Muralist working with huge St. Pete 'canvas' to create neighborhood eye-grabber

Tom Stovall is painting a mural on the two water tanks at the Northeast Water Reclamation Facility, 1160 62nd Ave NE, in St. Petersburg. Stovall is creating clouds, trees and wildlife on metal canvases that measure 120,000 square feet. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
Tom Stovall is painting a mural on the two water tanks at the Northeast Water Reclamation Facility, 1160 62nd Ave NE, in St. Petersburg. Stovall is creating clouds, trees and wildlife on metal canvases that measure 120,000 square feet. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published June 19, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — They appear to rise out of nowhere — two enormous, reclaimed-water tanks with an artist's white clouds scudding across a blue background.

A closer view reveals silhouettes of a lone coyote howling at the sky, mangrove islands, oak, cypress and palm trees and shrubs.

It's one of the city's newest murals, rising across from the Mangrove Bay Golf Course.

The idea was to create "a more pleasing, scenic view for the folks who live in nearby neighborhoods," said Bill Logan, spokesman for the Public Works Department.

MORE PHOTOS Muralist Tom Stovall turns water tanks into nature scenes

"It stays consistent with the vibe of St. Petersburg, always something pretty to look at, even in areas that don't get prettied up."

The project started with a commercial paint job on the two tanks — one holds 10-million gallons of reclaimed water and the other, 7-million gallons. The total cost is $325,912.

Artist Tom Stovall, 69, has created murals on water tanks before. His first was the Crescent Lake Water Tower. The one in Seminole came next.

The newest, appearing at the end of a winding road at the Northeast Water Reclamation Facility, 1160 62nd Ave. NE, presented a different set of challenges. Rain caused frequent delays and the lift Stovall used to access the huge tanks kept getting stuck in the sodden ground.

But there have also been rewards. Stovall rhapsodizes about his outdoor "studio," set amid the sights and sounds of nature.

"It's really a wilderness," he said one rainy morning. "The sound of the wildlife is spectacular. The wind swirling around the tanks. At night, a whole new set of wildlife comes out. The bats that come out in the evening. The wrens coming out to feast on the insects."

Stovall said he designed his murals for optimum viewing from nearby neighborhoods — a goal of Water Resources officials, he said.

"They didn't want them to wake up and look at these bland, tan tanks. The purpose is to be a little bit of an eye-grabber, to pull you back into the neighborhood, to take a look at it, if you want to."

Logan said the tanks had not been painted for almost 20 years, so last summer, as a paint job became imperative, the Water Resources Department sent a questionnaire to residents along 60th Terrace NE, Pennsylvania Avenue NE and 16th Lane NE, asking their opinion about a "more pleasing palette."

Muted tones such as light blue and aqua got the nod, he said.

John Parks, senior engineer in Water Resources, who had worked with Stovall on the Crescent Lake tower project, consulted the artist about the colors.

"And that's when Tom came up with the clouds, sky and silhouette concept," Logan said. "Everyone who saw the plan thought it was a good idea, so the work was commissioned."

A commercial firm using close to 1,000 gallons of paint — dark blue for the dome and light blue on the sides — covered the tanks' combined 120,000-square-foot surface, providing a base for Stovall's murals. The company also blocked in the black for his mangrove islands.

"I brought the dark blue from the top in many places down into the light blue on the sides, then painted white comic book clouds over each blue, then started to sculpt the clouds by fanning and feathering them out to make them more real," Stovall explained.

He uses a spray gun for the clouds and brushes for the silhouettes. He expects to use about 80 gallons of paint by the time he finishes the project.

"I am literally going over the foundation. And believe it or not, these tanks need to breathe, so you can't add too much thickness or millage to the main color."

The muralist tries to begin his day around 8 a.m. and works as late as he can. Barring additional weather-related delays, Stovall anticipates finishing by the end of June. The city paid $42,912 for his part of the project.

In 2016, when he painted a mural representing Florida's coral reefs on the 500,000-gallon Crescent Lake tower, Stovall was paid $25,000. When he first painted the 110-foot tower in 1994, he raised funds on his own and came up with $15,000. In 2000, he was paid $25,000 to paint birds on the blue background of the Seminole Water Tower.

"I don't necessarily do this for money," he said.

Painting murals is one of Stovall's several careers. He was in the Broadway cast of the musical Hair and in the original cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. He was the associate producer of the 1983 Meryl Streep movie Silkwood. He and partners bought the rights to the book Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown and have been hoping to turn it into a movie.

For a time, Stovall, whose father, George Stovall Sr., had been a stock broker, worked as a financial consultant for William R. Hough and the Royal Bank of Canada. He retired from securities in 2008. He has also worked as a substitute teacher in Pinellas County public schools.

Stovall, whose family goes back four generations in St. Petersburg, wants those who see his latest project to "get a smile across their face gazing at a delightful expression of nature ... to enjoy the color, the vibrancy, the nature theme and where it's set."

"I don't know how much more I can expect, because these murals, all of these outdoor pieces, have a lifetime. You have to know going into it they're going to last 12 to 15 years."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.