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Lewis Van Dercar 1911-1988
Written by Lourdes Fernandez - Herald Staff Writer
The man who persuaded 150 people to show up at midnight to view a primitive bird, who left a skull encased in concrete on the beach and who had a constantly changing display of statues outside his Miami home died Thursday morning.
Lewis VanDercar, 75 called himself “creator”. Some people called the former artist crazy; others said he was a genius.
Mr. VanDercar died of heart failure in his home in Quail Hollow, a small town north of Tampa. He moved there in 1973, bought eight acres and built a dome shaped, ivy covered home resembling a cave.
He called himself, in turn, a warlock; Magus Supreme, pro tem of the Supreme Order of Magi; and someone with mysterious powers, specifically ESP and the power to levitate. He hinted about incarnations and said an alien entered his body as a young man. He said he had a pet poltergeist, and then tried to sell it through a classified ad.
“It was difficult to tell whether it was all tongue in cheek or not,” said David, a physician doing his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. “He would vacillate back and forth.”
His classified ads in the Miami Herald were frequent:
“Sale: Swamp colored UFO. Must qualify.”
“Free Cruise to Bahamas, Bring oar.”
“Electric car. $25,000. Extension cord extra.”
He sold roc eggs in one ad. He said he rediscovered the ancient secret formula to make and impregnate the eggs of rocs, mythological birds.
A woman bought the eggs and had them shipped to her Chicago home. Later, Mr. VanDercar admitted the eggs were really a bunch of garbage piling up in back of his home. He didn’t want to haul it away, so he covered it in plaster. He didn’t tell the lady, but sent her a check for the shipping costs.
Then there was the time police found a skull, embedded in concrete, on the beach. The skull turned out to be plaster. In the concrete was a bottle with a note: “The creator and the created are one. Hate makes it ugly. Love makes it beautiful. Let us all be lovers.”
Said Mr. VanDercar later: “There is some sense of the ridiculous that can be carried to such an extreme that it becomes beautiful. Take the time I predicted that a great extinct primitive bird was going to appear at midnight in the park. The newspapers exposed it as a hoax. Even so, at midnight, 150 people showed up in the park to see the bird. That was beauty.”
His Miami home studio at 331 NW 18th St., was open always. People continually passed through and stayed for long philosophical talks with the artist.
Mr. VanDercar, who never got beyond eighth grade, learned from them. “They gave him a very broad background in terms of knowledge,” his son said. “He knew a lot about a lot of different things.”
Born in Detroit, Mr. VanDercar entered the Navy during the Depression to help support his family.
In the late 1930s, he became an animator, drawing Popeye cartoons from a Miami studio. He entered the Merchant Marines in World War II and later worked as an aircraft engineer. He returned to Miami, where he worked construction jobs and ran a plumbing shop.
Then he learned he could make a living from his hobby, painting and sculpting. He decorated an exterior wall of his house with faces of every age and culture, Greek gods, sea monsters, heroines, gargoyles, Moses, faces from Egypt and India and China, and many other places.
He also created mountains for resorts and amusement parks, and built a gorilla’s lair for Monkey Jungle in South Dade’s Redland. He made a giant dragon, 100 feet long and 30 feet high for a Merritt Island Park.
In 1984, he returned to Miami for a short while to repaint a reconstructed limestone bridge at Arch Creek Park. He painted the concrete and iron used to rebuild the bridge so it would look like limestone, too. He was still painting days before his death.
“He spent 30 years and died doing what he liked,” his son said. “Not many people are able to do that.”
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