After 18 months of planning and painting, Crescent Heights Neighborhood Association unveiled two new murals in the Crescent Lake area Sunday, April 2. The beautification project is comprised of more than 500 hours of volunteer time and a $12,000 grant from the City of St. Petersburg. “The process started with finding walls where we could decorate, bring vibrancy and a little personality to one of the best neighborhoods in the city,” says Thomas Patrick, President of the CHNA, “it’s a huge community effort supporting small business and local artists.”
The unveiling party started at the history-themed wall at 9th Street North, on the side of Cut-Ups Salon. Before shifting to the nature-inspired mural at 4th Street’s JWags Saloon, a neighborhood scavenger hunt and cleanup sent attendees searching for some of Crescent Height’s hidden beauties. Mayor Rick Kriseman topped off the night, speaking about the rich culture surrounding the neighborhood before unveiling the second mural.
The pool of muralists from which to choose consisted of 25 local creators, eventually narrowing down to three. “The artists were chosen for their professionalism, their portfolio, and their vision,” says Patrick. The painters spent more than a week preparing their pieces, spending every day available actualizing their concepts with brushes and spray cans.
The event began with Derek Donnelly’s historically inspired piece along 9th Street North. The founder of Saint Paint Arts, an evolving collective of St. Petersburg and Tampa artists, Donnelly is a Florida native who influenced the first wave of murals around the ‘Burg. “I was heavily involved in the cultivation of the St. Pete art scene about seven years ago, with the help of others like Sebastian Coolidge and the Vitale Brothers,” said Donnelly, “the culmination of creative professionals working together like that makes bigger, cooler stuff for the city.”
Donnelly’s creation covering the wall of Cut- Ups Salon is a retelling of local history. The visage of Peter Demens, the aristocratic Russian founder of St. Pete, lies next to a railway representing the Orange Belt Railway built by Demens. His face transitions harshly into that of a Native American woman beside a grand banyan tree, depicting the historic cost of building such a beautiful city. Such a St. Pete-centric work isn’t uncommon for Donnelly: “Being a native, my art reflects it. Whether it’s the sea turtles or historic imagery, growing up here influences my art,” he shared.
The second mural produced from the collaboration of Cecilia Lueza and Daas, was placed along the wall of Jwags Saloon on 4th Street. Lueza, known for public installations in a range of mediums, creates pieces like her mural out of a passion developed more than two decades ago. “When I came to this country 18 years ago, I discovered public art and thought it was perfect for me,” said Lueza.
Lueza’s partner for the piece, Daas, specializes in abstract geometric murals resembling the folds of origami. With work exhibited across the globe, Daas has been creating public art for about as long as his partner. “I’ve painted in a number of places. Canada, Nepal, Jordan, and the Dominican Republic.”.
When the artist selection process reached the final three, Daas and Lueza were given the opportunity to either enter a tie breaker or collaborate on the same wall. Admiring each other’s portfolio, the two agreed to work together on the nature-themed wall. “I think our styles really complement each other a lot, so I was excited to collaborate with Cecilia, Daas stated. The pair spent the days leading up to CHNA’s unveiling bringing their work to life: a geometric representation of birds native to the St. Pete area. The mural spanned the entirety of Jwags parking lot facing wall, an area large enough to require a boom lift to complete. “It’s a lot of work, but I’m happy to do it,” shared Daas, “these newer pieces will be here for ten, twenty years. It’s this art that puts St. Pete on the map.”