OKEECHOBEE — Art is flourishing in downtown Okeechobee.
Okeechobee Main Street Arts & Culture Alliance celebrated the completion of a new mural on the 601 S.W. Park Street building that houses Serenity Cafe on Feb. 27. This marks the seventh mural of the ongoing project.
The latest mural was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce 2019 Leadership Class. The mural is a tribute to three historical companies: Markham Brothers Cannery, Florida East Coast Railroad and the Okeechobee Coca Cola Bottling Works.
Kathy Scott, mural artist, said she enjoyed painting the mural, which celebrates local history and the historic businesses. She said much of the work involved in painting a mural on the outside wall of a building takes place before the artist picks up a brush to put color on the wall. She said the rough stucco of the building exterior provided a big challenge, but it also gives texture to the painting.
Mrs. Scott said she enjoyed working on the project and talking to people who stopped to look at it. She especially enjoyed visiting with children whom she encouraged to get involved in the arts.
Jenny Pung, president of the 2019 Okeechobee Leadership Class, thanked the building owner, Danny Enfinger, and the city council “for approving our vision.” She said the class members also thank their employers for giving them the time to participate in the Leadership Class.
She said while the Leadership Class spent many months raising money for the project, artist Scott and Chamber Art & Culture Alliance Director Bridgette Waldau “put their hearts into it.” She said the mural was a “break-even” job financially.
In addition to Mrs. Pung, the 2019 Leadership Class included Edward P. Lehman, Llesnia Martinez, Janine Merriman, Cristina Paniagua, John R. Rhoden, Lane Richards, Randy Thomas, James Pickering and Linda Weiksnar.
“Art projects like this will bring locals and visitors to the downtown area,” said Ms. Waldau. “The downtown area is the heart of the community. If it is thriving, the rest of the community will benefit.”
Mrs. Scott said while many of the pieces in Okeechobee Main Street mural projects celebrate local history, some will simply bring beauty to the area.
About the history …
The Okeechobee Historical Society provided background information about the businesses featured in the mural: Markham Brothers Canning Plant (1939-1972): Florida East Coast Railroad (1915-1924): and the Okeechobee Coca Cola Bottling Works (1917-1929).
In 1929, Walter Markham and his two sons Allen and Roscoe came to Okeechobee to check out the tomato growing situation. They found an abundance of produce and decided to establish a state-of-the-art canning plant. They purchased property on South Park Street from Herbert Watson. This property provided direct access to the Florida East Coast Railroad tracks for easy shipping of their canned goods. The building on which this mural is painted served as the offices for Markham Brothers. Historically, it is known as the Freedman/Markham building. Next door was where the canning plant (which was later demolished) was located. A warehouse was beside the train tracks; this is currently the Morgan’s Furniture building.
In 1939, the plant opened with a focus on canning tomatoes under the label of Twin Oaks. A green bean line was added due to the vast amount of beans grown in the Belle Glade and Pahokee areas. Other canned products included swamp cabbage, labeled as Big Lake, guava jelly, boiled peanuts, potatoes, collard greens and turnip greens.
Markham Brothers became Okeechobee’s biggest employer, especially during the war years when the plant operated around the clock canning vegetables to be sent overseas to the troops through a contract with the U.S. government. In 1974, Markham Brothers Canning Works closed its doors. (According to a 2015 interview with Tommy Markham, a change in the type of tomatoes grown in Florida to focus on shipping fresh produce to market led to the demise of the canning plant.)
Okeechobee Coca Cola Bottling Plant was opened in 1917 by Smith J. Drawdy on Northeast Park Street and Second Street. It operated in this location until 1929. (The only photo found was an image of a Coca Cola bottle. If anyone has a photo of the bottling plant building, the Okeechobee Historical Society would love to have a copy.)
About the artist …
Kathy Scott’s career as an artist has included both the fine and graphic arts. After earning her college degree in fine and graphic arts, she opened a studio in Jupiter. In 1994 she moved to Okeechobee and opened ProART Advertising, which included graphic and fine art as well as mural painting. In 2004, she was employed by Okeechobee County as the marketing director for the Tourism Development Council and continued to also work as an artist. Recently, Mrs. Scott retired from her job with the county and opened Keepsake Art and Beyond, which focuses on fine art, murals, memory quilts and specialty items.
“I have enjoyed collaborating with the Leadership Class and Okeechobee Main Street to accomplish the goals for their ideas through my design and painting of this special mural. It has been an honor to be part of the seventh Main Street Mural Project,” she said.
About OKMS murals program …
The purpose of this program is to identify future mural and visual art locations and themes; coordinate artist selection and project completion; coordinate funds, through fundraisers or grants; and develop an action plan for maintenance and preservation of future murals and existing murals. Other murals completed so far include:
• Williamson Family Cattle Drive, 206 N. Parrott Ave.;
• Railroad Arriving 1915, at the 200 block of North Parrott Avenue;
• Okeechobee Telephone Company, on the Century Link Building, North Parrott Avenue;
• Bank of Okeechobee: Looking Back through the Windows of Time, at the intersection of State Road 70 and Fifth Avenue;
• Okeechobee Hardware Store, 300 N.W. Park Street; and,
• Osceola’s Indignation, 114 S.W. Fifth Ave.