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Mural Society artists stepping up big in river basin project


This past August, the City’s Public Art Committee, Community Redevelopment Agency and Fort Myers Mural Society embarked upon an ambitious mural project that will culminate in a walkable outdoor art and history museum circumscribing the detention basin adjoining Luminary Hotel. Approximately 40 artists have been working on mural panels since late September, and based upon the paintings that have been turned in so far, they’ve more than met the challenge of describing in picture form Fort Myers’ historic relationship to the Caloosahatchee River.

David Acevedo, Rod Acosta, Cesar Aguilera, J.P. Almonacid, Israel Alpizar, Lorrie Bennett, Sanaa Bezzaz, Pat Collins, Annie Crouch, Sherry Lynn Diaz, Ruben Dimas, Victor Dotres, Claudia Goode, Carolyn Gora, Holland King, Bill Kreutz, Donna Kreutz, Tim Lowry, David Meo, Leila Mesdaghi, Lesley Morrow, Eric Riemenschneider, Ava Roeder, Davis Rost, Tom Rost, Roland Ruocco, Erik Schlake, Sam Taylor, Diane Tormey, Monika Urbanski, Brian Weaver, Dawn Webb, Wendy White and Alex Wilkinson are the artists whose work will be featured in the murals. Most are either members of, or working through, the Fort Myers Mural Society. As such, they have a personal interest in highlighting scenes from Fort Myers’ days as a thriving commercial port and painting portraits of the people who settled the town and derived their livelihoods from the wide, slow-flowing Caloosahatchee River.

Fifty murals will be installed on the concrete stanchions that anchor the decorative railing that surrounds the detention basin. Four more will be installed on the obelisks that flank Edwards Drive. Once they’re installed, full-time and winter residents along with vacationers and out-of-town visitors will be able to relive days gone by as they leisurely stroll the promenade that surrounds the basin (which, coincidentally, ends at Bay Street to remind folks that prior to Tootie McGregor Terry’s seawall project in 1907, that’s where the river bank used to be).

Of course, few people are aware of the stories these murals depict. That gap will be filled by a free mobile app called Otocast that will contain text, historic photos and an audio that describes what’s going on in, and the significance of, each of the 54 murals. The information will be available to anyone with a smart phone, giving people the option of doing their own self-guided walking tour. However, for those who like the personal touch and group learning experience, True Tours plans to add a guided walking tour that will originate from the lobby of the Luminary Hotel.

In a bit of a twist, the murals aren’t being painted directly on the concrete. Instead, they’re being rendered on mural cloth which will be installed in the one-inch-deep insets that the City’s architects designed into the stanchions and obelisks specifically for the purpose of holding artworks of some kind. The murals will be attached to the concrete 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.

Of course, that assumes that the stanchions themselves remain intact. That was not the case with Hurricane Ian. The surge generated by the storm damaged a number of the stanchions and two of the obelisks.

While no timetable has been set for repairing the damage, the Mural Society plans to begin installation on the more than three dozen that weren’t damaged beginning as early as the week of December 5th. And that means that a majority of the murals should be in place by year’s end, with the murals that are intended for the damaged stanchions and obelisks being installed as the stanchions and obelisks are repaired.

So far (spoiler alert), the Mural Society has received panels that depict –

  • the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad pier at the foot of Monroe and two unidentified men in a boat with Ireland’s Dock in the background, along with another depicting one of the businesses on that pier;
  • the Thomas A. Edison and St. Lucie steamships, which once plied the waters of the Caloosahatchee;
  • portraits of settler John Weatherford (one of Fort Myers’ first four settlers and Evalina Gonzalez’s brother), Nelson Tillis (the town’s first Black settler) and his wife, Zilphie Jane Ellen Summerall, Sheriff Frank Tippins, Tootie McGregor Terry (driving a stake into the form boards for the seawall she orchestrated from Monroe to Billy’s Creek), an ancient Miccosukee warrior named Billy Fuel (who fought alongside Seminole Chief Billy Bowlegs in the Battle of Lake Okeechobee) and Elvis Pressley (who performed in the ’50s in the City Auditorium at Exhibition Hall across from the yacht basin); and
  • the yacht basin, of course.

Each of these murals is based on historic photographs furnished by, among others, Joanne Miller Iwinski (who maintains the Fort Myers Florida Old Photo Page on Facebook), John Dahowski at the IMAG History and Science Center, the Southwest Florida Historical Society, and historians Ken Rager, Randy Koger, Woody Hanson and Gina Taylor of True Tours. So are the others, which are due to be dropped off at the Fort Myers Mural Society tomorrow.

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

November 27, 2022.


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