She sees things many people miss. Like the letter B posing as a double-arched window. Or an O masquerading as a medallion. Even an F hiding under a balcony.
Marilyn Brackney is an artist, and artists, she says, tend to see things differently.
Always on the lookout for subjects for her mixed-media pieces, the retired public school art teacher had a eureka moment three years ago as she strolled past the Don CeSar Beach Resort in St. Pete Beach.
Amid the towering pink palace's bell towers, turrets, balconies and columns, she found an architectural detail that could represent the letter B. This find, she decided, was perfect for one of the fanciful alphabets she pieces together from architectural elements of individual buildings and interesting towns.
The discovery of her first letter set Brackney on a painstaking hunt around the perimeter of the 277-room hotel for architectural features she could use to create the remaining 25 letters of the alphabet.
"I started three years ago and I've been working on it on and off. I really got very serious about finishing it last year,'' said Brackney, 66.
Last week she posed with the artwork. Set against a background of flamingo pink, her whimsical alphabet is trimmed with requisite Florida seashells, a pelican, an egret and hibiscus and bird of paradise blooms.
Perhaps the biggest triumph for the Indiana native is that the poster, titled A, B, C, Don, is being carried in the Don CeSar Logo Shop, a showcase of Don CeSar postcards, mouse pads, mugs, sweatshirts and many things pink.
Brackney's print just seemed to be the perfect fit for the shop, said Sarah Murov, public relations director for the hotel. "We all loved it. … It was, for us, such a clever idea. This was a new, creative approach.''
Brackney, who lives in Columbus, Ind., but winters for six weeks in Pass-a-Grille, admits she took artistic license to create a few letters.
While one of the hotel's columns could easily be conceived to be an I, and there was an actual letter V in the center of a decorative window trim, in some cases, she had to piece together architectural features to create a desired letter. That's the case with the letter Z.
The letters Q and G were inspired by curlicues on a fence that has since been removed. U is an arch turned upside down. X was the underside of an overhang.
"I have to credit my husband. He took the photographs for me,'' Brackney said of husband Larry's contributions to the project.
"We would go around the building and I'd say, there's a B, or C or X or whatever. There were many possibilities for an O, because they have those medallions all over the building. I really like the one I chose.''
Finding the letters was just the first step in a lengthy process that included drawing the alphabet on a large sheet of paper and transferring it to heavier stock. She outlined each letter with ink, applied color with a thick, water-based paint and then covered the entire piece with a layer of India ink.
"When that was all dry, then you wash everything off. The ink and paint come off and you're left with a faded piece of art. The reason I chose this technique was because I wanted it to look antique,'' Brackney said.
For the final step, she used pencils to add shading and additional colors. The original artwork was made into the fine art print later offered to the Don CeSar.
Brackney, whose brother Phil Hanna is a city commissioner for Indian Rocks Beach, has created similar projects. Her first was inspired by architectural elements from downtown Columbus, Ind., a city known for its modern architecture. She's now working on one of Bloomington, Ind. With its old-fashioned town square, the town is ideal for the project, she said.
"Another one that I would like to do is one for the state of Indiana. I want to go to a city with the letter A and find the letter A. I was looking at Richmond for the R. I've found some of the letters. I don't know where I can find the letter X. I think I'll use Indianapolis. It's known as the crossroads of America, because I-70 goes right through it. And when you look down from above at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, there is an X,'' she said.
Brackney and her husband, a former director of technology, have retired from careers with Indiana public schools. She gives private lessons to children and advocates creating art from recycled materials. Her Web site, kid-at-art.com, encourages such efforts.
Like others, she was enchanted by the Don CeSar from first sighting. She believes her unique alphabet will have broad interest, appealing to everyone from teachers to history buffs to preservationists. Opened in 1928, the Mediterranean-style hotel on the Gulf of Mexico is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The hotel is selling Brackney's print for $19.95. She gets $10. Her art also is for sale at three St. Pete Beach shops and one in Gulfport. The self-described snowbird also is trying to market blank greeting cards, featuring one of three words — merci, joy and love — from the Don CeSar alphabet.
Her work has some people looking at the landmark hotel with a new eye.
"There's one gentleman who stays in our condo who walks down to the Don every morning. He tells me every time he looks at the Don, he sees alphabet letters,'' Brackney said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.