Charlie Parker: St. Petersburg Artist Creates Lakeland Mural

Ceramicist Charlie Parker isn't afraid of taking on new challenges. After decades in his downtown St. Petersburg studio, he uprooted himself on February 29th – leap day – and moved into a new space with a bright, colorful showroom and a cavernous workspace full of pottery and renovations.

His new studio at 2724 Sixth Ave. S., temporarily full of boxes and clay until he unpacks, is part of the growing St. Petersburg Warehouse Arts District being converted into spaces for artists. 

"I love my new space,'' Parker says. "It's far from anything that I could have imagined.''

Established in the community as the owner of the St. Petersburg Clay Company, Charlie Parker Pottery has earned a reputation for both creating pottery and for teaching ceramics classes.

It was this reputation in Tampa Bay that first got the attention of Cynthia Haffey of Platform Art in Lakeland. Plans to create a mural across the Orange Street Bridge that connects the Lakeland Center to the Downtown District were in the works when Haffey brought in Parker to create a ceramic mural.

"I've always wanted to do a permanent piece in the city,'' Haffey says. "We're trying to create a visual, safe pathway from the Lakeland Center into downtown. We wanted a colorful tile installation on the bridge.''

The mural, which took six months to build and cost $5,000, is Platform Art's gift to the City of Lakeland.

"Platform Art Party #19: Art in AgriCulture'' on April 28 (7 to 11 p.m.) in downtown Lakeland will celebrate the unveiling of the mural. The public is invited.

Pedestrians will also be treated to a Florida friendly garden maintained by St. Joseph's Academy and the Lakeland Master Gardeners, who will adopt the property and handle fresh planting. The garden, which will be filled with bright, tropical plants sits across the bridge from the Lakeland Center.

The mural, created by Parker and fellow St. Petersburg ceramicist Beate Marston, features iconic images that represent Lakeland and celebrate the agricultural aspects of Polk County.

Parker, who majored in visual arts at Eckerd College, sums up the mural with a single word: Awesome.

"We visited Lakeland several times,'' Parker says. On one excursion, they came across a Farmer's Market in town, which inspired a section of the mural that features an old pickup truck surrounded by fruit and produce. The Lakeland Center, the Orange Street sign and sunflowers are also included on the glazed 1-foot tiles.

"The sun will make them shine,'' Parker says.

Honoring Florida's City Of Swans

There will be 75 feet of tile on each side of the 90-foot bridge, and at the end of each section of the mural sits a swan -- the city's symbol.

"It's everything Lakeland,'' he says.

For now, though, Parker is working toward the Grand Opening of his studio on April 21st, making new bowls and finishing renovations. Despite so many projects, Parker still creates his own work, throwing the big bowls he is best known for.

Parker calls his 40 years of experience with clay a "relationship'' instead of a job, and cites intuition as the key to much of his work.

"It's like a dance. I know exactly where the clay is going.''

Parker's innovative, instinctual and creative work in ceramics, as well as his commitment to teaching and budding artists, continues to develop his relationships with other artists, the community and clay.

Theresa Woods is a graduate of the University of South Florida, freelance writer and literature nerd living in Tampa. In her spare time, she writes, contemplates her place in the universe and enjoys being an all-purpose geek with her friends. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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