Sheryl Oring wants to hear your stories for a Tampa International Airport art installation

"What do you love about Tampa?" asks artist Sheryl Oring, then she types it up for posterity.
Published January 14 2017
Updated January 15 2017

TAMPA — Serenity Grey-Lodge sat on her hands with her small body scooted to the edge of the chair. The kindergartener's turquoise sneakers hung above the concrete as she swung her feet and looked into Sheryl Oring's eyeglasses.

The 5-year-old with pompom pigtails was silent for a moment as she hunted for the right words.

"Everything is so pretty in Tampa," Serenity said. "All the water, the flowers, the warmth."

Oring's fingers worked steadily, punching the keys to type out Serenity's every word into a baby blue Royal portable typewriter.

She was an artist at work.

Oring's tools were the people along the Riverwalk in front of the Tampa Museum of Art on Saturday afternoon. Her canvas: blank postcards to be filled with peoples' stories and thoughts; their rambles and insights.

What do you love about Tampa?

The question prompted about 75 people to share memories from the city via a postcard to be used in Oring's project, "Greetings from Tampa Bay." Oring, a socially engaged artist, was one of nine artists selected from more than 700 to create and display a project at Tampa International Airport.

"In airports, you typically have a lot of people not from the city," Oring said. "They don't get to hear about the city from hometown people."

But through the installation, they'll get a personal introduction.

Perhaps visitors will read the words of the gay couple who told Oring that Tampa was the first city where they could be themselves. For 20 years, they lived closeted in Pennsylvania.

Or it could be the last man to sit at Oring's desk Saturday. He told her about the time he met his idol, Oprah Winfrey, in Tampa. She took him out to lunch after he told her about his rough upbringing.

He wept as Oring's fingers moved from letter to letter. For some, the experience is silly or fun — for others, it's cathartic.

Oring, of Greensboro, N.C., sat at a sleek white table alongside two other typists. They all wore red dresses and matching red lips and pumps. Their hair was swept up and rolled, 1950s style. That's the decade Tampa's first international flight took off, Oring said.

The blue typewriters and red outfits represented the blue and red sections of the airport.

It was the clank of the keyboard keys that drew 38-year-old Lisa Putnam to the women in red. Her father was a writer. She found comfort in the rhythmic clanking she remembered from her childhood. She told her typist about taking her children to the Henry B. Plant History Museum every year to see a Victorian-era Santa Claus.

Gabriella and Jonathan Brodhead stopped by with their corgi, Walter. They told their typist Tampa was where they moved together, where they started their careers. It was where the two bought their first home together. It's also where they got married, right there on the Riverwalk.

Oring typed for three hours, collecting stories using carbon paper so the author could hold onto to their postcard, too.

Oring is not done. She hopes to collect at least 300 postcard vignettes. She has two more sessions scheduled in Tampa and one in St. Petersburg.

Oring said select postcards and the Polaroids she takes of the city will be printed on aluminum sheets and hung in her sculpture. The finished project is slated to be installed by September.

Contact Sara DiNatale at Follow @sara_dinatale.