In 1992 I was a member of the Friends of the Hillsborough Library. My first project was to see that all the art in the libraries of Hillsborough County was repaired, reframed, and in good shape. My second project was to get the Board to buy art for the new libraries from the Gasparilla Festival of Arts Show in Tampa in March. The Friends had ten thousand dollars sitting in a CD for emergencies. I finally convinced them that the money could be earned and replaced, but the new libraries needed art. We had a few holdouts but, eventually, we all agreed to buy art each year. It gives me great pleasure to see new art in the local libraries that I visit.
Looking around for a new project, I heard about the Ybor Library on Nebraska and its damaged mosaic on the front of the building done by Joe Testa-Secca, an artist and art teacher at University of Tampa. The rain had seeped through the back and ruined a lot of the pebbles, stones, and ceramics of the mural. Children had picked at the mural and ruined more. I am a fan of Joe’s work and have a drawing of Icarus by him that I treasure. I convinced the library that this was a worthwhile goal to repair the mural. They agreed that I should look into it.
Symbols of Mankind is a stone and ceramic mural along the entrance wall of the new Robert W. Saunders, Sr. Library. Joe created the mural to reflect the diversity of the community and the knowledge found within the walls of the building. The larger symbols are easily recognizable. The arrow points to a zero, plus and minus signs. Worked into the surface of the arrow are a Scandinavian solar wheel with African, Chinese, Mexican, Egyptian and Hindu symbols under it.
Across the bottom of the arrow are Egyptian symbol of life, a cross, the Jewish menorah and a symbol for the Trinity. Smaller ceramic symbols are worked into the surface of the mural including signs of the planets and signs of the zodiac. These were made by Joe and his art students at the University of Tampa. I contacted Joe, and he was delighted that the Friends had decided to restore his mural. He had created three murals in Tampa, and Symbols of Mankind was the only one remaining.
I interviewed architects, tile workers, stucco men, swimming pool and deck contractors. Joe Caltagirone, an architect, told me about the Sistine Chapel ceiling and how it is held together with giant bronze nails. He presented a proposal to hold the wall together with rosettas.
Then I had to find a contractor. Mel Carrier of M. L. Carrier Co. was a good friend and donated his expertise. He brought with him Arthur Horne, Stucco and Plastering. Both felt that the mural should be done correctly, taking all the stones down, redrawing it, and redoing the design. Arthur Horne was very excited by the project and submitted a proposal, mostly to cover supplies, operating at a loss.
We did not know what we were getting into. We drew the design as we took all the stones off the wall, wrapping all the ceramic pieces. Some broke when removed from the wall (the rock had bonded or adhered too well). They were mended and saved. Every rock was saved as we took them off the building. We sorted them and carefully peeled them away from the epoxy.
The rocks were hard to match. They came from quarries that are no longer in use and also, the colors had weathered on the building. Colors change as the quarries dig deeper and deeper to get rocks. Some pink rock was found on the nearby railroad tracks at Hanna and 50th and was brought back in a bucket.
The pattern was taken back to the lines, so the mural wouldn’t look patched, and it doesn’t. We used Thinset and added cement pigment to match the colors. Arthur found some black rock when he went to North Carolina. The purple came from Florida rock, but each rock was handpicked to match. We finished our work in October, 1995. If the library had been on Ashley Drive, our mural would have created a lot of attention. We all feel pride in having saved such beautiful artwork. The neighborhood is proud, too, as they have told us. My compliments to the Friends of the Library for their support.
The old library was demolished in 2014. The architects rescued the mural by cutting it into three parts, saving it, and putting it back on the front after the building was completed. The artwork, Symbols of Mankind, was restored and rededicated by the Friends of the Hillsborough County Library in August, 2015.
Judy K. Patterson is a longtime OLLI member and an artist. She is also longtime member of Tampa Bay Great Books and has taken many OLLI classes, particularly literature and poetry courses. She is active in a poetry group. She recently joined Operatunity SIG and is a member of the Talking Movies SIG.