Photo by VIVIAN ARNDT/Artists from Scotland begin projecting images on to walls on the first night of painting.
HIGH SPRINGS ‒ High Springs has a colorful and blended past. Unlike the small peaceful town of today, known for its antiques and springs, the town was once a major shipping hub. Prolific phosphate mines dotted the region, as well as row crops such as watermelon and tobacco, all waiting to be exported. This led to a large and mighty railroad presence. The manpower required to work the rails and run the trains contributed to the building of boarding houses, bars, and even a two-story hospital for the burgeoning population, all before the turn of the century.
Time marches on, and in this present-day era of great growth, the close-knit community of High Springs looked for a way to honor its history by incorporating the stories of the past into its present and future. The means to do this became the telling of stories, through a series of murals painted on walls throughout the town. Murals that are not only scenic but specifically designed to tell the story of how High Springs came to be, artfully weaving history into the modern day and the town's reputation, as both a gateway to the springs and a destination point for those seeking small locally-owned specialty shops, carrying unique one-of-a-kind items.
This project was five years in the making, involving a tireless commitment to not just the project itself, but to the stories that were waiting to be told. Beginning Wednesday, March 22 through Sunday, March 26, artists from all over the world came to town, some camping, some staying in local bed and breakfasts and motels, and some enjoying the hospitality of host families. After a welcome dinner, the great paint-out began.
As the sun set, the artists perched high in the air on scaffolds, carefully stenciled the artwork being projected upon the wall. Over the next four days, 150 artists painted the stenciled walls on 11 separate murals. Murals telling the stories of the indigenous early people, the first settlers, civic leaders, the railroad, and the springs. Along with the art appearing on the walls, personal stories began to emerge, such as the story of The High Springs Speedway, a great local event at which records in racing were set in the 1960s. Delores Barber, age 94, and her husband founded the Speedway and she got to see it come back to life on a wall, as well as meet the artist, Sam Sanfilippo from Pinson, Alabama who painted it. “It is moments like these that mean the most to us as artists<” Sanfilippo said. “Making a difference and a connection through art.”
Artists took breaks from painting, stealing small moments of time to enjoy the atmosphere and the cuisine generously supplied for them by local restaurants and businesses. Doug Hancock, the Project Coordinator of this weekend's event said, “I deeply appreciate that the community of High Springs has come together with such love for the visiting artists ‒ the artists tell me they definitely felt that love from the community.”
Festival on the Green
Like draws like, and local artists from the area also set up their art under tents for the public to see and purchase, creating a “Festival on the Green” on the grassy space where the railroad tracks used to be. The festive atmosphere was further enhanced by a car show and strolling musicians for the enjoyment of the crowds that came out to witness the “Walldogs Dive into High Springs” event.
This was the first time the Walldogs organization has ever done an event in Florida, one which might not have ever happened without the chance meeting of local High Springs resident Nancy Lavin and Hancock of Alachua, who happened to be a Walldog himself. That sidewalk conversation five years ago led to the formation of “The Heart of High Springs,”, a non-profit organization that raised donations for this event. “This is a project of the heart for sure, and it is wonderful to see it unfolding now,” said Lavin.
The weekend event has passed. The scaffolds are gone, and the paintbrushes have been washed and packed away, but the inevitable camaraderie that results in the coming together of people united in a common creative event, remains.
Artists from four countries and all over the U.S., as far west as Oregon and as far north as Pennsylvania, have boarded their respective planes and headed home, hopefully, enriched by knowing the profound impact they leave behind. Their tireless hours of talent, which they donated free of charge, are left to tell the unique character of this small town for years to come.
Ross Ambrose, treasurer of “The Heart of High Springs” said, "It was so nice to see the opportunities for local businesses and individuals who stepped up in huge ways to make this possible, as well as volunteers on every level. I am so proud to have been a part of this.”
As for local residents, they have new friendships with these artists who welcomed them to paint alongside, and who they shared meals and conversations with for these all-too-brief few days. They also have the distinction of being the first town in Florida to host a Walldogs mural event.
High Springs made history this weekend by telling its history.
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