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RSW Living Magazine

Paint the Town - How a small community became a work of art

Sep 29, 2015 08:43AM ● By Kevin

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.

_MG_2528_edited-1 copyAnother 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 Dr. 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.

_MG_1191_edited-1 copyBob 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, back dropped 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 Florida 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.

Written by Ann Marie O’Phelan, a Southwest Florida resident who loves to travel and see new things.

If You Go

Lake Placid Mural Society 405 W. Interlake Blvd. Lake Placid, FL 33852 863-465-4076

Greater Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce 18 North Oak Ave. Lake Placid, FL 33852 863-465-4331