Artist and architect Stephen Oliver divides his time between Maine and Gulfport, where he’s known to regulars at the Tuesday Fresh Market for his “Give Peace” T-shirts. Over his five years at the market, he’s been impressed by “how open and eclectic this community is. It’s a model for how our society should be in a lot of ways.”
So when he heard about a competition to create a new piece of public art in front of the Gulfport Casino, he leapt at the chance. Inspired by a vintage photo he found at the Gulfport Historical Society of a “colored people’s dance pavilion,” he wanted his work to acknowledge the divisions that existed in the past while celebrating the more “global, accepting” attitudes he sees in the city today.
His winning entry, entitled “Best Kept Secret,” is now on view outside the casino. A stainless steel boat hull lined with acrylic that showers a prism of rainbow colors onto the sidewalk (and on any visitors who stand under the boat), it also acts as an easel; its stern, which is shaped to evoke the curves of the Casino’s facade, holds a painting of the pavilion.
A poem is etched onto the boat’s hull:
“To cross the gulf be our port of call/leaving a wake of peace and love for all/ All hands together joined to row/ make rainbows of gauntlets as they go.”
“It’s about making challenges into opportunities,” the artist explains — and when children run up and ask, “Is that a rainbow boat?” he thinks he’s getting his message across.