Thursday, April 16, 2015

Stephen Oliver's
Artist Stephen Oliver with his sculpture
"Best Kept Secret"  

"Best Kept Secret" Sculpture 
to be dedicated in Gulfport, Florida, Saturday, April 18, 2015

Gulfport, Florida will dedicate Stephen Oliver's sculpture, "Best Kept Secret," during the city's Saturday Artwalk on April 18th, 2015, at 6:30 pm.  

“Best Kept Secret" was commissioned by the Gulfport Merchants Association(GMA) and installed last year (see the blog entry 7/18/14).

Artist/sculptor Stephen Oliver will join Gulfport officials and the public for the dedication. The Gulfport Artwalk begins at 6pm with artists and craft vendors lining the walkway through the bustling, village of galleries, shops and restaurants with background music from acoustic musicians. The city's route through the village and down to the beach front is Beach Boulevard, also winding past Gulfport's park where visitors can view an installation of sculptures by fine artists.

Stephen Oliver’s "Best Kept Secret" has been installed at the city's waterfront national landmark, the Gulfport Casino, not a gambling establishment, but a community events building that spans several historical eras including the years of segregation and intolerance in the South. Today, Gulfport is an artful, progressive, welcoming town, known for all of those attributes and the diversity that makes it dynamic. "Best Kept Secret" was inspired by the people and the journey of Gulfport. The artist cut this original poem into the burnished metal sides of the sculptural boat:

All hands together joined to Row
     Make rainbows of gauntlets as they go. 

Check the Gulfport Facebook page for more information

Stephen Oliver is the designer and creator of  the  "Make it Right" logo that encourages peace as an action by every person. He prints his design on t-shirts for infants to 4x adult.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Stephen D. Oliver's Rainbow Boat


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 gauntlets as they go. 

Photography Dr. Henry  Oliver    Story by Victoria Mares

"Best Kept Secret" a brushed steel sculpture by Stephen D. Oliver

Stephen D. Oliver viewing an underside of  "Best Kept Secret"

African American Artist Stephen Oliver's "Best Kept Secret," a brushed steel sculpture was installed in Gulfport, Florida on Friday, July 18, 2014.  That is only  a fraction of the story.

The sculpture stands before  the city's National Landmark, the Gulfport Casino,  not a gambling establishment, but a community events building that spans several historical eras including the years of segregation and intolerance in the South.  Today, Gulfport is an artful, progressive, welcoming town, known for all of those attributes and the diversity that makes it dynamic. "Best Kept Secret" was inspired by the people and the journey of Gulfport.

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times he said,

"That change, that growth in the community is what I want my sculpture to celebrate — a synthesis of Gulfport's past and present."
The artist with his father, Dr. Henry Oliver; photo by Mike Wilson
The small, beautiful and bustling Gulfport and adjacent St. Petersburg, Fl. are where this artist/sculptor, designer has deep family roots, including in some of the bricks laid in Gulfport streets generations ago. Stephen is trained in architecture and earned his master's degree in fine furniture at the Rhode Island School of Design.
The artist has a deep appreciation for the doors to memories and conversation with his father, who grew up in St. Petersburg, that work on the  sculpture inspired.
 "My grandfather was amazing. He was a jack-of-all trades who found work wherever he could get it. In the 1920s and '30s, he was a bricklayer and was responsible for laying many of Gulfport's brick streets,." Stephen told the Times.

Stephen delved into the history of Gulfport when he first began thinking about the nationwide competition, offered by the Gulfport Merchants Society last spring.  The competiton was a search for a  meaningful sculpture to grace the area in front of the Gulfport Casino. The pale,aqua blue, historic landmark building  anchors the end of the business district's Beach Boulevard  and has a full view of  the beach and Boca Ciega bay. Stephen listened to community members who remembered the days when the LGBT community members were still struggling with closed minds. In his Gulfport library research he found an old photograph of a building that said "Colored Dance Pavilion," located outside the main entrance to Gulfport. It was a time when his grandfather could lay bricks in the town, but the welcome mat was still rolled up.
"Painful pasts need to be addressed," he told the Times. "Public art provides an opportunity to address them in a positive way."
So, inspired by the community itself, Stephen created an art piece that speaks to the past and the present looking toward the future. Viewers can now experience the description the artist gave to The Times when he was preparing to move from presentation drawings to actually creating " Best Kept Secret."

