TARPON SPRINGS — Over the past several years, Tarpon Springs officials, organizations and civic leaders have developed several projects designed to highlight the city’s history, including signage, building markers and murals as well as June’s inaugural Hope Day celebration commemorating the sponge diving industry.
On Tuesday, June 29, two additions to the city’s historical tapestry were unveiled at the Cultural Center on South Pinellas Avenue — a state marker detailing the history of the 106-year-old building, and a vibrant, wall-length mural by Elizabeth Indianos titled This Blessed Plot, This Earth. The mural just inside the doors of the facility depicts scenes and characters from decades of Tarpon’s history.
Mayor Chris Alahouzos began the marker ceremony by speaking about the building that served as the old City Hall from 1915-1987 before becoming home to the city’s Cultural Center.
“Our Cultural Center was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been a landmark to our community for the last 100 years,” Alahouzos said. He noted it was built in 1915, was restored in 1989 and recently underwent a $550,000 renovation that included restoring the windows. “I would like to thank the Pinellas County Historical Preservation Board, and I also want to thank Tarpon’s Cultural and Civic Service Department and the Tarpon Springs Historical Society for keeping our history alive.” Following a speech by Dr. Kathleen Monahan, who detailed the storied history of the majestic building, Alahouzos, Vice Mayor Jacob Karr and Commissioner Costa Vatikiotis pulled the black cloth away and revealed the marker, which with its black metal frame and raised gold lettering complimented both the brick building behind it as well as the bronze Glenna Goodacre Storytime statue nearby.
After braving the heat and traffic buzzing nearby, the procession moved indoors for the official unveiling of Indianios’ work, an incredibly detailed, eye-catching piece that spans the length of the wall in a room that serves as the entrance to the center’s 70-seat theater.
In an introduction, Cultural Services Director Diane Wood noted the mural would be available for public viewing Tuesdays and Saturdays from 1-3 p.m.
Indianos explained the creative process that went into the work, which is based on a painting she worked on decades ago.
“One thing led to another, and I adapted the drawing, refreshed it a little bit,” the award-winning artist said. She is also an author and playwright as well as an adjunct professor at SPC-Tarpon Springs. “Obviously, what we did in the late 1970s and who we are now needed some refreshment. So, I did that.” In describing the many individual elements that make up the mural, including people, places and creatures associated with Tarpon Springs history, Indianos said the most notable addition was the inclusion of the only living person in the scene, Annie Dabbs, a longtime Rose Cemetery Association board member. “I met her in the cemetery, believe it or not,” Indianos said to much laughter. “It was cold, it was rainy, and it was icy, and I saw Annie there and she started telling me more about the Rose Cemetery, and I was instantly intrigued.”
Indianos then gave a guided tour through the timeline of the scene behind her, starting with the arrival of monarch butterflies and early Indians in the late 1800s through the recent additions of Florida panthers, American alligators, and diamondback rattlesnakes she made to the original piece. She also pointed out iconic landmarks and images like the Anclote Lighthouse, the historic Safford House, and the Epiphany celebration as well as sponge and cross divers. She said women are prominently featured in the mural as a tribute to “all the female energy put into this world.”
Afterward, Dabbs said she felt “honored to be part of this historic mural, because history is who we are and where we came from.” Noting the piece was “so colorful and full of detail,” Dabbs said the mural and the other history-centric projects are “important to preserve the city’s history for the young people.”
Once the room cleared and after Indianos had posed for dozens of photos with her work serving as the backdrop, the artist spoke about completing the mural during the pandemic.
“I was grateful I was in here every day seeing these characters come to life,” she said. Each one of the characters, including the animals, “had to audition for the part,” she said. “The first six months I was just working on sketches at home, then I drew it out in March (2020), and then COVID hit, and I started in June.” After acknowledging the research was the real challenge, Indianos said she “wouldn’t have been able to work without COVID. I didn’t want anyone in here and I didn’t have to have anyone in here, so I could work at my own pace … This was a blessed place for me to be during the lockdown.”