BROOKSVILLE — The 87-foot-wide mural that sprawls along a wall on Broad Street in downtown Brooksville remains something of a crowning achievement for the late Spring Hill artist Tony Caparello.
The painting, depicting the aftermath of a Civil War battle, serves as a reminder of the human sacrifices made during the conflict between the North and the South during the 1860s.
But few people know the sacrifices of the mural's creator, who labored long hours during the summer of 2002 to paint the spectacular image on the western wall of Patricia's Boutique.
There was the intense heat, which caused the acrylic paint that Caparello used to dry too quickly, making it difficult for him to blend colors. There were the clouds of lovebugs that flew into the freshly mixed paint. And then there were the protests from the building's owners and local Civil War enthusiasts, who insisted on changes so that the painting wouldn't offend local sensibilities.
"It was a huge challenge for Tony, both physically and emotionally," recalled Caparello's widow, Heidi Caparello. "But it was his labor of love. He put a lot of effort into it. In the end, it was something he was very proud of."
Caparello, who died in January 2009 at age 55 following complications from open heart surgery, was an ardent history buff who had a particular interest in the Civil War era. A former billboard painter who spent more than a decade working with renowned pop artist James Rosenquist in Rosenquist's Aripeka studio, he was chosen by the Brooksville Mural Society to create a mural that would serve as a centerpiece for the city's historic district.
Caparello chose not to depict the actual Brooksville Raid of June 1864, which, according to historians, was little more than a minor skirmish between a few Union soldiers and local Confederate sympathizers. Rather, he had a grander vision that he hoped would put the war into perspective more than 130 years after it ended.
To prepare for the project, Caparello went to the annual Brooksville Raid Re-enactment — the 31st of which takes place this weekend — and took more than 300 photos of soldiers. He and Heidi even bought period clothing so that they could attend the Blue/Gray Ball festivities.
"Tony got very involved with researching everything he painted," Heidi Caparello said. "He felt a romantic connection to those who fought in the Civil War and to the people who still devote their lives to portraying that history."
Once work began on the mural, however, Caparello quickly realized that some people in town had their own ideas about how the battle should be captured.
A Confederate battle flag that had been painted into the center of the scene was removed after building owners Patricia and Richard Lambright complained about threats. There were other controversies as well.
An African-American cavalry officer who was painted into the scene had to be painted out because mural society members said black noncommissioned officers in the Union Army never rode on horseback. And then there was the question of how much blood should be shown on wounded Confederate soldiers.
"It was very frustrating for him," Heidi Caparello said. "When he submitted the original concept, he was told everything was a go. As an artist, he just wasn't equipped to deal with all the politics that came from outsiders."
Caparello's interest in painting Civil War images didn't end with the mural. He went on to create an entire series of oil paintings based on photos he had taken at the Brooksville Raid Re-enactment. Several of the paintings, which remain in Heidi Caparello's private collection, were featured in a 2008 exhibit at the Brooksville City Hall Art Gallery.
Several images from the collection can be found online at caparellocreations.com, and Heidi Caparello hopes to find a local gallery where she can display her late husband's original works and offer giclée prints to the public.
"Whenever I see those Civil War paintings, I'm reminded of the passion that Tony put into them," she said. "He always saw them as a way of showing his deep respect for the toll that the war took on the country. He wanted people to always remember the price that so many others paid."
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.
WHEN: Saturday and Sunday.
WHERE: Sand Hill Scout Reservation, State Road 50, Spring Hill. The reservation is about 11/2 miles east of U.S. 19 on the south side of SR 50.
ADMISSION: $6 for adults (18 or older), $3 for children ages 6 to 17, free for children 5 and younger and for Scouts in uniform.
INFORMATION: Spectators may bring chairs; rental chairs are available. Food and beverages are available on the grounds. For more information, call (352) 799-0129 or visit the website at brooksvilleraidreenactment.com.