blogTampa Heights mural

September 18, 2015
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Where Sawyer florals and Krol text unite.

Our aim for this project was to create an image that honored the history of the area, but had a modern feel. Being a Tampa native and Tampa Heights resident, I was extremely excited to do research for this project. Since Tampa Heights is the city’s oldest suburb, there was a ton of material to work with.

What spoke to me right off the bat was the pivotal roles that some Heights residents had in helping the city grow. Heights founder, William Henderson, built the first telegraph line. The cigar industry was, and is, a major part of Tampa culture and history. After all, we are the Cigar City. It drew people of a range of backgrounds to the Tampa. Tampa Heights’ proximity to Ybor made it an ideal place for members of the cigar industry to call home. Those facts are referenced with the left hand holding a chaveta and the right is utilizing a telegraph. Tobacco leaves and flowers connect the hands, creating a frame for the central image. Big and bold, the hands are a nod to the workers that kept Tampa industry moving, some of which called northern Tampa Heights home. 

One of the things I love most about Tampa Heights is the plant life. It seems as if every yard, landscaped or not, is overflowing with flowers and greenery. I often get distracted by it on my walks and bike rides, so that was definitely something I wanted to incorporate into the design. Plus, florals are kind of a staple in my work. Flanking the central frame of hands and tobacco, I added ferns, Carolina Jasmine and Canna Lilies, all plants that you can find while taking a stroll through the neighborhood.

Layers of text, a hallmark of Tony’s work, were used in the background to reference the history of print in Tampa. Tampa Heights’ founder also consolidated two local newspapers into one. The text spells out small bits of Tampa Heights history, from the date it was established to its nickname, “The Highlands”.

Just prior to designing the mural, we caught wind of the Tampa Bay Express Project (TBX) and the effects it would have on the city. In order for FDOT to make way for express toll lanes or “Lexus Lanes” along I-275, area neighborhoods will be hurt. After learning that Cafe Hey is one of the buildings on the chopping block with the TBX project and hearing hours of community outcry during council meetings, we knew we had to somehow address the issue in our design. For the central image, we used an image of old Tampa Heights, a view of Franklin Street when the streetcar system was still in use as public transportation, not just an Ybor novelty. There was a time in Tampa’s history that streetcars actually served our communities. It connected people of a variety of backgrounds from West Tampa, Sulphur Springs, Ybor City and Tampa Heights. Transportation literally brought people and neighborhoods together. Hearing older Tampanians speak against TBX during council meetings, I heard how adding I-275 through Tampa damaged the city and essentially split it apart. Now, decades later, our state is forcing it on us again, but with even less of a reason. There is no vote, we have no say. The state is dictating what our city and citizens need, and they are off base. What I heard from the citizens during those meetings is that they want reliable and efficient public transportation. Our city had it once, it isn’t impossible for us to have it again.

It would have been easy for us to just “do what we do” and slap “Tampa Heights” on it, but that’s not what we wanted. Our goal was to give the neighborhood something meaningful, something with heart. In the end, what we created was more than just a neighborhood welcome sign and it did more than honor the history of the area, we made a statement. The image serves as a reminder that just below that interstate and across that busy street, there is more than just a building…There is history, there are people, people who care. Tampa is more than property that can be mowed over on a whim. We deserve better!

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