LAKE PLACID — Eileen May, executive director of the Greater Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce, has known Harriet Porter for 17 years. “She’s such a caring and committed community person,” May said. “She’s the rock of the Lake Placid Mural Society.”
Founded in 1992 by Porter and her late husband, Bob, the murals that resulted from the couple’s dedicated efforts tell the story of Lake Placid while beautifying the town. Porter herself has been personally instrumental in every single one of the 47 murals over the decades.
Hailed as an outdoor art gallery, the introduction of the murals has brought droves of tourists to the town. They also boost local business and the appreciation of both the art and the muralists responsible for each of the beautiful works.
The couple received their spark of inspiration during a long motorcycle trip through Vancouver Island, British Columbia years ago. Visiting Chemainus, known as The Little Town That Did, the couple discovered 32 larger-than-life murals depicting local history. Noting how the resulting tourism brought the region out of financial ruin, the couple returned home and founded the Lake Placid Mural Society.
Thomas Freeman, an artist known to the’‘‘ Porters, was selected to paint the first mural in 1993. Titled Southwinds, the inspiration for the artwork is said to have originated from a postcard discovered at the Lake Placid Historical Society. Painted on the side of the Caladium Arts and Crafts Co-op at Interlake Boulevard and Pine Street, stylishly outfitted ladies enjoy afternoon tea in a nod to Dr. Melvil Dewey’s southern resort. Interestingly, the Caladium Arts and Crafts Co-op is also attributed to this visionary couple.
Serving as the president of the Lake Placid Mural Society since its inception, Harriet Porter’s never ceasing efforts put Lake Placid in the national spotlight. The small city became known as the Town of Murals and Florida’s Outstanding Rural Community. Their efforts, supported by the Lake Placid community, has led to more than 30,000 square feet of murals and over 140 pieces of artwork celebrating the town’s history. When Reader’s Digest magazine searched in 2013 for America’s Most Interesting Town, Lake Placid was chosen the nationwide winner.
The mural process is a time-consuming endeavor. Directed by Porter, the society board finds an appropriate wall for the beautification process, then contacts the business owner to negotiate placement. Once an agreement is made, the board picks out an artist and works on design approval. Professional artist Keith Goodson has created many of the subsequent works over the years.
In addition to the murals, some of which have audio features, there are hidden objects to create intrigue and 17 uniquely-themed refuse containers. A bronze Florida black bear and 45 bird plaques cater to nature lovers, while colorful whimsical clowns dance along a fence, bringing cheer as they highlight another local venue — Toby the Clown Foundation, school and museum on West Interlake Boulevard.
May shared how Porter has had a great relationship with the Lake Placid chamber over the years. “It’s all her, really. The murals have been her baby all along.”
In honor of all she has done for her community, a group of private citizens came together four years ago to surprise Porter and her husband with a mural commemorating their efforts. Painted on the side of the Lake Placid chamber building on Oak Avenue, the group was delighted to honor both, thanking them for their combined service over the years. When viewing this mural, see if you can find five pennies hidden within by artist Goodson.
Stepping in to serve as the board’s vice president upon Bob’s passing, May noted the mural honoring the couple was the first time a mural was painted without Porter’s hands-on direction. “Even so, she came each day with her lawn chair to watch Keith paint.”