"The metal sculpture consists of a boat raised to eye level on painted stanchions. The boat's aft is in the shape of the Gulfport Casino, and within the arched silhouette of the casino, an impressionist image of the "colored people's dance pavilion." 

A keyhole cut in the center of this image will offer a play and mixing of colored light created by glass elements inside the boat. A working weather vane will feature Gulfport's initials, GP, and sit atop the central mast. The poem... will be cut into the port and starboard sides."   
                                                                                                                          Tampa Bay Times

As Stephen, completed the installation of the sculpture in front of the Casino, a young boy about 7 years old  passed by and stopped to look at the sculpture. The late day sun bounced light through the slices of colored, gem-like panels in the boat's bottom.

The reflected light painted the ground beneath the boat. Rainbow light.  The boy asked the Artist,

 " Mr., is that a Rainbow boat?"

Maybe so.  

About the Artist: Stephen D. Oliver

Stephen D. Oliver, MA,  is director and owner of Affinity Arts in Maine where he works in his studio part of the year. In creative and architectural design he has worked with the Portland Children's
Museum, designed the Museum of African Cultures in Portland, Maine and public art for the Convergence Festival in Rhode Island, as well as managing residencies, coordinating programs and public art and designing installations for museums.

Stephen is the designer and creator of the  "Make it Right"  logo that was inspired by the peace sign, the need  to start the conversation again about peace as a part of everyday life, not just nostalgia. The rich colors of his shirts often bring smiles to visitors to his booth at shows or the markets in Gulfport, as well as start good conversations. Their high quality shows his artistic integrity, skill and talent. "Make It Right" can be viewed on his website:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Clyde Bango: "Under the Tree"

Contemporary African artists are taking us on journeys through time, space, culture and the natural environment, as old as time, as new as we care to make it.  Artlife, Zimbabwe 

Chicuva 2011 by Clyde Bango

                                                             Prelude to Zimbabwe

by Victoria Mares

On  April 18, 2012 Zimbabwe celebrated  32 years of independence from British colonialism that stripped the people from their land and claimed it as Southern Rhodesia, an apartheid nation. Zimbabwe is a place of great, ancient civilizations and a strong presence of contemporary artists that speak through their creative works of truth, and vision. Even as the people of Zimbabwe have suffered an extreme brutality and absence of justice under the hand of Robert Mugabe, reigning as president of the country for 32 years during which he turned despot, a critical mass of creative people still survive and thrive. With genius, clarity, passion, courage and hope, people in the arts speak and critique through their art and literature, nationally and internationally. Artists, artisans, musicians, writers and academics from Zimbabwe have stopped by or even settled in Maine, as they have in places across the globe. That their work exists seems a dichotomy to what has happened to Zimbabwe. Perhaps it will be these artistic creators that will preserve the peoples’ dream of a fair and just Zimbabwe whose people and cultural richness have survived various man-made catastrophes for over a millennium.


 Clyde Bango

Zimbabwean Artist,Biochemist and  Dream Keeper

Article written by Victoria Mares at Affinity Arts

Pasi Pemuti  “Under the Tree

Clyde Bango came into the Museum of African Art and Culture (MofAC) in Portland, Maine for his first show there carrying one of his tree sculptures. His small build and fresh face with sincere eyes, an easy smile and quiet voice made no announcement of the power of his intent.  His friends and art colleagues  from the Maine community and Bates College, his alma mater, helped to deliver the pieces for the exhibit as he worked on his artist's statement for the show, about to open in a couple of hours. He  helped MofAC director Oscar Mokeme to place the first tree on a pedestal, and then another and another. The wire trees had a subtle sheen that augmented their grace and life.  Trees... they keep our environment from going dry and the precious nutrients in the soil and the soil itself from eroding away to bring famine of body and humanity. Clyde  dedicated his show to the late Dr. Wangari Maathi, the woman environmentalist that recovered Kenyan land with a lifetime long campaign of  re-planting  trees and the lives 

The Museum of African Art and Culture in the heart of the Portland, Maine Art District showed the work of Zimbabwean artist Clyde Bango in the Fall of 2011 and into early 2012. The opening of the show “Pasi Pemuti, Under the Tree,” was just months after the young artist had graduated from Bates College in Lewiston Maine with a double major  in Biochemistry and Visual Arts.

