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Mural harkens back to community's rural roots

The new artwork at Fox's Corner is a gift from a local couple who wanted to give a sense of home.

Published February 6, 2005

KEYSTONE - An eagle settled onto her nest. Horses romped in a pasture. A citrus grove tender steered his tractor.

All sorts of things happened last week at Fox's Corner, all harkening back to Keystone's rural roots. All erupted from the paintbrushes of Carl Cowden and Mike Massaro on a wall of the Feed Depot. And all will be frozen in place for decades.

"These will hold up a good 50 years, probably longer than the building," Cowden said.

Keystone's new mural, painted over Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings, is a gift from Cathy and Bob Smith, who have lived for 30 years just north of Fox's Corner, which is at Gunn Highway and N Mobley Road.

"We thought we would like to do our little part to brighten it up a little bit," Cathy Smith said.

The Smiths had supported several projects of the Outdoor Arts Foundation based in Safety Harbor, which promotes art on walls, fire hydrants and even trash bins. Through Jay Goulde, the executive director, they commissioned Cowden, 48, of Tampa, who has been painting murals for 30 years.

"Cathy wanted a mural on the feed store that wouldn't be too fancy, but would give people a sense of home, so to speak," Goulde said.

Goulde and Smith met a year ago with Rich Dugger, then-president of the Keystone Civic Association, for suggestions. Dugger e-mailed Keystone activists seeking suggestions of items emblematic of the community's values.

The list: horses and cows, pine and cypress trees, moss, birds, fishing, orange groves, palmettos.

Cowden and Massaro arrived with that list and painting supplies. They worked in a rear driveway leading to the delivery entrance of the Feed Depot. A procession of trucks eased past them for bales of hay and sacks of feed. Breezes lifted clouds of dust onto fresh paint.

The artists were undaunted, chiefly because murals lend themselves to a spontaneous style of work that doesn't sweat the details.

For 30 seconds, Cowden slapped his 4-inch brush on the concrete block wall, and a tractor emerged, complete with a driver and hat. Another minute, and there was a prancing horse.

Critical decisions called for a walk along the shoulder of Gunn Highway, past a parked hay truck. From there, with sport utility vehicles roaring by, Cowden and Massaro could see the big picture.

"You can be so careful up close, but it doesn't mean a damn thing from the road," Cowden said.

Planning was minimal. The pair envisioned a sunset scene, so they spent Wednesday cleaning the wall and painting horizonal bands of sunset colors that darkened to black at the bottom.

On Thursday, they painted hundreds of trees, horses and other figures in black silhouette.

After Cowden plopped several horses into a pasture scene, Massaro backed away to critique it. The 30-year-old sculptor is learning painting from Cowden.

"Maybe we should put in a big one," Cowden said.

"Right up front?" Massaro asked.

Cowden nodded. "It's just a bunch of little horses ... I'm thinking a big freakin' horse. The horse is a big thing out here."

Two minutes later, the horse was front and center. Massaro noted that it bore ears akin to a German shepherd. No problem. That would be fixed Friday.

Cypress trees were a problem, momentarily. Their shape is subtly different from pines.

"I need a cypress picture," Cowden said in complaint.

Massaro leafed through an illustrated tree encyclopedia. No luck. "It's like a pine cone," he said.

Then Cowden realized a stand of cypresses were nearby. He stepped past the Feed Depot corner, looked across N Mobley Road for 10 seconds, and exclaimed, "I got it!"

Dozens of people, meanwhile, hurried in and out of the feed store and the next-door convenience store with no idea what was happening just around the corner of the building.

"Boy, was I surprised," said Susan Thorne, who works at the Feed Depot. She loved the emerging mural. "I'm country at heart."

"Wow!" said Robert Lau, another employee. "Man, that's nice!"

"There'll probably be accidents out here from everybody going, "Hey, what happened to the wall?' "

Bill Coats can be reached at 813 269-5309 or

[Last modified February 5, 2005, 09:49:05]

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