Despite the sweltering heat, more than 100 people showed up to the dedication of the Adamo Drive Mural, American Journey, joining Mayor Bob Buckhorn and mural artist Michael Parker in a dedication ceremony to celebrate its official unobstructed view, allowing all a glimpse of Ybor City’s rich history.
The day started with an artist meet and greet at the Hoffman Porges Gallery in Ybor City at noon. It was an intimate gathering, with Parker and Dave Scott reminiscing on the thousands of man hours spent creating large-scale illustrations on an old warehouse that manufacturers iron and steel building infrastructure.
They talked at length about what the mural embodies: It's a tribute to Ybor City and its history, past and present. The design incorporates three integrating themes and six individual messages reflecting the experience of the Ybor National Historic Landmark District. The center section depicts historical figures and those who have been cast away.
There are two trains of thought that move from the middle to the left and the middle to the right — builders in Tampa on one side and community activists and creators on the other side. The figures were chosen based on physical development, state of mind, and how and what they contributed.
A dedication followed at 2 p.m. in front of the mural. A reception in the refreshing A/C topped off the day at The Bad Monkey in Ybor.
Scott, owner of The Bad Monkey in Ybor, spearheaded the mural's fundraising efforts. Acquiring all of the resources needed took about two years before work actually started last July. Gathering funding for the mural was no easy task and they started by selling cupcakes at the Saturday Market in Ybor. It soon became a public/private partnership as the city of Tampa offered to donate a third of the funds if they could deliver the rest.
Parker shared that mural's creation process involved art instructor Parker's class at Hillsborough Community College, which centered on the process of public art. It was in that class that he used the mural as an example. His students partook in workshops with community members and open design sessions to help guide them to what the content of the imagery should be.
As a class, they formulated a design through sketches, drawings, and photographs. Once the design was approved the production process started, which included erecting the scaffolding, donated by Safway, followed by sanding and priming the exterior of the warehouse. After that, production began with the first brush strokes on the 12,000-square-foot surface area.
American Journey is the largest outdoor original artwork in all of the state of Florida, located in Ybor on Adamo Drive between 17th and 19th streets. The project has been almost three years in the making — almost two full years of planning followed by just shy of a year of production and painting.
One of the portraits portrays Frank Costantino, whose trade was making all of the headstones in Ybor. He was famous for giving them away to people who couldn’t afford them and would also take people in who needed help. He represented the virtues of pride, family and respect. The students picked people who embodied the same type of outlook on life. Costantino represented pride, skill, and compassion, and was, above all, a humanitarian.
Dr. Frank Adamo, the American hero for which State Road 60 (Adamo Drive) is named after, is also a key figure on the mural. He was born in Ybor City in 1893 to an Italian Immigrant family and worked in the cigar factories before becoming a doctor and joining the U.S. Army. Adamo was thought to be dead as he was in captivity for three years in a Japanese POW camp during World War II and can also credited with the treatment for gangrene.
Many businesses such as Safway, who donated scaffolding and Sherwin Williams who donated all of the paint, the undercoating, the epoxy, and the primer stepped up to help make this a reality. It was through this project that Parker met Kevin Schweikhart, owner of Protective Coating Solutions. Schweikhart let them use his network and did all of the grunt work, donating more of his time than they could have ever imagined. "We couldn’t have done this project without him," Parker said. "He secured the donation from Sherwin Williams and another company called Corrosion Specialties, who not only sandblasted the surface area, but towed one of their machines down here from Atlanta."
Other donors include Empire Paint & Hardware of Ybor City who donated all of the painting materials to prep the surface. Columbia Restaurant, Vykin Corporation, Actsoft Corporation and many others bestowed cash donations.
Erecting the scaffolding was the biggest challenge they faced. Parker thought it would be an easy task and told the guys at Safway he and his volunteers construct it. Once there, it was hard to find capable people to put it up. Scott called on his buddies from the Special Forces Motorcycle Club who got the job done. "When you’re volunteers just aren’t cutting it, call in the Special Forces Motorcycle Club," Parker joked.
"This project has been by far one of my favorite things to do," he added. "It’s the largest scale work that I’ve done; it increased my threshold for painting and I can look at things from a different prospective now. The Ybor community has been the most enthusiastic and receptive to a project like this that I’ve worked with. The feedback I’ve received has been unbelievable and I’m still trying to process it all. It made for an unexpected, exciting, and pleasurable experience. I’m sad that it’s over because it’s been my home for awhile."
The man behind the mural, artist Michael Parker, was born and raised in Melrose, Mass. After receiving his Bachelor in Fine Arts degree from UMASS Dartmouth, Parker moved to St. Petersburg in 2001, where he held a job as a commercial fisherman. He also worked at a prop shop called Wizard Studios where he made foam sculptures, large murals, and stage sets for events like Busch Garden’s Howl-O-Scream. On completing his master’s degree in 2005, he began teaching at both USF and HCC. In 2008 he moved to Montana, where he taught drawing, painting, environmental drawing, figure drawing, and community arts at the University of Montana. Since 2010 he has resided in Ruskin, where his 8,000-square-foot studio is also located. Parker executed three other murals in Sulphur Springs and one in Ruskin before embarking on American Journey.
Supported by community volunteers and art students from Hillsborough Community College Ybor Campus, Parker has made his vision a reality. The mural celebrates acceptance, diversity and many things that are still represented in our community today. Hopefully this will act as a catalyst for more great things to come. The three-year journey, as well as the legend of the mural can be found at yborartproject.com.