 “I am not just originally from Zimbabwe… I am Zimbabwean. I like being from Mbare, more than just Harare. As for the rural areas, I’m from Musami in Murewa. When you visit, just ask for Bango Village,” said Clyde in his artist’s statement. 

So, I grew up in Mbare. Some people called it a tough neighborhood. I call it inspiring township. Art thrives in every sector. We boast visual artists, con artists, pick up artists, performance artists, musicians, dancers, poets, and many undefined artists. You see Mbare is where it all begins, simply because there are never-ending reasons to dream.                                                                                                    
My artwork is merely a glimpse of my home. No models could do justice to the rich culture of our rural communities.

Imba YeUswa 2, 2011

Galvanized Utility Wire


...A style of brick house crowned
 with straw-thatched roofs is
 traditional to the Zimbabwean
 culture. They are still found in
 the rural areas, where my mother resides to this day.

                                 Clyde Bango

Amai neHuni

Here’s an image that you get to see across many parts of Africa. It is a symbol of the hardworking women who comprise the backbone of families and communities. The most amazing part is that the women work tirelessly yet gracefully. I hope this only marks the beginning of my series to honor the African Women. My dream is that if more women were involved in African politics… maybe they would instill unrivaled work ethic towards greater development. I’m just an artist, what do I know?”.
                                                                                        Clyde Bango

du du muDuri


Mortar and pestle… well, more than just the simple utensils. I remember waiting around to lick peanut butter that stuck on the walls of the mortar, or chasing away the pestering chickens that tried to pick up grain that spilled on the ground. While the women pounded (maize, millet, sorghum, groundnuts), songs often accompanied the ‘thud’ sounds of the process. du du muDuri...
                                               Clyde Bango


As a Visual Arts and Biochemistry major Clyde kept his life-long dreams and honored his parents’ wishes. . In Mbare his parents had hoped that he would grow up to study medicine and Clyde had thought of finding a cure for a viral disease, even for AIDS, work that would make a difference in Zimbabwe and the world. His art comes out of fond childhood memories of growing up in his village, and the fire he keeps within, fueled with, hope for the people and his country, his dreams as an artist, and as a person that will make a difference. In his work, the graceful art pieces articulate the beauty he sees in everything, and his understanding and experience of the hard realities that can crush a people and a nation. The beautiful structure honoring the traditional Zimbabwean house is ethereal in its airy gracefulness yet strong by its engineering under the hand of the artist weaving it with a thread of wire that does not readily reveal a beginning or end. The structure could be a metaphor for Zimbabwe’s ancient legacy, the Great Zimbabwe of the 11th to the 15th centuries.

Section of the Great Enclosure
The Great Zimbabwe is the largest of 300 living complexes built of stone. The ancient city, with massive 36 foot high walls built of granite slabs and constructed without mortar is known as the Great Enclosure. It meandered in graceful curves over 820 square miles. The Great Zimbabwe covered 1800 acres and existed as an international trade center, destination for traders from India, China and the Middle East attracted to the city’s plentiful gold and copper mines, and work of artisans that made distinctive pottery, and works in ivory and gold. Even though archaeological opportunities to thoroughly discover this civilization of Africans were destroyed by the greed and arrogance of 19th and 20th century European explorers, plunderers and colonizers, the Great Enclosure still stands today for us to wonder at its structure and puzzle over its beginnings that have kept it standing.

