TARPON SPRINGS — With little advance notice Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce officials unveiled a new mural on the side of their downtown Welcome Center last week that’s already proving to be an attention getter.
The 25-by-4½-foot piece is a photographic reproduction of a portion of renowned local artist Christopher Still’s 1994 painting titled “Changing Tides.” The painting is a colorful portrayal of the area’s sponge diving heyday, centered on the Anclote Key Lighthouse. It now resides in the nearby Tarpon Springs Public Library.
During the unveiling, held March 5, the chamber’s president and CEO, Jean Hungiville, spoke about the genesis of the idea for the eye-catching project.
“It’s been coming for almost a year, since the last day of last year’s Fine Arts Festival,” Hungiville told the crowd of onlookers surrounding the Makris Building, at 1 N. Pinellas Ave, in the heart of downtown. “Chris and I sat in the back talking about projects and ideas he had, and when he mentioned doing something like I said, ‘I know where it can go.’ ”
Before handing the microphone to Still, Hungiville told the artist: “The journey to develop this project was pretty amazing, and you’re a pretty amazing guy. I am in awe of how this turned out.”
In keeping with his self-deprecating nature, Still immediately thanked his wife, Kelly, for coming up with the idea of turning the focus of “Changing Tides” into a postcard, and he spoke about the importance of the personal connections he has to the piece and all of its elements.
The painting, which Still created 26 years ago, was purchased by Elizabeth Coachman, an artist and former head of the medical laboratory at the hospital now known as AdventHealth North Pinellas, and her husband, Michael, and donated it to the library to keep it in the city, its creator said.
“When I look at it, I think of all the people who helped me with it, all the items they let me use to bring it to life,” Still said. “I feel this is the ultimate gift to me, to keep it in town.”
Still described the process involved in bringing the much smaller original painting to larger-than-life size, which included shooting the original with a high-end digital camera and using Tampa-based SpeedPro Imaging to blow the image up, print it onto 54-inch vinyl strips and use a butane torch to “melt” the strips onto the wall.
“It was a such a good partnership, with the chamber and my photographer and the guys at SpeedPro,” he said. “It’s great to call Tarpon home and I’m proud to be here. Thank you all.”
Prior to the unveiling, Still spoke about how it felt to fulfill a longtime goal to have a piece of his art represented in such a public place in his hometown.
“It’s a big honor to do this, to have an entryway sign for Tarpon Springs,” he said as dozens of people posed for photos in front of the towering artwork. “It’s neat having it as an entryway sign out here and you can walk over and see the original indoors nearby.”
Still also spoke about the evolution of his work and depictions of Florida life in art in general as well as the idea of coming full circle since he first painted “Changing Tides.”
“Almost 30 years ago when I was doing this painting, Florida wasn’t familiar with subject matter about itself being high-art, and it’s nice for me to see that change,” he said, noting his 9-by-9-foot mural slated for the new AdventHealth North Pinellas lobby also utilizes certain elements of this piece. “Back then it just meant I didn’t have to move up north!”
After the ceremony, Hungiville praised Still for taking the time out of his busy schedule to work on this unique collaboration.
“I’m honored Chris wanted to do this project with us, and the teamwork involved was amazing,” she said, adding, “it took a year and a half of financial planning for the chamber to make this happen.”
Hungiville, who just passed her three-year anniversary with the chamber, added, “This is one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on. The chamber is now becoming a strong part of the business community again, and this is a big first step toward a healthy business organization. It’s been three years since I took over and every year has been better and better.”