016
Riverside Avondale contains more than 25 historically significant architectural styles, and that includes a tipi. Though the 17 foot tall tipi stands beside a 1913 Prairie style masterpiece, Wayne Wood, who owns them both, calls the tipi “the most sophisticated form of architecture in America.”
It’s portable and durable and made from all organic materials. There’s room for a fire, but the cloth walls also provide shade and keep out the heat.
Wayne’s brother Darry Wood is widely recognized as one of only two or three builders of quality tipis. After he and his wife sold their home in suburban Tallahassee and set out for the Catskills in the early 1970s, he lived with his family in a tipi for six years.
According to Linda Holley’s 2007 book Tipis, Tepees, Teepees: History and Design of the Cloth Tipi, “Darry remembers sitting before a raging fire late at night while the north wind rattled the poles. The dog’s water dish, frozen solid, served as one of the weights trying to seal out the draft coming in under the lining door. Darry remembers looking at his little brood, snuggled there beside him under deep piles of wool blankets, and thinking to himself, ‘You’ve got this all wrong.’”
What he had wrong was tipi height. They’d been living in the 18 foot tipi and using a 16 foot tipi for storage. The shorter height of just two feet made for an easier tipi to heat.
The first tipi Darry built for his brother made its way across America atop Wayne’s Volkswagen bus on a six-week road trip. Darry once built a 30 foot tipi for Bob Dylan. Wayne’s tipi at the corner of Riverside Avenue and Cherry Street is 15 years old.
Though tipis are a Plains Indians’ architectural form, built by the Lakota and Sioux, Wayne’s tipi has Seminole themes and motifs influenced by the Southeast Florida river called Loxahatchee, Seminole for “River of the Turtles.” Seminoles built open-air raised-floor thatch-roofed huts called chickees.
Chickees were well-suited to the Everglades, where Miccosukee Indians adopted the style in the middle 1800s. Seminole is a smattering of tribes under a corruption of the Spanish word Cimarrón, translated sometimes as “wild man,” sometimes as “runaway.” The Indians who still use chickees in the Everglades are Miccosukee, who fought for and obtained their own tribal recognition apart from the Seminoles in 1962.
On a back wall inside the tipi, a turtle bears upon its back a curvilinear swastika, though Seminole patterns rarely use curves and favor sharp angles. The swastika, before Hitler perverted it forever, was a common worldwide indigenous symbol for the wheel of the seasons and cardinal directions and each form blending toward its opposite.
Darry Wood lent counsel for the construction of a traditional Seminole chickee and dugout canoe for the Museum of Science and History on downtown’s Southbank around the time MOSH transitioned from the Jacksonville Children’s Museum, established in Riverside in 1941, to the Jacksonville Museum of Arts and Sciences in 1977.
The museum also moved a century-old “Pioneer Cabin” from rural Macclenny to downtown Jacksonville to offer an important example of old Florida Cracker architecture. The whole structure was built of wood cut on the original site and sent to nearby mills. Its chimney was wattle-and-daub. The museum moved a tobacco barn and corn crib alongside the cracker cabin.
On a single weekend in the mid-1980s, the museum laid waste to the chickee, cracker homestead, tobacco barn and corn crib. They did it on the sly, before regulations required they’d need preservationists’ approval.
The only thing non-organic in his tipi, Wayne jokes, is the chandelier. Then again, a chandelier once hung central in the foyer of the Prairie style house, and that was just about as mismatched. Wayne’s retained it, but moved it to a corner above a piano.
Once the tipi is dismantled, Wayne can set it up in an hour, “or two hours if I’ve got people helping me,” he jokes. In 2014, the tipi rose in downtown’s central Hemming Park the night before One Spark, billed as “the world’s largest crowdfunding festival,” and Jacksonville’s flamboyant promoter of the arts and happenings, Kerry Speckman, “The Specktator” herself, spent the night inside with her pal Laura Evans.
Wayne organized a “Good Night, Kerry!” party, attended by scores of revelers, a sitarist, hand drummers, and hoola hoopers.