If you are a native Gainesville citizen, you probably remember one of the oldest murals in town with sunflowers. Founded in 1980, Sun Surgical Supply is a full line medical, dental and laboratory supply and equipment distributor with extensive inventories stocked in Gainesville, Florida warehouse. The Sun Surgical supports healthcare professionals for over 30 years and public arts for about 25 years! The first mural on this property appeared around late 1993 or early 1994 (photographs are dated March 1994). What happened to this mural? What is there today?
We spent some time with Becky Munden, President of the Sun Surgical Supply. Listen to our podcast and read the whole story below:
Becky: …I started with Sun Surgical in the 80s and there was no mural on the side of the building at that time. One of the four original owners… or I should say two of the four original owners love the arts. So when [Bryan Johnson] decided to commission a mural on the side of the building he found an artist and he kind of wanted the Van Gogh sunflowers. So, The Sunflowers were the original mural. It was around the same time as the SW 13th street mural was going up. So it’s been there a long time...
Becky: …This picture was taken by someone at the Gainesville Sun and it was raining that day and they were walking by. There were plenty of people just come and take a picture in front of sunflowers. You know, it’s like a field of sunflowers.
In the later on. What happened was we were going to paint the building. And one of our employees misunderstood and they whitewashed the whole sunflower mural… And the students that lived around in the neighborhood were just heartbroken that the sunflower mural was gone so they drew with black spray paint a stick a sunflower. With tears coming down and the police caught them…
So, because they got in trouble with the police, the next day they came back and I said: “I don’t want to get anybody in trouble but is there an artist in the group?” Evidently, there were several artists. And that’s where this second mural with the trees, paper cranes and the swing came about and I got a good price on that mural…they used recycled paint for the project. It kept some good people out of trouble and, you know, messing up the school and everything. I think they did a great job. At that time I did not know the meaning of the mural. So when I read the article of what the cranes mean and about the circle of the UF students… I just love that! I just love that!
This mural is a dedication to the sandhill cranes that come every year to Payne’s Prairie, that is migratory and seasonally bring life to parts of Gainesville–here, they represent the students at the University of Florida, that are also seasonal and yet so momentous to the thriving community of Gainesville. Visually, the mural is to be viewed from the left, and begins with paper cranes, that evolve into living avian cranes, and eventually mechanical cranes on a construction site (recognizing the constant evolving nature of Gainesville!). I painted this 9 years ago, and we used recycled house paint, so a lot of the colors have faded–yet it remains on the sun surgical wall!! I am so happy ya’ll be compiled these murals to share. It’s our legacy! – Amanda Vaughn.
Becky: …The mural was faded really bad, and our roof needed attention and the whole building just needed attention so we had to say goodbye to that mural and choose another. I had a good friend of my son who is an artist, Steffen Vala. He was excited when I contacted him. He had some ideas and I had some ideas. We talked about it and came up with what you see out there now. The cranes, the prairie, and gators, you know Gainesville! It doesn’t have the orange and blue gator on there, but it is Gainesville. I think it’s a perfect location. I mean it’s a great spot. You can see it from the University Avenue and people come by and take their picture in front of it. When Steffen was painting it.. oh my goodness… some of the ladies were in love with him doing the work. It was just like “Who is he? Who is he? He spray-painted the whole thing!” He told me “I received my cans from Germany and it was like Christmas when I opened the box, so excited.” But it took him a little bit and he got small sunburn on the back of his legs. I think he did a great job and I’m really happy with it!
The Sandhill Crane mural is a painting on an iconic wall in Gainesville that has run with artwork for decades. It was an honor to be asked to paint this piece for Sun Surgical and contribute to a growing number of murals in Gainesville, which, by the way, happen to be on bicycle routes. (See this article for my “Hand Made. Made Fresh.” mural in Grove Street neighborhood).
My piece is inspired by our endangered natural surroundings that make North Central Florida unique and layers in my interest in optical illusions to make the public look twice.
You see the sequential silhouette of a sandhill crane‘s landing at sunset over wetlands with storm clouds and a wall of rain in the distance, a typical view for alachua county residents. Bordered by palmettos and sand in the middle ground, there are local pickerel weeds waving in the foreground at the water’s edge and an alligator stealthily approaching the crane pictured in the center of the sun, bringing a level of tension to an otherwise serene landscape. The illusion comes when viewed from University Ave. You can see the larger composition is actually of a crane’s head and beak and it’s pupil is that same water-wading sandhill crane silhouette described above. I consulted with bird and ecology expert and hometown friend Adam Kent to be sure that my representation of the birds and environment is accurate, to a degree, since it’s still abstracted in my design style. I hope these details make the difference for local viewers!
Soon I will have completed the animated version of this artwork and the public will be able to view an augmented reality animation through their mobile device when pointing the camera at the mural. Stay tuned for that! – Steffen Vala, the artist.
Thank you so much, Becky and the artist for this gift to our community! To listen to other podcasts by GNV URBAN ART, please visit our SoundCloud page.
The mural can be found at Sun Surgical Supply, 302 NW 6th Street, Gainesville, Florida 32601.
More info about the artist: Steffen Vala.