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For area artist, a big dedication for a big work of art

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image Ruskin artist Michael Parker in front of his latest work, possibly the largest outdoor original art in Florida, the Ybor City mural on Adamo Drive. Photo Mitch Traphagen

Ruskin artist Michael Parker unveils his latest work: possibly the largest outdoor original art in Florida

By Mitch Traphagen
TAMPA — South County artist Michael Parker has the ability to see neighborhoods, communities and even the world in incredibly big ways. A renowned public artist, his work is well known in South County with “Head, Heart and Hands” a 100-foot-long mural on the old Clark’s Furniture Building, near the Ruskin Post Office and Southshore Bait and Tackle. But in seeing big, Parker, also has the unique ability to seek out and present nuance and history through the broad strokes of the brush required of a muralist.

On Tuesday, May 21, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn congratulated Parker for his latest and most visible work to date: a 12,000-square-foot mural on a corrugated steel building fronting Adamo Drive between 17th and 19th streets in Ybor City. As was the case with “Head, Heart and Hands,” Parker’s completed work was not the result of a solitary effort, but rather the outcome of a community effort, from research into the color and history of Ybor City to the physical processes of obtaining, installing and moving the scaffolding required to paint the enormous mural.

“It was a huge community effort,” Parker said. “We basically quadrupled our budget with in-kind donations. There are so many people to thank. There were community members that come out to help us sandblast it, put up the scaffolding. It really was a great effort.”

The mural opens an otherwise gritty industrial area to light and color. Thousands of cars pass by it each day on their way into or out of downtown Tampa.
“The mural is a tribute to the history of Ybor City. It even reflects the character of the neighborhood today; it’s bright, interesting, and forward-looking,” Mayor Buckhorn said.

Parker, a native of Massachusetts, has called Ruskin home for more than a decade. For his Ruskin mural, commissioned in 2008 by the Southshore Arts Council and funded primarily by the Community Foundation of Greater Sun City Center, Parker enlisted the help of a team of artists from around the area, many of them young people, to photograph the community. The photos were combined with historical research to create the story intertwined across “Head, Heart and Hands.”

In Ybor City, Parker again enlisted the assistance of students from a class he taught at Hillsborough Community College to gather history, photos, interviews with local residents, and information about how the community should be depicted. Although it is art on a grand scale, the faces and landmarks in the mural tell personal and individual stories. Some of the names and faces, such as Frank Adamo, Tony Pizzo and Don Vincente Martinez-Ybor, are known to long-time residents, others, such as the faces of two women prominently depicted on the mural, are unknown stories that were inspired by a photograph Parker found during research into Ybor City cigar factories. The mural encompasses the totality of the community, from the people, both known and unknown, who made it work, including an immigrant family just setting out on their American journey, to a ship in the harbor to the skyline of the city of Tampa.

Tampa City Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin described it as a portal to the past. Indeed, but it is a portal with an eye to the future, a roadway from the past to the present and beyond. It also changes the face of an otherwise faceless industrial boulevard.

The public-private effort has been two years in the making. It took Parker nearly a year to paint the mural. More than two-dozen businesses and organizations provided support to make it possible.

The mural has been described as the largest, outdoor original artwork in the state of Florida. It is so immense in scale that it is nearly impossible to take it all in while standing beneath it, as it would be for those driving by on Adamo Drive. David Scott of the Ybor City Development Corp. suggested an ideal option for enjoying the mural would be via a viewing platform across the highway, beneath elevated portions of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway. Until such a venue is built, however, most visitors will have to take in the mural in smaller pieces, and over time. The mural was painted to last for many years.

A second mural is planned for a warehouse between 21st and 22nd streets, also along Adamo Drive.

A year ago, the first brush strokes of paint were applied to the corrugated steel of the building for a work of art so immense that gauging the day’s progress required climbing off of the scaffolding and walking far back to see the scale that could not be seen while up close. According to David Scott, Parker used many of the same techniques as were used by Michelangelo in painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Fresh from completing what is likely the largest public art project in Florida, what is the next step for Parker, who has created murals around the Tampa Bay area and nationally?
“I’m going to hang out in Ruskin and work in my studio,” he said with a smile.

For more information about the mural, visit www.yborartproject.com.

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