Saturday, September 20, 2014

Punta Gorda's Got Murals

Punta Gorda is a community that takes pride in its history.  It's also a community that loves its art.  The two are brought together in the work of the Punta Gorda Historic Mural Society.  And I finally had the chance to go on a walking tour to learn the history behind a few of the murals that I pass on almost a daily basis.  There are 28 murals in total, so there's still a lot of walking to be done!

"Life and Times of George Brown" by Michael Vires
"The Life and Times of George Brown" is one of the most recent additions to the city's mural collection.  (There are actually two paintings on this subject, but they count as one mural for purposes of the Mural Society.) It's located on Marion Avenue on a wall in front of the Old Charlotte County Courthouse.

George Brown was an enterprising African-American who at one time owned more than half the land in Punta Gorda, including the land where the mural commemorating his life and work is located.  He is best known for running a shipyard and boat works company and was an early adopter of equal pay for all of his employees.  Mr. Brown's commitment to Punta Gorda was evident in many ways, including a willingness to pay his taxes early on several occasions in order to enable the city to make ends meet.

Videographer David Sussman made a cool time lapse video of artist Michael Vires creating these murals.  To watch the video (and learn a bit more about Mr. Brown), click here.

"Movie Memories" by Michael Vires
Mr. Vires also painted "Movie Memories," a series of three paintings capturing the locals' favorite form of entertainment from the 1920s until the early 1960s.  (If only we had a movie theater in Punta Gorda now!)  This painting captures several aspects of the culture -- the "adult only" balcony, a time when you might be able to afford to buy popcorn at the theater, and the messenger delivering reels of film from the "white" movie theater to the "black" movie theater.  Like most towns in the South, Punta Gorda's history includes segregation.  And so there were two theaters in town that served the different populations.  Both saw the same movies on the same night, with the white audience viewing a reel first while a messenger stood by to bike it over to the black theater.  This mural can be found on the "privacy wall" at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center.

"Postcards in Time" by Jack Reto
In 1917, former President Teddy Roosevelt came to Punta Gorda to do a little fishing. The world's largest manta ray--an 18 footer--was caught off Captiva in 1915 by a man named Jack Cole.  Always the eager sportsman, Roosevelt wanted to best the record.  Roosevelt contacted Cole, who agreed to an outing.  Roosevelt and Cole stayed on a houseboat in Charlotte Harbor near Punta Gorda with five crew members.  The first step was to teach Roosevelt how to throw a harpoon.  (He apparently became proficient quite quickly.)  Roosevelt did manage to spear--and pull in--a 16' 8" manta ray, but Cole's world record remained intact.  To read a story from the 1917 St. Petersburg Times about this adventure, click here.   This painting is one of seven that comprise the "Postcards in Time" mural by Jack Reto.  It is located on the Andrew's Building at 126 Nesbit.

Libby (in front with hat) and her followers
Our tour guide for the evening was Libby Schaefer, and I was surprised to learn that the walk wasn't sponsored by either the Mural Society or the Historical Society.  Libby is "just" a woman who loves to share her knowledge of Punta Gorda's history, especially as viewed through its murals.  So she periodically leads these walks (for no charge!)  The next walk will be at 9:30 a.m., on Saturday, October 11, at 9:30.  The meeting point is Hurricane Charley's.  I am not sure of the exact spot, but trust that if you wander around a bit, you will find Libby and a gaggle of people.  It's sure to be a fun way to kick off your week-end.

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