So long to artist, familiar mural in Clearwater

2008: From left, Katilyn Race, 5, Angela Mears and Hannah Mears, 7, all of St. Petersburg, walk to Clearwater Beach after parking Tuesday behind the old Spyglass Resort, as the familiar mural lurks from above.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

2008: From left, Katilyn Race, 5, Angela Mears and Hannah Mears, 7, all of St. Petersburg, walk to Clearwater Beach after parking Tuesday behind the old Spyglass Resort, as the familiar mural lurks from above.

Home-grown artist Roger Bansemer is leaving town, and so, too, is one of his most-viewed paintings.

But he's not taking it with him.

It's going courtesy of a wrecking ball.

Back on Nov. 14, 1978, Bansemer completed a 100-foot-tall mural of a hot-air balloon on the side of the old nine-story Spyglass Resort on Clearwater Beach. In the painting, a bearded captain sits in the balloon's basket, navigating with the help of a sextant. Seagulls hover above. An anchor swings below.

Clearwater leaders now want developers of the Kiran Grand Resort & Spa to tear down the vacant hotel building to make way for their new project.

The mural is Bansemer's biggest work ever and probably has been seen by more people — perhaps millions — than anything else he's done in a long and distinguished career.

But you know what?

Even with demolition looming, he doesn't mind.

In fact, Bansemer — Clearwater's first artist-in-residence — may be gone before the mural is.

Disenchanted with urban sprawl ("it's all concrete and buildings"), Bansemer, 59, said he probably will move out of Clearwater by June. Right now he hasn't decided where, but he and his wife have a summer home in Flat Rock, N.C., so it's a safe bet they'll be there for awhile.

On Tuesday, the Times talked with Bansemer, an artist who turned to realism in the 1980s, about the mural and his thoughts on its imminent destruction.

The city has asked developers to tear down the old Spyglass Resort. That means the balloon mural you painted will be going, too. Any thoughts?

It's about time. That was up way too long. When did I paint that?

1978.

Wow, 1978, that's amazing. I remember that now. The man who owned the hotel, Gilbert Lindgren, came up to me one day. I was painting a mural in downtown Clearwater. It was a 30-foot round circular mural, an abstract … and this guy drives up and says, "I understand you fly a hot-air balloon. … You want to draw a balloon on the side of my hotel?" I went up there the next day, made a quick sketch on an 8-by-11½-inch piece of paper and gave him a price. A year and half later, he gave me a call.

I understand you had to hang from the top at one point to finish it, that your mom was watching and she was little worried?

Yeah, I had a scaffold, but it wouldn't go to the very top. So when I did the signature, I hung over the ledge. The signature is no longer there. But it was a lot of fun.

What happened to your signature?

The mural was repainted once. It's actually remarkable that it stood for that length of time.

Did you repaint it?

(Laughs) No, I passed on that. They pretty much just went over everything I did. Except they removed the signature.

So no sense of sadness that this mural, probably viewed by everyone who's ever been to the beach, will be taken down?

No, no, not at all. It lasted far longer than I thought it would.

Here's a funny story, though. When I painted it, I had a spyglass in the guy's hand and a city sign inspector came along and he said, "You can't paint that. It's a sign. Putting the spyglass in his hand makes it a sign, since it's called the Spyglass Motel." He told me: "You have to remove this whole thing." I thought for a minute, then I painted the spyglass out and put a sextant, a navigation device that looks kind of like a spyglass, in his hand. The sign inspector said that was okay. Isn't that silly.

Yeah, that is. Heh, the city and sign inspectors. So how would you rate the mural compared with your other work?

Oh, actually pretty low. It's a simple mural. It's something fun to look at, but I never thought of it as having much of an artistic value.

The owner held a contest while you were painting it, right? Whoever won got a free weekend stay at the hotel and a ride in a hot-air balloon?

Yes, he let people try to guess the day I finished it. I remember it only took six days.

Any other thoughts on the work?

Not really. Well, just for fun after we finished, I talked to the owner and I said, "Let's inflate my real hot-air balloon on the roof and take off." And we did just that.

Do you still go up?

No, I gave that up some time ago, maybe about 12 years ago. I flew over 700 times, but one day I just stopped.

I've got to ask you, how much did you charge for the mural?

You know, I really don't remember, it's been so long. Probably not a lot, though. For what I sell an 18-by-24-inch (painting), you probably couldn't buy one for (what he got paid for the mural).

So, last time, you don't mind seeing the mural taken down?

(Laughs) No, no, it's had its day.

So long to artist, familiar mural in Clearwater 04/01/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 3, 2008 11:09am]

    

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