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First mural installed at river basin


The first of the murals being installed around the detention basin between Hendry Street and Luminary Hotel was installed today. Featuring a portrait of Seminole Chief Billy Bowlegs painted by local artist Sherry Lynn Diaz, the mural is part of a walkable outdoor art and history museum that will ultimately include 57 murals depicting people and scenes from Fort Myers’ early days as a riverfront port city.

The project is a collaboration between the City’s Public Art Committee, Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency and the Fort Myers Mural Society, and involves the participation of 40 local artists. The artists have been painting images since late September that were culled by a selection committee the month before from an aggregation of nearly 500 historical photographs and postcards provided by the IMAG History & Science Center, Southwest Florida Historical Society, True Tours, Joanne Iwinski Miller’s Fort Myers Old Photo Facebook Page, and local historians Woody Hanson, Ken Rager and Randy Koger.

The murals are not being painted directly on the concrete stanchions and obelisks that anchor the decorative railing that circumscribes the detention basin. Instead, they’re being rendered with high-quality Golden Paint acrylics on mural cloth that will be installed in one-inch-deep, 18-inch-wide by 36-inch-inch-tall insets that the City’s architects specifically included to hold artworks of some kind. The panels are being affixed to these insets in a way that not only protects them from fading in Florida’s intense UV sunlight, but converts each one into a hard-as-nails tile that resists scratching, graffiti and water damage, even if they are submerged for a time under flood waters.

“We had actually planned to get started on Monday,” explains muralist Erik Schlake, who is spearheading the installation process. “But the glue we’re using won’t work if temperatures dip below 50 degrees at any point during the product’s 24-hour drying time. So we had to wait until today to get started.”

The stanchion sporting the portrait of Billy Bowlegs is located in the southeast corner of the 1.8 acre detention basin that stretches from Bay Street to the river. The stanchion is across Bay Street from the Barrel Room and next to Ella Mae’s Diner in the Luminary Hotel.

That stanchion will actually hold two portraits of the great Seminole chief and warrior, the one by Sherry Lynn Diaz and a second by Lorrie Bennett. Billy Bowlegs is that important to Fort Myers’ existence and early history.

While many locals will probably recognize Billy Bowlegs, few will be conversant with the story of the wars waged by the U.S. government between 1835 and 1858 to forcibly remove the Seminole and Miccosukee nations from the lands which today comprised Lee, Hendry, Glades and Collier counties. To fill in this gap, audios are being uploaded in both English and Spanish to a free mobile phone app called Otocast that will detail the historical significance of each mural panel.

Otocast already contains text, photos and audios in English for more than 30 of the artworks in the City’s permanent outdoor public art collection, but the app is being expanded to not only include the 57 murals being installed around the river basin, but the other 10 public artworks that the City owns as well as 30 of the historic buildings located through Fort Myers.

Watch this space for future developments, including more announcements as murals are installed and added to the Otocast phone app.

December 29, 2022.



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