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On assignment in Lithuania

David Adlerstein
The Apalachicola Times

If you are in Vilnius, Lithuania, and the American ambassador has you over for lunch, on the wall may be hanging a photographic portrait of Derek Lolly on his boat.

Derek Lolly Oysterman
Baptism at Camel Lake
The U.S. Embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania
Robert Gilchrist

If you ask him what that particular photograph is of, ambassador Robert Gilchrist will tell you that he’s an oysterman working in Apalachicola Bay, or at least was back in 2008 when Richard Bickel took the photo on the Eastpoint wharf.

The 56-year-old diplomat, approved by the Senate in December, might then share a story or two of his own childhood in Leesburg, that set him a career path that included foreign service at U.S. embassies in Sweden, in Estonia, in Iraq, in Romania, and in Iraq.

Gilchrist sought out Bickel’s photos this past summer as part of an exhibition at the chief of mission’s residence in Vilnius of loaned works that would tell of the state, particularly that portion of the state, where he grew up.

In an Aug. 14 email to Bickel, Braden Malnic, assistant curator for the U.S. Department of State’s bureau of overseas buildings operations, said he was in talks with Gilchrist about his plans.

“The ideas he shared range from the Florida Highwaymen Mary Ann Carroll, wood sculptures by Mark Messersmith, the paintings of Earl Cunningham, amongst others, as we work on putting together several works of art that tell a personal story of where he grew up and place he knows best – Florida,” wrote Malnic, noting that he too grew up in Florida, in Tampa). 

“Ambassador Gilchrist came prepared to discuss what interested him for our first meetings,” he continued. “He identified a desire to include works that evoked a unique, personal Floridian experience and landscape, a Florida that he knew that has been evolving and changing over the years. He identified your works during our initial meeting. We are asking on his behalf, if you would be interested to participate and lend work(s) from your series on Apalachicola.”

Malnic went on to elaborate on the Art in Embassies exhibitions, “assembled with generous loans from artists, museums, galleries, and private collectors.  The exhibitions extend for the length of the ambassador’s tenure, which is usually about three years.  The works are installed in the representational spaces of the residence, where many official functions are held.

“We insure the works from the time they leave their owners to the time they’re returned.  We cover the costs of all shipping.  We also publish a full-color catalog of each exhibition, as well as include text labels for each work in the exhibition,” Malnic wrote.

Bickel wrote back immediately, honored by the request, and within a few days, details were pinned down as to the ambassador’s preferences, three from the Apalachicola River Life on the Fringes of Florida series: Baptism at Camel Lake, Saturday on Spring Creek and -Derek Lolly Oysterman. Two others were asked for from The Last Great Bay: Eastpoint Summer, and Daybreak St Vincent Island.

The ambassador said he preferred 9 inch by 13 inch prints, framed, matted off white. “Needless to say he really likes your work,” wrote Malnic. 

Bickel’s work as a world-class photojournalist extends beyond the border of the Sunshine State, although it is here where his work has been intensive, a black-and-white documentation of the texture of life in a Gulf Coast county sandwiched between a forest, a swamp, and a bay, 

His 81 Market Street gallery, open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, offers his many images of here, as well as from Morocco, from Cuba and other foreign lands.

“Although I’ve worked in more than 80 countries, I haven’t been to Lithuania,” he said.

For more information, visit www.richardbickelphotography.com or call 653-2828.