Faces, places of historic West Tampa will spring from wall mural planned near Salcines park

The city of Tampa approved a design for a new West Tampa mural by the artist duo Illsol. Painting is scheduled for October. The site will be the wall of a clothing store. [City of Tampa]
The city of Tampa approved a design for a new West Tampa mural by the artist duo Illsol. Painting is scheduled for October. The site will be the wall of a clothing store. [City of Tampa]
Published Aug. 13, 2018

TAMPA — The artistry is obvious in the murals of Michelle Sawyer and Tony Krol, a married couple painting under the name Illsol.

But also emerging from their work is a sense of history — a defining quality in works they've created since 2015 in a series that tells the story of Tampa.

Their latest design will face Salcines Park and feature the history of West Tampa, on an exterior wall of Dress for Success Tampa Bay at 1705 N Howard Ave. .

The design was approved in early August by the city of Tampa, which owns the building and commissioned the artwork. The mural will be painted in October.

"We like these Tampa-themed projects," Sawyer said. "It feels like we are giving something back to the city."

The mural will showcase images of West Tampa's famous faces and places.

There is E.J. Salcines, the retired judge who has become West Tampa's foremost historian, as well as NFL great Rick Casares; Lou Piniella of Major League Baseball fame; George Edgecomb, Hillsborough County's first African-American judge; and civil rights activist Robert Saunders.

Gone-but-not-forgotten landmarks also are featured, such as Latin eatery the Fourth of July Cafe and Moses White's barbecue place the Cosey Corner.

Plaques will be placed nearby explaining the contributions of those honored in the mural.

"It is amazing," said Tampa City Councilman and West Tampa native Guido Maniscalco. "It truly celebrates the diversity of West Tampa, from sports to the theaters and clubs and local businesses and its iconic figures."

It is a history that many do not know and that Krol hopes the mural will teach.

"West Tampa gets overlooked," Krol said. "Everyone knows about Ybor, but West Tampa has the same history, with immigrants and cigars."

For instance, the decree in 1895 by Cuban freedom fighter Jose Marti launching the island's War of Independence against Spain was smuggled there in a cigar rolled at West Tampa's O'Halloran Cigar Factory, Krol said.

Then-factory owner Blas O'Halloran will be portrayed in the mural.

Krol and Sawyer spent months researching the local Latin community in libraries and through tours with longtime residents.

"At night we'd listen to archived interviews of civil rights leaders," Krol said.

A desire to learn is why Illsol was selected for the mural project, said Robin Nigh, the city's art programs manager. "They have proven to have a real good feel for the community."

With murals at Cafe Hey and the Portico Cafe, as well as an ongoing work at the Seminole Heights shuffleboard bar Shuffle, history supports Nigh's view.

Illsol's West Tampa work will replace a mural painted by area children in 2002 that also featured historic faces.

But in recent years, the wall has begun to crack. To make the needed $21,000 in structural repairs, the mural had to be destroyed.

Earlier in the year, Michelle Sawyer drove by the building and was disheartened to see the once colorful wall was all white.

"My stomach sank," Sawyer said. "I hate to see art go away and I wondered if it was going to replaced and how."

A few weeks later, the city called and offered Illsol the job.

Contact Paul Guzzo at Follow @PGuzzoTimes.