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Sidewalk images chronicle a centennial of Sarasota history

The Chalk Festival brings hand-painted sidewalk images to downtown Sarasota to convey the county's rich past.

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  • | 3:03 p.m. September 23, 2021
  • Arts + Entertainment
  • Visual Art
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If you stroll down the area in Sarasota’s historic district starting at Laurel Street and South Orange Avenue, you’ll notice 40 sidewalk paintings, all part of the “Avenue of Art” celebrating images of Sarasota County’s Centennial. Heightening the visual experience is one's ability to use a QR code so visitors can visit the website of the Chalk Festival, which is sponsoring the creations, and learn about each scene as you explore. Although done in paint, the works of art are still temporary. Be sure to visit before power washers clean off the art Oct. 1. 

Here are a few of the images to enjoy, as well as the history associated with each.

Bertha Palmer, developer of Palmer Ranch
Bertha Palmer, developer of Palmer Ranch

Bertha Palmer

You've heard of Palmer Ranch in Sarasota? The Chicago heiress became a rancher and land developer in Sarasota after purchasing 140,000 acres of land after her husband died in 1902. Palmer is known for having introduced many innovations to Florida's ranching, citrus, dairy and farming industries. Many of the roads in Palmer Ranch were named by her, including Honore, Lockwood Ridge, Tuttle, Webber and Macintosh. What is now Myakka River State Park was also part of Palmer's estate.

Twiggy the Water Skiing Squirrel
Twiggy the Water Skiing Squirrel

Twiggy the Water-Skiing Squirrel

Yes, you read it right! A squirrel on water skis! The year was 1978 and Florida resident Chuck Best rescued a squirrel trapped in a large, downed oak tree. He took the squirrel as a pet and named it "Twiggy." Best owned a remote-controlled boat for his daughter to play with in their pool around the same time and thought it would be fun to teach Twiggy how to water ski. Twiggy, it turned out, was a superstar, and the nation soon saw Twiggy perform on national TV including "Good Morning America," and the "Late Show with David Letterman." Twiggy's last public appearance was in Sarasota at a boat show.

The Colsons - the first Black settlers in Sarasota
The Colsons - the first Black settlers in Sarasota

The Colsons

In 1884, former slave Lewis Colson and his wife, Irene, came to what was known as "Sara Sota." Colson was hired by the Mortgage & Investment Co., as an assistant was tasked to survey a plot of land here. But he decided to stay and purchased a property in what is now Newtown. Soon after in 1886, other Black families joined them and became the first Black community here. Colson eventually became the first African American Church minister (The Bethlehem Baptist Church). With Colson's vision leading the way, Newtown has a proud history of advancing African American civil rights and equality and is recognized nationally.

The Ringling Circus
The Ringling Circus

Circus Performers

John Ringling decided to bring his circus from Connecticut to Sarasota to train and rest between seasons. His circus featured thousands of world-class acts he recruited from around the world, including animal trainers, clowns, aerialists and more. At one time, Ringling featured 22 highly trained elephants in a performance until Feld Entertainment (new owners of Ringling Circus) ceased using elephants in its shows in 2016. While the circus no longer performs in the U.S., Sarasota is a reminder of its rich history, and many famous performers still reside in Sarasota, including Nik Wallenda (of the famous Wallenda family fame).


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