A life of saltwater with artistic touch
By TERRY TOMALIN
Published March 20, 2005
As a boy Hal Stowers lived in a log cabin nestled in the woods of Safety Harbor. Yes, believe it or not, in the early 1950s the tiny North Pinellas town had plenty of woods.
"Every chance we got we would head down to the bay," he said. "The big thing was to get out to the beach, maybe catch a ride out to one of the islands on somebody's boat."
Stowers and his brother, Jake, now an assistant Pinellas County administrator, practically lived outdoors, hunting, fishing and hiking.
"I always wanted to make a living doing something outside," Stowers said. "I guess I just got lucky."
His first attempt, renting surfboards on Clearwater Beach, didn't do so well, he said. In the early 1960s, Gidget was hot, as were the Beach Boys, but as gulf-coast surfers will tell you, waiting for waves is like playing poker. You may win a hand now and then, but the dry spells in between will make you want to cash in your chips and call it a night. But all those days watching the sun set over the gulf eventually paid dividends.
"I guess that is where I got a lot of my inspiration," said Stowers, whose wife, B.J., recently published a compilation of his work, Art of Life Blending: How to Keep Your Creative Juices Flowing. "I have always been drawn to the sea."
Stowers, known for his breathtaking landscapes of tropical and subtropical coastlines, started as a landscape architect. He did his undergraduate work at Florida and attended graduate school at California-Berkeley from 1967-69, the era of People's Park and Haight-Ashbury. "Here I was this Florida boy coming from a small town," he said. "It was quite a culture shock."
He returned to Florida and took a job with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council at a time, he said, when government officials were just beginning to note the connection between unbridled development and the degradation of water quality in Tampa Bay.
Stowers was promoted to chief of planning but left after 18 months, he said, to begin chronicling the coastline before it was lost to the bulldozer and backhoe.
He sold out his first exhibition and developed a following, he said, of corporate and private collectors. In 1984 he and his wife began what they call the Mangrove Momma period.
The 36-foot Marine Trader trawler, built for the long haul, served as a floating studio as they cruised the coast.
"That is when I started experimenting with what I call sky mountains," Stowers said. "We have such great cloud formations. You never see two that are the same."
In 1987 his work was proclaimed a national treasure as part of Pinellas County's 75th Daimond Jubilee Celebration. In 1993 "Hal Stowers, World Environmental Art: The Gulf to Caribbean" was shown at the Capitol during the legislative session.
While he has enjoyed financial success, Stowers said his greatest reward is getting up each morning and looking out the window of his Crystal Beach home, Happy Bayou.
"I love it," he said. "Every day is a new adventure."