Photography by Robert Nelson
Michael Ridgdill: the Preservationist
Michael Ridgdill’s family established roots on Florida’s Gulf Coast in the 1830s, but in another life he was born in eighteenth-century England. Ridgdill grew up with a fondness for British history and art, thanks in large part to his late mother, who collected antiques and brought him on trips to Europe. After studying psychology at Palm Beach Atlantic University, he pursued his doctorate in Miami, where he established an organization that supports the preservation of art and architecture in Great Britain. What started with humble beginnings 13 years ago has turned into the American Friends of British Art, a Palm Beach–based nonprofit that helps restore treasures in Scotland and England, including artworks, historic residences, and projects for which the Royal Family has requested AFBA’s assistance. As president of the charity, Ridgdill leads fundraisers in Palm Beach, New York, and London and advocates for the appreciation of art of all kinds.
Most meaningful project: We gave a small grant to a tiny museum in a remote part of Scotland to help them clean two of their paintings. They were so incredibly grateful, it practically brought tears to their eyes.
Biggest misconception he encounters: That art belongs to a museum or an individual. It doesn’t. And if we can get on a plane and visit it or open an art book and see it, then we have a responsibility to help preserve it.
Goals for AFBA: To begin hosting events in other regions, especially the Deep South. Southerners have a particular fondness and appreciation for British culture.
Biggest challenge as a preservationist: Americans aren’t accustomed to living with old things, and therefore the American mind-set is that newer is better. Because of this, new development will always beat out preservation, unfortunately.
Local escape: Riverbend Park in Jupiter.
Most prized possession: An early eighteenth-century oil portrait of a physician holding a book of Hippocrates and wearing crimson academic robes and a powdered wig. It’s pretty fabulous.
On founding AFBA: I was young and slightly naive, but I was following my heart and doing something I believed in. Looking back, I’m glad I had the courage and the support from those around me.
If he could have one wish come true: I’m still waiting for the million-dollar donation to come in to our charity. Hasn’t happened yet, but it will.