The Wall of Florida History - Art in Architectural Design, features a dozen eight-foot-tall murals that were part of a larger collection of windows that surrounded part of the Citizens National Bank of Leesburg for 46 years. Each mural illustrates part of Florida’s history in a unique plastic mosaic created by Coral Gables artist J.D. Van Atten, who patented the manufacturing process back in 1970.
The badly aged bank building was set to be demolished in July to make way for a new SunTrust financial branch and neighboring businesses. The murals would have been destroyed, but Leesburg-based business Lake Glass & Mirror rushed to remove the unique artwork and safely preserve it for years to come.
Crews spent two days carefully removing each mural as the bank demolition started. Lake Glass & Mirror then stored all of the panels at its warehouse and recruited volunteers to help restore some of the pieces for public display. The restoration took weeks to prepare a dozen large murals, painstakingly repairing damage and cleaning away years of dirt and sealants.
“We were very glad to save them,” said Lake Glass & Mirror vice-president Bert Boliek, who fondly remembers visiting the bank as a child with his parents and looking upon the grand murals with amazement. “We feel very privileged to be able to take part in saving it and giving it back to the community.”
Citizens National Bank featured dozens of the large murals. The Wall of Florida History included 25 murals that depicted certain parts of Florida’s 500-year history. Colorful images include the Native Floridians, Ponce De Leon, French and Spanish occupations, the notorious pirate Henry Morgan, the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine and Florida’s first steam train.
The bank distributed brochures to customers explaining the story with each mural. “I’m a retired teacher, and I taught Florida History,” said Leesburg Mayor Sanna Henderson. “I used that brochure as a tool to teach history.”
Lake Glass & Mirror prepared 12 pieces from the Wall of Florida History for the show at the Leesburg Center for the Arts, 429 W. Magnolia St. in Leesburg. An opening reception will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday. The display runs through Dec. 7. For more information, call (352) 365-0232.
Among the murals at the show will be a two-panel mosaic illustrating the flags of Spain, France, England, the Confederacy and the United States under which Florida was controlled over centuries. Other murals feature Black Beard the pirate, Queen Elizabeth of England, the first steam railroad and explorer Sir Francis Drake.
The City of Leesburg will keep six of the bank’s original murals – one that will be displayed at the Leesburg History Museum. Others will be donated to raise funds for local charities such as the Children’s Advocacy Society, Lifestream, Lake-Sumter State College Foundation, Beacon College and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
The art show also is part of Florida’s Viva Florida 500 celebration commemorating the state’s 500th anniversary in the year 2013.
Leesburg is a progressive city of more than 20,000 residents in northwest Lake County. The city government serves twice as many people with its electric, gas, water, wastewater and fiber-optic public utilities. Leesburg also is a central hub for commerce, attracting 50,000 people to work each weekday.