A ceremony to dedicate a public sculpture in front of the historic Gulfport Casino is set for 6:30 pm Saturday, April 18, 2015. The piece, “Best Kept Secret” by artist Stephen Oliver, was commissioned by the Gulfport Merchants Association and installed late last year. The Casino is at 5500 Shore Boulevard South.
Daniel Hodge, GMA board member, describes the art piece in a press release:
“Best Kept Secret” depicts a rowboat with oars perched atop stanchions. Color acrylic panels are angled into the bottom of the boat, reflecting a rainbow of light on the sidewalk below when the sun shines above it. On both sides of the boat, lines of poetry by Oliver are cut into the steel: "To cross the gulf be our port of call/leaving a wake of peace and love for all;” "All hands together joined to row/make rainbows of gauntlet as they go." The sculpture also incorporates a keyhole in the stern of the boat, through which one can peer into the interior’s rainbow of colors. The stern of the boat is shaped like the façade of the Casino and serves as a palette for a painting of “the Colored People’s Dance Pavilion,” reflecting the evolution of the community from a segregated one in the past to the inclusive one it is today. Oliver found an image of the old pavilion on the Gulfport Historical Society’s website.
Stephen Oliver, who splits his time between Florida and Maine and is known locally for his “Give Peace” shirts, has a degree in architecture from New Jersey Institute of Technology and a master's in furniture design from Rhode Island School of Design. His family has local roots in St. Petersburg, where his grandfather, Henry Oliver Sr., was a prolific builder whose wife ran their small produce market in St. Petersburg. “Grandpa Oliver” also helped lay the brick streets of Gulfport during a building boom that started in 1923 and ended in the Great Depression, Hodges writes in the press release.
“Best Kept Secret” joins a growing roster of Gulfport public art, including 10 sculptures commissioned by the City of Gulfport recently dedicated in Clymer Park, and a pair of sculptures at the entrance to Gulfport’s Waterfront District at Beach Boulevard and 29th Avenue South, commissioned by the GMA and dedicated in 2012.
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