TARPON SPRINGS — History is repeating itself in the historic city of Tarpon Springs.
In the recently renovated Tarpon Springs Cultural Center — which was built in 1915 as the city’s first City Hall — artist Elizabeth Indianos has re-created a mural depicting the history of the city, from the 1500s when Spanish conquistadors arrived on Florida’s shores right up to references to present day.
In 1975, while Indianos was the artist in residence for the City of Tarpon Springs, she began painting a similar outdoor mural on the corner of Tarpon Avenue and Alt U.S. 19. She’d received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and developed programming including an extensive mural program. After doing research on the city’s history from 1975 to 1979, she and a collective of artists painted The Spirit of This Place as cars whizzed by.
The mural was covered up by the building’s owner decades ago. So when the City of Tarpon Springs decided to renovate the cultural center, Indianos was commissioned by the Public Art Committee to re-create the painting, in an indoor gallery leading to the center’s theater.
Indianos started the new mural, titled This Blessed Plot, This Earth, when the pandemic hit. She left it for a few months and eventually returned, but with the uncertainty of the pandemic looming, found it difficult emotionally.
“I had some tough times in here,” she said. “(I remember) looking back and thinking, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to make it or not, but I’m painting these people to be with us, still.’ We can continue history. And I would be overwhelmed with the thought that they’re here still because I’m bringing them back. I’m grateful to make this.”
Many of the characters from the original piece remain, including the conquistadors, early Native Americans in Florida including Seminole Chief Billy Bowlegs, and Frederic Remington-inspired cowboys.
“Yes, there are nightmare stories about every one of these scenarios,” Indianos said. “Florida has a complicated history. ... But I didn’t want it to be about that. I wanted it to be each one of these people having the story of when they were at their heights.”
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She researched histories of important Native American women and imparted a strong feminine energy into those characters. That same energy is represented in many of the critters in the painting, including the raccoon and the mighty owl that commands attention at the top.
Elements from Tarpon’s history include the Anclote Key Lighthouse of 1887, the Orange Belt Railway of 1888, the steamboat Mary Disston from the 1880s and many historic houses. There’s a Greek sponge diver and a group of Epiphany divers.
Local floral and fauna are included, as well as three alligators, a tarpon and a pelican. Monarch butterflies migrating along Florida’s coast are metaphors for the various groups of people who have migrated through Florida.
The only living person in the mural is Annie Doris Dabbs, who stewards the Rose Cemetery, the city’s African American burial ground.
Above the door is a painting that Indianos didn’t make. It depicts an instrument, a painter’s palette and a marionette. It was there before and she chose to let it remain.
Indianos is also a writer, and is working on a play based on the mural that will be performed in that space. Characters from the mural will come to life.
“I feel like this is half done,” she said.
She’s grateful to the city for thinking it was important to paint the mural more than 40 years ago and to bring it back.
“I just love this city so much,” she said. “That it’s here in the old city hall, I’m very happy.”
If you go
Beginning June 29, the mural can be viewed at the Tarpon Springs Cultural Center from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays through Oct. 1, when the center’s hours will be expanded. On June 29, a dedication ceremony for the Tarpon Springs Old City Hall state marker happens at 1 p.m., with a reception inside with a meet and greet with Indianos. 101 S Pinellas Ave. 727-942-5605. tarponarts.org. For more information about Indianos, visit elizabethindianos.com.