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Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce celebrates 100 years of history with murals

Figures from Sarasota's past are on display on the walls of the commerce building.

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History is on the minds of staff at the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce as the organization marks its 100th anniversary.

To celebrate, the Chamber recently unveiled a pair of 30-foot high murals, honoring eight landmark figures in the city's history. The artwork, designed in collaboration with members of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County and the Ringling College of Art + Design, is meant to highlight those who helped push Sarasota to become a prominent economic and artistic space. 

“(We wanted) something that represents history but also the future of where the Chamber is headed,” Chamber CEO and President Heather Kasten said. “... It’s just such a great representation of the history that's helped us to build this community.”

The chamber’s east wall now has a painted mural of John and Charles Ringling, cultural advocates Bertha Palmer and A.B. Edwards, influential builder Owen Burns, and Newtown founder Lewis Colson. The west wall has “Father of Sarasota” John Hamilton Gillespie, educator Emma Booker and media figure and women’s suffrage advocate Rose Wilson. 

Each mural features Sarasota staples like the Ca d’Zan, Verona Hotel, Sarasota County Courthouse, beaches, and more. 

Talk about the mural started last summer, when Kasten and Jim Shirley,  executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, outlined an idea of what kind of collection of people would be painted for the piece. The Cultural Alliance reached out to local artists and eventually chose Ringling College of Art + Design professor Matt Myers to create the murals. 

Shirley and staff consulted with local historians to choose a diverse group of men and women. Figures such as John and Charles Ringling, along with businesswoman and philanthropist Bertha Palmer were easy choices, Shirley said, but he enjoyed learning more about Lewis Colson, who was instrumental in settling Sarasota. 

Myers decided A.B. Edwards, a Sarasota native who often praised his home’s many qualities, would be the first person who would have to be in the mural.

“It’s interesting that it all trickles down from one person saying, ‘I like it here, I'm going to encourage people to come down because I think they'll like it too’,” Myers said. “That is something that happens today. But to me, you know, to be able to put your finger on it and say 100 years ago somebody was doing that exact same thing … (Edwards’s) act of commitment to Sarasota led to so many big events.”

Photos of the subjects weren't always easy to find, but Myers still managed to add some interpretive flair. John Hamilton Gillespie, a passionate advocate for golf in Sarasota, is painted in his native Scottish attire while holding a golf club. 

“For me as an artist playing with composition, it was ‘How can I group people and how can I bring these people out of history, so it's not just putting up an old sepia tone photograph?’” Myers said. 






Harry Sayer

Harry Sayer is the Black Tie editor for the Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida and previously worked Black Tie for the Observer newspaper in Winter Park and Maitland. You can catch him at one of Sarasota's fundraisers and shindigs.

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