Oldsmar’s first public art project, a mural depicting a local soldier as well as city founder Ransom E. Olds, was unveiled on Veterans Day at R.E. Olds Park.
Oldsmar’s first public art project, a colorful mural painted by Tampa artist Lakeema Matthew, was unveiled prior to a special Veterans Day concert at R.E. Olds Park on Friday.
The artwork covers two facades that bookend the park’s bandshell stage; one half features a series of images created by former Oldsmar resident, Army Cpl. Frank Gross, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2011, while the other half centers on city founder Ransom E. Olds and other elements and images from the city’s 100-year history.
After the unveiling, the (nearly) finished project was widely praised by residents, officials and many of the people who helped work on the mural, which was delayed for months earlier this year while the city repaired structural defects at the site.
Craig and Toni Gross speak at the Oldsmar mural unveiling on Veterans Day. Craig is holding his son, Frank’s, artwork that is depicted on the mural.
“I think Lakeema did a fantastic job,” Cpl. Gross’ father, Craig Gross, said after the ceremony on Friday night. “I mean you look at it and you know that’s Frankie. That’s Frankie.”
“Part of what makes it meaningful to this family is that each one of us, Craig, me and most recently, our daughter, Natalie, have all had the opportunity to contribute to it by painting a portion of it,” Craig’s wife, Toni Gross, added.
“To know that former city council member, Linda Norris, had the original vision and goal to have art throughout the area, and how she fought to make it all happen, humbles me,” she added.
Indeed, it was an emotional evening for those who put in a lot of time and effort in the project, specifically Norris.
The left side of Oldsmar’s mural depicts images of, and by, Army Cpl. Frank R. Gross, who was KIA in Afghanistan in July 2011.
The former council member spearheaded the city’s unique collaboration with the University of South Florida’s School of Art and History, and she was especially moved by the unveiling.
“Today being Veterans Day makes this celebration so much more meaningful, as the first mural, “Not Forgotten,” honors our veterans and Frankie,” Norris said.
“The citizens’ responses to this art project have been overwhelmingly positive, and now for years to come they will be able to enjoy its beauty,” she added.
“All of our participation in the actual painting process was wonderful and soul-fulfilling. Art has that effect. I just want to give many thanks to the City for allowing this vision become reality!”
The final result even won over one of the project’s initial skeptics, Mayor Doug Bevis.
“Initially I wasn’t a big fan of it, because I believed murals belong in blighted places,” Bevis admitted. “But I think this was a great location, and a great application, for the city’s first public art project. She did a great job, no question about it.”
Professor Caesar Cornejo, who was in charge of the USF class that was created specifically for the city’s project, said he knew his former student could pull it off.
“Lakeema had the skills from the beginning, so I had no doubt it would be a successful ending,” Cornejo, associate professor of sculpture and extended media, said.
Former Oldsmar City Council member Linda Norris, USF Professor Caesar Cornejo and artist Lakeema Matthew at the mural unveiling on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016.
“It was such an honor to be part of such a unique collaboration between the school and the city,” he added.
“It’s inspiring to current and future students to see what past students have done. The opportunity presented by the council was a unique one, and after seeing what Lakeema accomplished, I hope it’s an opportunity that will present itself to other students in the future.”
As for the artist herself?
After working furiously over the last week in order to have the project completed in time for the concert, and while signing autographed postcards of her work and posing for pictures with her fans and family members, after the ceremony, Matthew took a moment to speak about her first project as lead artist.
“I feel awesome, so glad to finally be at the finish line,” the 27-year-old said.
“I knew once it was finished and people could see the work, they would admire and appreciate it, and that’s exactly what’s happened tonight.”
A couple examines the new mural at Oldsmar’s R.E. Olds Park on Friday.
Officials noted the mural isn’t completely finished.
Some final touch up on the panels, including adding a protective sealant, should be completed in the next couple of weeks.
Also, according to the mayor, a wraparound stair is being added to the front of the stage area, and uplighting will be installed in front of each panel in order to provide better nighttime viewing of the artwork.
“What good is having a mural here if you can’t even see it?! Bevis said.
Note: An earlier edition of this article had the wrong hometown listed for artist Lakeema Matthew.