Artist’s Love Letter to the City
By Samantha Rojas
“At the heart of world time is the momentum of history. At the heart of personal time is the mystery and wonder of individuality. At the heart of deep, new time is the creative spirit. But at the heart of our time is love.”
- David Spangler
In a city with more than 165, 500 people, there is a bridge over a river near the center of the town. On one side of this bridge, lies a center for the performing arts —a jewel of the city’s Arts and Entertainment District; under the bridge lies a park and marina —the historic site of a turn of the century massacre; and the other side of the bridge, a local downtown neighborhood. The bridge is the William H. Marshall Bridge over the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale and it has just had a face lift.
A bridge-tender sits in a small structure and maneuvers the rising and lowering of the bridge on the quarter of the hour, half -at slow times, and sometimes on demand. It is one of many in this city, and the people of the city know to plan for bridge risings and closings in their daily commute. This bridge is special though. It resides on Avenue of the Arts, it carries the community over the north fork of the New River, one of the last bridges from residential terrain into the center of town, and recently it has been beautified with artwork. The artwork, four mosaics-two on either side of the bridge, is a love letter to the city by the artists and the community who collaborated to make it happen. The mosaic artworks are best seen by boat from the water.
Photo Credit: Jody Leshinsky
Steeped with the history and lore of the city, the mosaics tell a tale with each individual tile being traced by hand from an image onto a plastic sheet. In honor of the city’s 100th anniversary, local artists Kevin Kichar and Diane Hutchinson were commissioned by the Tarpon River and Sailboat Bend homeowners associations to create four, 7’ x 10’ murals.
“The Marshall Bridge project was a labor of love for the communities of Tarpon River and Sailboat Bend who started to raise funds in the 1990s to beautify the bridge and surrounding area. After ten years of saving, Diane and I, were chosen to design their vision for the mosaics,” says Kevin Kichar. “The interesting part of our project was creating removable mosaic. Public art of this type had not been done before and the engineering remained untested until the final days of installation, when the works were lifted by crane and flown over the water to be mounted to the bridge. That was the best day,” he says.
Two west facing mosaics Sailboat Bend and New River can be viewed at Cooley’s Landing. One can walk under the bridge to view the east facing Avenue of Arts and Tarpon River. These names and visuals are not random. Sailboat Bend is the oldest neighborhood in the City, dating from the early 1900s; and along with being the namesake of a local bar, Tarpon Bend might quite well be Fort Lauderdale’s Cheers equivalent. Tarpon fish frequent many of the waters surrounding local establishments, such as SouthPort Raw Bar on Cordova Road, Coconuts near the ocean, or Fifteenth Street Fisheries providing guests with the viewing of a live aquarium as they dine, with a fish feeding attraction.
Avenue of the Arts
The mosaic, New River, takes viewers deeper into the city’s Seminole history, where we find that Fort Lauderdale is named after three Seminole War fortifications built on the banks of New River in 1838. The forts took their name from Major William Lauderdale, the commander of the detachment of soldiers who built the first fort. Three forts named "Fort Lauderdale" were constructed; the first was at the fork of the New River, the second at Tarpon Bend on the New River between the Colee Hammock and Rio Vista neighborhoods, and the third near the site of the Bahia Mar Marina. The love letter ties the city and the history together with art.
The artwork for the final mosaic, Avenue of Arts, has been selected as the 2012 Las Olas Art Festival Poster. Depicting the arts district of Las Olas, the masks of comedy and tragedy come alive, while jazz plays in the background park. Las Olas (Spanish for The Waves), is the city’s first road to the ocean. This final depiction brings the story into the present, as Las Olas is the location of monthly Jazz and Art Festivals, now famous through the tri-county area.
The mosaics on the bridge, over the r iver, in the city of more than 165,000 people, have touched the history, the water, and the art of downtown Fort Lauderdale —three things that tie the culture of this city together.
HOW A SMALL WATERCOLOR BECOMES A BIG TILE IMAGE
After painting a small watercolor of the design — a watercolor that shows the tile pieces — the artists blow up an image of the painting to the full 7’ x 10’. Then they trace the tile cuts in that image onto a plastic sheet. The sheet is placed on top of the clay, and is used to guide the artists as they score the clay. Those indentations then serve as a guide for them to cut the clay into hundreds of individual pieces. The murals are mosaics with approximately 250 individually carved clay tiles per mosaic.
YouTube link to Performing Arts Tile Mural Video