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‘The Sinking World’ surfaces in Southwest Florida

By Staff | Sep 25, 2013

An image installed on the USS Mohawk by photographer Andreas Franke. PHOTO PROVIDED.

An underwater photography exhibit, which spent the last four months submerged 28 nautical miles off the coast of Sanibel Island, was lifted earlier this month for a public exhibit at the Lee County Alliance for the Arts.

Back in June, renowned Austrian photographer Andreas Franke transformed the USS Mohawk, a sunken World War II ship acting as an artificial reef off the coast of Lee County, into an underwater art gallery showcasing the stylized lives of sailors.

Franke had imagined the lives of sailors during the war and photographed models in period clothing in his Vienna studio. The images were then set into steel-framed Plexiglas and affixed to the ship.

Local divers were able to explore the wreckage of the Mohawk this summer and view the 2.5-by-3.5 foot images.

On Sept. 7, a team of divers brought the images back to the surface. Marine life had accumulated on them as they evolved into part of the reef, and once lifted, they were shipped to Austria to be processed and cleaned before returning to Lee County.

A sign advertising, "The Sinking World of Andreas Franke: The Mohawk Project," held deep under the water off the coast of Sanibel Island. PHOTO PROVIDED.

“The Sinking World of Andreas Franke: The Mohawk Project” will be on display at the Lee County Alliance for the Arts (artinlee.org) from Oct. 4-28. The opening reception of the exhibit is on Oct. 4 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.and Franke will attend a Gallery Walk & Talk on Oct. 5 at 11 a.m.

During the Gallery Walk & Talk, Franke will discuss the exhibit and his process. The hour-long tour, as well as the reception, is free and open to the public.

Krista Johnson, director of exhibitions at the Alliance for the Arts, said the exhibit is one of a kind.

“We’ve already had calls from people who are interested in seeing the work and reception,” she said. “It’s already generating a lot of interest and we have a great response already.”

Staff with Lee County’s Office of Natural Resources sunk the USS Mohawk back in July 2012.

Austrian photographer Andreas Franke during the Sept. 7 lifting of images from the USS Mohawk. PHOTO PROVIDED.

It was the last ship to radio Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower that the weather was clearing for the D-Day invasion in 1944 and the last remaining ship of the Battle of the Atlantic, the longest continuous military campaign during World War II.

Commissioned in 1935, the USS Mohawk was assigned to North Atlantic escort operations. She launched 14 attacks against submarine contacts between Aug. 27, 1942, and April 8, 1945.

Before its sinking in local waters, the historic relic was docked in Key West at the Miami Dade Historical Maritime Museum. However, the historical vessel was rusting through the bottom and the museum was looking at options to get rid of it before it sank. It was later taken to Fort Myers Beach.

Franke has produced similar underwater galleries with the USS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, sunk off the coast of Florida in 2009, and the SS Stavronikita, a Greek freighter sunk off the coast of Barbados in 1978.

– Bob Petcher contributed to this story.