The Punta Gorda Historic Mural Society’s 30th mural, “Tails from the Harbor,” will be dedicated at 5 p.m. June 20 at its location on the retaining wall under the U.S. 41 southbound bridge and along Harborwalk between the Charlotte Harbor Events Center and Hurricane Charley’s restaurant. The 76-foot-long, 1,100-square-foot mural creatively depicts the rich marine life of Charlotte Harbor, both past and present, as viewed through a series of porthole windows.
In addition to its rather unusual location, the new mural differs from its 29 predecessors in other respects. It’s the first to be painted on a sloping, rather than a vertical surface, which took a toll on artist Skip Dyrda’s body and required skilled use of linear perspective to keep the mural’s proportions accurate when viewed from eye level.
Another is the presence of very heavy foot traffic; society president Kelly Gaylord estimates pedestrian and bicycle traffic on that segment of Harborwalk at 2,000 a day in season. The possibility of constant interruptions alarmed the gregarious Dyrda before he started on the mural but eventually proved to be a plus when people Gaylord calls “Skip’s groupies” began coming by to admire his work.
He said. “A bunch of regulars began stopping on a daily basis and started taking selfies. It definitely slowed me down, but if my spirits were down and the regulars came by it made me forget my problems.”
Though not yet a Skip groupie, Becky Heuman may become one. She stopped by for the first time just as Dyrda was beginning a work day.
“I’m a new resident (Vivante) and just moved down here from Maryland,” she said. “This kind of artistry really enhances the beauty of this area.”
The chat with Dyrda, naturally, ended up with a selfie and a PGHMS business card and recruitment pitch from Gaylord.
What really set this site apart was the boost it provided the artist. Large blank walls don’t always stimulate an artist’s creative juices, but this one, just a few feet from water’s edge, came supplied with wildlife, the very subject Dyrda was memorializing with his creative see-into-the-harbor design concept.
“I was really surprised by the marine life here,” he said. “Almost any time of day, I would see snook, sheepshead, cobia, redfish driving baitfish. One day, a dolphin was practically standing up in the shallow water, then he just twirled and swam away. Though the painting was physically demanding, they (the animals) made it a lot of fun.”
Dyrda is known for adding little details to the overall concept during the painting process. Though not always immediately apparent to a viewer. They add interest and context to the final result.
“It’s all in the details,” he said. “It’s not just one little thing; a mural is the sum of all its parts. The details pull it together.”
He didn’t have to think too much about what details to incorporate in the Tails mural. Yes, he used one of his go-to moves – pieces of string – but the rest arrived at the site in the form of wildlife.
He said, “Gregory the girl squirrel comes from that tree (a few yards past the mural’s west end) and across here,” he said. “I give her a cracker, and she takes it right out of my hand. Grackle the art critic lives in the tree, too. He lands on the railing and yells at me.”
A snowy egret and night heron, also frequent visitors, appear on the mural along with Gregory and Grackle. What you won’t see painted is the legion of insects that bedeviled him – numerous species of ants, some that bite, no-see-ums and mosquitoes, and love bugs that brought painting to a halt for several days.
“The love bugs attacked me,” Dyrda said. “They would land on my finger holding the brush. Your first reaction is to flick them off which you don’t want to do with a loaded paint brush.”
As is the case with the two other murals he’s painted here in the past year and a half, Dyrda demonstrated exceptional adherence to accuracy, this time anatomical rather than historical, as well as superior technique. He did extensive research on the species to be painted and became a regular at Mote Marine, where he photographed the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle in the mural. Squirt 2 is actually a Punta Gorda rescue turtle taken to Mote in 2015 after he became ill and listless along the city shoreline.
Dyrda is a master of the trompe-l’oeil (deceiving the eye to produce the optical illusion of three-dimensions) technique in his murals and at incorporating any features on the wall into the mural rather than just painting over them. People viewing this mural should not only look into the portholes at the marine life but be sure to examine the smaller elements and admire the artistry and creativity.
For example, is the log beneath the night heron a protruding lump of painted-over concrete , or is Dyrda just fooling your eyes? You may never know for sure.
Gaylord suggests guests arrive by 4:30 p.m. to allow time for viewing the mural, meeting the artist and drinks. The site is in the shade and normally cooled by a breeze off the water. Attendees are asked to park at the Event Center.
Dyrda promises a surprise, last-minute addition to the mural for attendees.
He said, “When I’m finished, I’m going to paint a window into Harborwalk itself looking down into the harbor. The idea is still gestating, but I’ll come up with something spectacular for the 20th.