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Artist sharing his vision of life
By BARBARA BEHRENDT
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 19, 2000
HOMOSASSA SPRINGS -- With its abundant waterfront and endangered manatees, Citrus County has long been a nexus for wildlife conservation efforts. Soon, that reputation will take another big leap.
This fall, Citrus will get a Wyland "Whaling Wall."
Internationally known marine life artist and conservationist Wyland will paint a massive mural of manatees on the outside of the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park Visitor Center on U.S. 19. The artwork will fill 400 square feet.
The painting will be the 87th of 100 whaling walls Wyland, who uses only one name, has committed to create worldwide to promote conservation of the planet's marine resources. The whaling walls are said to be seen by 1-billion people every year, reminding passers-by that oceans need to be protected so life can continue.
"We are tremendously excited about it, especially as we get more and more information about it . . . we can see that this is really a very big deal," park manager Tom Linley said.
The mural will be one of two the artist has done depicting manatees, according to Susan Dougherty, spokeswoman for the park.
Wyland, 43, has such a following that, when he visits areas to paint murals, his fans follow him and watch the entire process. In Homosassa, that process is slated for Oct. 20-23. A dedication of the mural is scheduled for Oct. 23.
"We're going to make it into a tremendous community event, too," Dougherty said.
Painting popular murals isn't Wyland's only claim to fame. He researches his images carefully, diving all over the world to see marine life before painting it. His work is exhibited throughout the world. He has received dozens of awards. And he has appeared in publications ranging from Cousteau Log and Greenpeace Examiner to National Geographic World and Forbes magazine.
Wyland and his walls have been featured in a host of television spots and programs, as well, including a variety of documentaries and a 13-episode television show on Animal Planet network called Wyland's Ocean Planet. Wyland's Web site, http://www.wyland.com, receives an estimated 650,000 hits per month, and his educational foundation provides programs to encourage youngsters on conservation.
The list of rich and famous who have private collections of the artist's work ranges from Ronald Reagan and Jacques-Yves Cousteau to Jimmy Buffett and Prince Charles.
Locally, Larry Shearin is another fan who has some of Wyland's work in his home. He also happens to be president of the Friends of Homosassa Springs State Park. Officials at the park credit Shearin for tenaciously working to lure the artist here. Wyland first visited the park in 1998 and photographed manatees.
"When he photographed the manatees in the springs, he fell in love with the park," Dougherty said. The whaling wall news was first announced at a Friends dinner dance last weekend.
"This is the equivalent of a million-dollar donation to this park and this community," Shearin was quoted as saying. "It is not at all unusual for people to come from all over the world to watch Wyland paint one of his whaling walls."
According to Dougherty, the murals he has painted in other places around the world end up becoming community landmarks. At the same time, they remind people of a lesson the artist wants people to think about and act on.
"He really believes in marine conservation," Dougherty said. "This is his life's work."
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