Paint the Town

How a small com­mu­nity be­came a work of art

RSWLiving - - Department­s - BY ANN MARIE O’PHELAN

Say hello to what Reader’s Di­gest has deemed Amer­ica’s most in­ter­est­ing town. Lake Placid in Florida’s High­lands County is about 90 min­utes north­east of Fort My­ers. In the past this small town of just un­der 2,000 could be easily de­scribed as quaint and charm­ing, with plenty of invit­ing an­tique and hard­ware stores, cof­fee shops and cafés. Even the roads are slightly hilly and curved.

But since the Lake Placid Mu­ral So­ci­ety was formed in 1992, the com­mu­nity has been known as the Town of Mu­rals. Mu­ral So­ci­ety founders Bob and Har­riet Porter and other so­ci­ety mem­bers have helped in com­mis­sion­ing 46 col­or­ful mu­rals, cov­er­ing in to­tal more than 33,000 square feet. Some are as large as the side of a build­ing, oth­ers much smaller, all of vi­brant col­ors, each etch­ing the town’s unique place in Florida, in­clud­ing its nam­ing in 1927 by an Amer­i­can icon.

Lake Placid visi­tors love to see the mu­rals when they stroll by or take a bus tour that can in­clude a so­ci­ety mem­ber pro­vid­ing nar­ra­tion. Pho­tog­ra­phy can be a chal­lenge con­sid­er­ing the sheer size of some of them, such as “The Cracker Trail Cat­tle Drive” painted by Keith Good­son, which mea­sures 175 feet wide by 30 feet tall. “It is a gor­geous trib­ute to the cat­tle in­dus­try,” says Har­riet Porter, to­day pres­i­dent of Lake Placid Mu­ral So­ci­ety/Tour Lake Placid.

Another in­ter­est­ing and quite large mu­ral is “Celebrate Lake Placid – Amer­ica’s Most In­ter­est­ing Town,” a sto­ry­telling col­lage also painted by Good­son. The art­work cel­e­brates Lake Placid and the Reader’s Di­gest recog­ni­tion. It fea­tures wa­ter, cit­rus, cow­men, Na­tive Amer­i­cans and Melvil Dewey, in­ven­tor of the Dewey Dec­i­mal Sys­tem. Artists Roy Hamp­ton and Terry Smith also paid trib­ute with their mu­ral “Dr. Melvil Dewey.” Dewey re­named the for­mer Lake Stearns to Lake Placid in 1927.

Lake Placid re­tiree and pho­tog­ra­pher Glenn Gon­za­lez sug­gests us­ing wide-an­gle lenses with care­ful fram­ing for bet­ter photos of the large mu­rals. “The real chal­lenge is sun place­ment, such as time of day and shad­ows,” he says. “And then there’s also the sky con­di­tions to con­sider, such as bright, cloudy and over­cast.”

There are smaller works that are eas­ier to pho­to­graph, such as “The Rose Man” by Roger Cooke, a mu­ral that is 12 by 8 feet. The mu­ral de­picts lo­cal Wil­lard Camp­bell, who is known

as “The Rose Man” be­cause, since 1990, he has grown roses and given them away to those in need of cheer. Ad­di­tion­ally, there are 17 (and count­ing) col­or­ful trash con­tain­ers in the com­mu­nity that de­pict the fla­vor and scenes of the town, such as a school bus and fire en­gine.

Bob and Har­riet Porter have also spon­sored “Town of Mu­rals – How it All Be­gan,” which was painted by Good­son. The work is of the Porters over­look­ing the things and events of their lives, back­dropped by the ris­ing sun.

The cou­ple’s vi­sion for Lake Placid came from their mo­tor­cy­cle trav­els in the United States and Canada, hav­ing spot­ted a mu­ral pro­ject in Che­mai­nus, Bri­tish Columbia. A side­bar to found­ing the so­ci­ety and cre­at­ing an ex­cit­ing can­vas for artists was bring­ing visi­tors to town. The place can get busy with so much to see and ab­sorb. “The mu­ral top­ics are all based on the history of Lake Placid, our flora and fauna and our en­dan­gered species,” says Har­riet Porter. She and Bob chose many of the mu­ral sub­jects, lis­ten­ing to sug­ges­tions from lo­cals, as well. “The artists were cho­sen for their abil­ity to paint what is nec­es­sary, while the board of di­rec­tors ap­proved the ren­der­ings.”

Lake Placid’s mu­ral pro­ject started in 1993 with Thomas Free­man’s “Tea at South­winds,” a large work of some 60 feet in length by 30 feet in height. It was painted at In­ter­lake Boule­vard and Pine Street on a wall of the Cal­a­dium Arts & Crafts Co­op­er­a­tive. Since then, 45 more mu­rals have gone up, in­clud­ing 13 by Keith Good­son, who is also sched­uled to paint another this year. The

mu­rals have re­vi­tal­ized the town and have drawn in plenty of visi­tors who spend the day or the week­end.

Fund­ing the mu­rals comes from fundrais­ers, spon­sor­ships and do­na­tions. A book on the mu­rals is a key source. “The mu­ral tour books are our largest source of in­come,” says Har­riet Porter, ex­plain­ing that they are $3, while the DVD that is shown in the so­ci­ety’s mu­ral gallery is $10. The tour book tells a bit about each mu­ral, and of­fers a map of where to find them. The books are lo­cated at the so­ci­ety’s of­fice, which is in the Greater Lake Placid Cham­ber of Com­merce Visi­tor’s Welcome Cen­ter, and they are also avail­able around town.

With so much color and history and com­mu­nity sup­port, it’s no won­der that Reader’s Di­gest named Lake Placid as its most in­ter­est­ing town.

Pop­u­lar town mu­rals in­clude Cracker Trail Cat­tle Drive by Keith Good­son (top), another of Good­son’s en­ti­tled Toby’s First Clown Class (left), and Good­son’s Town of Mu­rals – How it All Be­gan, de­pict­ing Porter mo­tor­cy­cle trips and other cel­e­bra­tions of...

Keith Good­son works on Celebrate Lake Placid from his perch (top). Guy LaBree’s mu­ral de­picts a Semi­nole woman grind­ing corn with a mor­tar and pes­tle (be­low). Lake Stearns was re­named to Lake Placid in 1927 by the in­ven­tor of the Dewey Dec­i­mal Sys­tem.

Keith Good­son Keith Good­son has painted more than a dozen of Lake Placid’s col­or­ful and his­tor­i­cal mu­rals.

Har­riet and Bob Porter, founders of the Lake Placid Mu­ral So­ci­ety.

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