Natalie Blake Studios was honored to be selected to create public art for the City of Tampa, Florida’s “ENCORE!” project, a 40+ acre mixed-use redevelopment district in Downtown Tampa. Our studio will create and install our handmade wall art tile on three concrete walls, each 20′ long, that run around the perimeter of ENCORE’s Trio apartment homes. Our tile murals will face the newly renovated Perry Harvey Sr. Park, which will serve as a gathering place and will feature a stage to be used for local musicians, outdoor cinema, and other entertainment purposes.
The Trio is located on Central Avenue, which is historically significant to Tampa. Historically known as The Central Park area, this area is a rich blend of cultural influences, events and musical achievements that collectively hold much of the community’s and region’s African American history.
From the late 19th century until the mid 1970s, Central Avenue was the principal business and entertainment district of Tampa’s African American community. During segregation, Central Avenue provided a necessary alternative community; a bustling area of town with schools, churches, thriving businesses, movie theaters, bars and nightclubs, some featuring major headliners of the black entertainment circuit. Celebrities, such as Ray Charles, James Brown, B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Nate and Cannonball Adderly, all played on Central and Ray Charles made his first recording on Central Avenue.
Natalie has been learning about the history of the area and using this history to inform her mural designs.
In Natalie’s own words, “I feel incredibly honored to be a part of this project. When I met with the art committee members in Tampa recently, I was struck with their willingness to work with a a white girl from Vermont on the creation of art to capture and commemorate the mostly-black history of Central Ave. While in Tampa, I met with Melissa LeBaron, Tampa’s Arts Program Division Coordinator, and Fred Hearns, a local historian, who helped to educate me about the history of Central Avenue from 1820-1967.
I’m designing three murals, each to capture an historical period. The first mural will focus on the period from 1820-1920; the second mural focusses on the period 1920-1967; the third from 1967-the present and future.
This first sketch highlights the early history of the area, when Tampa was small. Then the railroad came to town and the population started to grow. The sun will be a feature of each mural. In the first mural the sun is rising; in the second mural, during Tampa’s “heyday”, the sun is high. In the third mural (sketch not shown) the sun’s rays will become steps, leading into the future. We all believe that Tampa has a bright future and I’m thrilled that my art will be part of that future.”
Here is a section of the first mural carved, but not yet bisque fired or glazed:
This second mural sketch shows the sun’s rays, like spotlights from the Apollo Theatre, shining on the vibrant, cultural elements of the area.