Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

In Sulphur Springs, a river of wildlife for a bland new building

John Gurbacs paints a mural on a new water pumping station building next to the Sulphur Springs Pool in Tampa on Feb. 13.

TYLER TJOMSLAND | Times

John Gurbacs paints a mural on a new water pumping station building next to the Sulphur Springs Pool in Tampa on Feb. 13.

SULPHUR SPRINGS — Machines roar, construction workers walk about, dust flies and the sun beats down mercilessly. All the while, the resident artist busily paints waterbirds.

Longtime local artist John Gurbacs, commissioned by the city of Tampa to beautify a bland new water pumping station building next to the Sulphur Springs Pool, has been painting for the last two months while a construction crew wraps up work on the grounds.

Gurbacs sensed at first that his hard-hatted colleagues viewed him as "a wuss or something.''

"But then they see me going up on the scaffolding and stuff,'' he says, and they decided, "Oh, he's okay.''

Now, he gets regular appraisals from the brawny critics.

"You can't beat that. That's quality work,'' says worker Keith Edwards, 26, of Tampa.

"This building was ugly. Now, it's a work of art,'' says John Resh, emphasizing the compliment for dramatic effect and grinning at Gurbacs.

Resh, a 57-year-old pipe worker from Gainesville, snaps pictures with his phone to keep his artist girlfriend updated on the progress.

Gurbacs, 64, lives in Sulphur Springs and has worked full-time as an artist since the 1980s. He has paintings in the Tampa Museum of Art, Gulf Coast Museum, USF Contemporary Art Museum and corporate offices of Tampa Electric Co. and Holland & Knight law firm.

His proposal to re-create part of the Hillsborough River ecosystem on the building, which is near the river, won the $20,000 contract from the city. Herons, manatees, a roseate spoonbill and other Hillsborough River fauna are taking shape amid the flora on the pump station walls.

The pump station was an ideal candidate for Gurbacs' brush because it is so visible to motorists on Nebraska Avenue and patrons of the swimming pool, says Robin Nigh, manager of the city's Art Programs Division. A similar beauty treatment by artist Michael Parker will soon start on Adamo Drive, where the backs of ugly warehouses will get a mural with an Ybor City theme.

Gurbacs' design for the pump station was chosen, Nigh says, because it wraps around the whole building and has an environmental, educational appeal.

"It seems to soften the building.''

Gurbacs, 64, has loved painting all his life. He loved to draw as a little boy in his native Hungary. He jokes that his relatives showered him with positive reinforcement just to keep him sitting still.

His family escaped the Soviet-bloc country during the popular uprising in 1956. As an 8-year-old, he looked out his window to see Russian tanks set ablaze and the charred corpses of their crews. "I can close my eyes and see stuff.''

After his family settled in Florida, he continued pursuing art, graduating from Florida State University and doing graduate work at the University of South Florida.

He and hopes to finish the mural by the middle of March.

At first, climbing up and down scaffolding all day took its toll on him. It surprised Gurbacs, who swims laps and lifts weights to stay in shape.

"I could hardly walk to my car. I'm thinking, this is crazy. I'm too old for this.''

He eventually adjusted, and now he's just one of the guys on the construction site — the one in charge of the water birds.

Philip Morgan can be reached at pmorgan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3435.

In Sulphur Springs, a river of wildlife for a bland new building 02/23/12 [Last modified: Monday, March 5, 2012 2:07pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Beards are back in style, but guys, take care of them

    Blogs

    Tired of sitting in front of a computer screen for a living, Tyler Goelz wanted to make something tangible. The 28-year-old web developer only had to look in the mirror to find inspiration.

    Tyler Goelz of St. Petersburg, the creator of Organic Beard Supply, is pictured at Central Oak Barber Co. in St. Petersburg with some of his products. Goelz, 28, has had a beard since he could grow one.
  2. William March: Two Democrats appear to lead challenge of U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross

    Politics

    Half a dozen Democrats have filed for the primary to challenge U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, but so far, only two have mounted substantial financial campaigns — Andrew Learned of Bloomingdale and James Gregory "Greg" Pilkington of Indian Lake Estates in Polk County.

    Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, faces a challenge from Democrats hoping to take advantage of voter dissatisfaction with Republican President Donald Trump. [Times file]
  3. Gov. Scott says decisions on Confederate monuments should be left to the democratic 'process'

    Blogs

    Gov. Rick Scott this morning avoided directly answering whether Confederate monuments should be taken down, saying the decision should be part of a democratic "process."

    Workers place boards around a Confederate monument on Hillsborough County property in Tampa on Thursday, August 17, 2017. It took 24 hours to raise private funds in order to move the statue from its current location.
  4. A 5,000-year-old stone carving may be the world's first drawing of an eclipse

    Space

    An unassuming grass-covered stone mound outside of Dublin, Ireland, may be home to the world's oldest visual representation of a solar eclipse.

    This 5,000-year-old stone carving in Meath, Ireland, predating Stonehenge by at least 1,000 years, may be the world's oldest surviving depiction of an eclipse. [Courtesy of Michael Fox-Boynevalleytours.com]
  5. Ex-Bucs WR Vincent Jackson highlights Kriseman's pick for Manhattan Casino restaurant

    Blogs

    Mayor Rick Kriseman picked a Floribbean-themed restaurant to highlight turning a new page in the historic Manhattan Casino, which has been shuttered for more than a year after the city …

    Kriseman makes his choice on a new tenant for the iconic Manhattan Casino: Floribbean cuisine