Modern Master Christopher Still Shares Florida History in Epic Murals
By Curtis Edward Krueger
If you love fine art, you can visit museums all over Florida to see the creations of ancient Greek sculptors, Renaissance painters and contemporary surrealists.
But if you want to see the paintings of a Florida artist whom many consider a modern master, make plans to go to a couple of hotels on Clearwater Beach, to the Tarpon Springs Public Library and even to the Florida House of Representatives in Tallahassee -- as well as museums.
The oil paintings of Christopher Still happen to be displayed in several public buildings, which means you just might run across them when you’re out for a nice dinner or waiting for an airplane.
Even if you’ve never heard of Still, these destinations are worth a trip. Still’s oil paintings will surprise you -- not only because they are vivid and meticulously detailed, but also because each canvas forms a chapter in an intricate story that Still yearns to tell. That story is the history of Florida.
“I want people to see how magical this state is both in is nature and in its history,” said Still, who grew up in Dunedin, studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and is a member of the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.
To get an idea of what makes Still’s paintings distinctive, walk into the main entrance of the SandPearl Resort on Clearwater Beach, and turn to the right.
You’ll see Return to Picnic Island. It’s a giant oil canvas, seven by 14 feet, depicting a great blue heron walking the same Gulf of Mexico shoreline that stretches behind the hotel.
There’s no frame on the canvas, but Still painted an imaginary one on the edges of the fabric. This “frame” is the color of shells and sand, almost the same hue and texture as the wall behind the painting. To create a three-dimensional effect, Still painted a shell and a sand dollar that seem to poke over the imaginary frame. It all creates the illusion that a five-foot tall heron is about to step right out of the wall and into the hotel lobby.
Why does he include such illusions in some paintings?
“I’m frustrated to be constrained,” Still explained. “I’m kind of calling out at the top of my lungs, ‘This is real! These are real things, this is a real, beautiful place you can experience.’ ”
Florida history is at the heart of Still’s artwork, and this is one reason he was selected to paint 10 murals for the chamber of the state House of Representatives. The paintings show the sweep of Florida’s past. They also show the diversity of the state’s wildlife, above the water and below it.
You can see the murals on a tour of the state Capitol in Tallahassee, and you can see large, high-quality reproductions of them at a museum in Tarpon Springs. You also can get a sense of them here, on Still’s website.
Each mural is layered, and not just with paint. Gaze at In Ages Past in the Florida House chamber and you’ll see a Native American eagle totem, tools made from shark’s teeth and shells and a Spanish ship arriving in the distance.
But not every detail is obvious. A Native American Timucua woman stands in the foreground. She would normally be in shadow, because the sun is setting behind her, but instead her face is well-lit. What’s the explanation? Elsewhere in the House chamber, a painting called A New Age shows the space shuttle launching on a brilliant blast of flame. This light from the future is illuminating the woman’s face.
“He lives his paintings,” said Ed Lenker, who had never heard of Still until he happened upon the Heritage Museum in Tarpon Springs while visiting recently with his wife Cheryl from Harrisburg, Penn. Lenker was impressed with a video he watched at the museum, which showed how extensively Still researches his work, even painting while scuba diving, using a specially designed underwater art box.
“Everything he paints, he lives it.”
Here are some places to see the artwork of Christopher Still:
Tampa Bay Area:
The Sandpearl Resort and the Opal Sands Resort hotels, both on Clearwater Beach, featuring original oil paintings by Still. The hotels are open seven days a week and visitors may walk in. The staff at both hotels are very familiar with the artwork.
The Tarpon Springs Public Library is home to “Changing Tides.” The library is open Monday-Saturday.
The Heritage Museum in Tarpon Springs has several large reproductions of Still’s work -- a surprisingly helpful way to learn more about the paintings. It’s open for limited hours on Wednesdays and Fridays.
St. Petersburg City Hall has two of Still’s paintings, Resting in the Sun and Together in the Sun. A good way to see the paintings is to schedule a tour of City Hall. Call (727) 893-7465.
Ruth Eckerd Hall has a Still painting it commissioned, “An Evening to Remember.” It can be viewed by anyone who has purchased a ticket to an event at the hall.
Tampa International Airport is home to a large Still painting, Final Boarding Call, as well as a large sculpture, Q. You can see them if you happen to be in Airside C (home to Southwest flights.)
Still’s studio in Tarpon Springs is open periodically. Find more information on his website.
The South Florida State College Museum of Florida Art and Culture in Avon Park is home to two Still paintings, “On Sacred Ground” and “Land of Promise,” and several large reproductions of Still’s work. Hours can be found here.
Information can be found here on how to request a tour of the Florida House of Representatives chamber in Tallahassee, to see the 10 murals painted by Still.