With earning a scholarship to Bates college came decision-making time. A number of opportunities confronted him in both science and art as he proved to be an excellent student. Clyde chose both. The art major gave him the opportunity to do a semester in Panama working in art,  and research work in science at Bates. However, between entering Bates and graduation, Clyde was to face an incalculable challenge. It required commitment to college and to the family and community that had nurtured his life and success. He worked multiple jobs to make sure his parents and family survived the harsh edicts of President Robert Mugabe that destroyed homes, communities, killed Zimbabweans, their livelihoods and economy between 2005 and 2009. 

Self Portrait

Galvanized Utility Wire, Wood, Chrome Metal Handcuffs

In my country, the rule of law is that one is guilty before proven innocent. The police can arrest you for many reasons or no reason at all. I found myself a victim once, and spent at least three days in jail. I also dedicate this piece to my mother, who was a prisoner of the liberation war for three months in 1979.
                                                                                                                                 Clyde Bango

 In his “Under the Tree,” show, Clyde placed Dr. Wangari Maathai’s words next to her photo on the gallery wall at the Museum of African Art and Culture:

"It's the little things citizens do. That's what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees." ~Wangari Maathi
..and his own words: Rest Well, Under The Tree

 On his website  this young artist tells us what he is planting with his art:

My hope is to make art that inspires new ideas and invokes deeper thoughts out of simple subjects like figures, trees and houses.
 I wish to show my work and life to make you laugh and smile always, but only if you're willing to think and cry sometimes.

It is time to look past our ever-refreshed media view of Africa, to see Africans and the people that have built their inner houses of stones, surviving, thriving and creating out of their dreams and their culture with a trajectory toward the future they can craft with their own hands and the true benefit of  the people of Africa and the world.   As noted by Artlife Magazine, a publication of  the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, "Contemporary African artists are taking us on journeys through time, space, culture and the natural environment, as old as time, as new as we care to make it".

References:  Metropolitan Museum of Art,  Artlife Magazine, Zimbabwean Art Journal, Bates College Newspaper,Museum of African Art and Culture, Interviews with Clyde Bango, AllAfrica News, The Zimbabwean,BBC News,New York Times


Monday, February 28, 2011

Artist Roy McLendon Jr., Living the Legacy

Art of Roy McLendon Jr.

By Victoria Mares

Roy McLendon Jr. is the son of African-American artist Roy McLendon Sr., one of Florida’s 26 black artists known as “The Highwaymen,” that initiated the Indian River art movement in the 1950’s. (Jan.19, 2011 blog). Even though Roy Jr. is not considered one of the original 26 “Highwaymen” he clearly remembers that from the age of 8 years, he was painting alongside his father, and with his mother’s encouragement.

“I was born an artist,” said Roy Jr. when I met him and his wife Carla McLendon, seated in front of their white tent/gallery at an outdoor art and crafts show in Florida.

“I’ve been painting for 45 years. I am not considered a “Highwayman” because I was not in the original group. But there are those in the group that don’t have 10 years on me, because I was painting with my father as a kid.

Roy Jr. enters shows around Florida; and like his father, his work is inspired by Florida’s stunning, atmospheric landscapes that are unencumbered by concrete and high rise buildings. However, Roy Jr. has his own distinguishing style.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Florida Legacy of the Highwaymen Artists

Art by Mary Ann Carroll

Every great work of art has two faces, one toward its own time and one toward toward  eternity.                                                                                                                    Daniel Barenboim
Go to for a complete list of 25 African-American men and one woman, that became popularly known as The Highwaymen.

 by Victoria Mares-Hershey

While in Florida at an arts and crafts show, I became aware of the Indian River school of painting. African-American artists, living smack in the middle of a time of racial violence against black people in the south, cut their road with art to become founders of Florida’s contemporary art tradition. On either side of 1950, 25 African American men and one woman, on the west coast of Florida started painting color-saturated, dramatic, often surreal natural landscapes of the Indian River Valley around them. Much later, they were described as “the Highwaymen,” a name that falls far short of their identity as artists. Originators of the “ Indian River school of painting” comes closer to the roots of their work.They lived in and around the Gifford, Florida and the Ft. Pierce area, where they turned their backyards, homes and garage spaces into studios. Most of the artists were in their 20’s when they started painting to sell, some had painted in their teens and one, at the age of 10, had sold a painting to his teacher for $25.