Marco museum fully cradled in color — and a photo op —with native son's murals
It's been four years and change since the plans for storytelling murals at the Marco Island Historical Museum began to jell.
But within the last four weeks its dream has materialized: Around the 8-year-old museum a full color-history unfurls on its outside walls.
Both as old as cave walls and as new as the concept of graphic novels, the murals illustrate stories of two distinct Native American cultures that once lived here. It shows an island that yielded pineapple crops and harvests of little-neck clams for a cannery on Marco.
The murals even detail, with a '60s art vibe, the rebranding of the island from farm and fishing town to dream destination for winter-weary Americans. It's a history book on walls, with narrative signs to explain its 20 faux windows, three faux doors, and a three-panel column.
Six of the artists who created those murals — John Agnew, Paul Arsenault, Merald Clark, Muffy Clark-Gill, Tara O'Neill and Malenda Trick — have an affinity for Marco Island as a neighbor or longtime resident.
Fittingly, however, its final murals are the work of a Marco Island native, Jarrett (J.J.) Stinchcomb. For the last several months Stinchcomb has been painting the murals from drawings that have taken him years to develop.
He has also created a separate mural meant to bring the public into what residents feel is one of Collier County's most historic destinations.
"We now have Marco Island's first selfie scene," museum executive director Pat Rutledge, explained with some pride. The wall-size mural puts the visitor inside Marco Island's horizon and among its chief species of animals, which appear to emerge from around the subject.
Visitors stand between two growling Florida panthers, while eagles and herons wheel overhead. A sky rich with blue and cumulus meets the Gulf of Mexico, and through its waters swim a gator, a sea turtle, fish known to the Gulf of Mexico and — a seal?
Yes, Rutledge and Stinchcomb confirm. Apparently seals, now long extinct here, once flapped their way across beaches that are now dotted with umbrellas, blankets and sunbathers.
As with many developments at the museum, the ability to create additional mural can be traced to its most famous native, the Key Marco cat. It's being painted on a new concrete building adjacent to the museum, expressly built to hold the generator that assures the cat, a rare pre-Columbian artifact, will always have a controlled climate. The cat is home now, on loan from the Smithsonian Institution in a special exhibition of the island's historic artifacts.
The years of the cat: Marco's famous feline is a rare example of a culture now gone
Stinchcomb is a muralist whose nature and history art work appears regionally, including depicting the history of Bonita Springs in a six-panel mural for its Art in Public Places walls on Old 41 Road at Hampton Street in that city. He has lavished between 180 and 200 hours on each Marco mural, down to the crowns of individual pineapples in the fields.
It is a lot more than paint and loose directives. A good part of Stinchcomb's work is away from paints, researching the history of the event he's about to depict. "It may not be historically accurate," he said, "but it incorporates actual history. All the elements are from something real."
"My proposals are very detailed so people will know what the sketch will be," Stinchcomb added. The selfie scene has received comparable attention. He points to the mural of Marco Island's first school superintendent.
"Tommie Barfield has the school in it. She was a trailblazer. She's got her oranges, which she made jams. The May Day parade was big, and we've got the May pole," he said. Another focus on the island's dependence on the water, featuring the Collier-owned store and the ferry, once the only form of transportation on and off the island.
The selfie scene has received comparable attention. This, Rutledge hopes, could be a potential fundraiser as well as a memento of a visit to Marco.
"Once the mural is done J.J. will incorporate, subtly, sponsor recognition and there will be a plaque," she said. But there's no charge for the visitor to come swaddle himself or herself in the island's history.
Most of all, Rutledge wants people to understand what wildlife treasures this area has held for the world.
"History is not just about people," she said.
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays
Location: 180 S. Heathwood Drive, Marco Island
More information: themihs.info/museum/ or 239-252-1440