Wild About The Wetlands

By Esther Hammer
Tampa Tribune
Baylife March 29, 2004
The natural beauty of a wilderness area off U.S. 41 in Gibsonton is the
inspiration behind Taylor Ikin's watercolor "Divine Intervention."
She wears her traditional hat, below.

   Taylor Ikin loves Hillsborough County's waterways, shallow and muddy or glistening and deep.
   The blue herons dipping their beaks to feed there and the sturdy mangroves sending out roots through which to breathe mesmerize her.  She's thrilled to spot a beaver dam or an otter peeking up from the water.
   But she's afraid it may all disappear one day, paved over for the subdivisions, stores and roads that seem to spread like kudzu.
   So the Tampa artist is painting them to preserve them.
   For the past two years, Ikin has been creating "The Hillsborough Collection," 30 watercolors of wilderness areas throughout Hillsborough County.  The exhibition opened Friday, April 2, 2004, at Nuance Galleries in south Tampa and in May begins a yearlong tour that will take it to the Florida House in Washington, the Capitol in Tallahassee and galleries and museums throughout the state.
   "It's really been a mission, an absolute mission," says the 65-year-old self-taught artist, who has lived in Tampa on and off since 1961.  "I'm doing what I believe in because it's preserving the past and preserving our lands."
   Her mission has taken her on the water and into backwoods, often braving heavy rains and blistering heat to get exactly what she was looking for.
   And what was that?
   "Anything that makes my heart go pitter-pat," she says.  "I tend to look for a composition that goes together.  And I love mangrove roots."
   She boated along Hillsborough's waterways and through its bays and estuaries searching for the elements of her pieces.
   "She had a set plan.  She had certain things she wanted to see-like roseate spoonbills or mangroves," says Richard Sullivan, manager of Cockroach Bay Preserve and one of the artist's guides.  "And I think she was trying to pick times of the day when she could get the light she wanted.  There's a big difference in how a certain area looks in the morning and in the afternoon."
   Sullivan has taken Ikin on more than a dozen trips into Cockroach Bay, a body of water in southeast Hillsborough that is nearly surrounded by ecologically sensitive and protected lands.
   "She had a lot of enthusiasm for what she was doing," Sullivan says.  "You could tell by how excited she'd get when she saw a bird or something that she might be able to photograph.  And she had a lot of patience, waiting to get just the right shot."
   A lot of the places required kayaking or canoeing through shallow waters.  And one memorable trip involved dragging Ikin in the canoe across mud flats.
   "Of course, she got a kick out of that, and just by accident, she got a lot of good shots out of that mud flat."

The First Painting

Sunlight on the Hillsborough

   Two years ago, the county water department was looking for some special visual to use as an educational tool.  Something to help raise public awareness about the need for conservation.
   "We wanted to develop something that would evoke the pristine beauty of parts of the county and the water resources that the county has," says Norman Davis, conservation manager for the department.
   Jan Stein, public coordinator for Hillsborough County, provided the department with examples of works by 10 artists.
   Officials selected Ikin.
   "We felt that there was something exceptionally striking about Taylor's paintings, something that left things to the mind to develop rather than being more explicit," Davis says.
   The water department asked Ikin to paint a portrait of a scene she found in the count's protected lands.  The result, "River Rapids," depicts mangroves stretching toward the sunlight amid the moving waters of the Alafia River.
   To get to the pristine setting, Ikin had to have help.  She found it in the Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department (formerly the Parks and Recreation Department), which provided guides.
   Then, naturally, that department wanted a painting, too.
   "We were in the process of changing our name, and conservation is a very important part of what we do," spokesman John Brill says.  "We thought [a painting by Ikin] would be a neat way to get the word out and tell people what we do."
   The parks people purchased a painting Ikin had done recently but hadn't titled.  Brill dubbed it "Heart of Hillsborough" the minute he saw it.
   "I knew exactly where it was at, because I kayak there," he says.

The Bigger Picture

Heart of Hillsborough

   "Heart of Hillsborough" became the new slogan for the renamed department, and the painting itself became a new marketing tool.
   A poster made from the painting has been given to every parks department employee (that's 522, Brill says) and to every public school in Hillsborough County.
   "We're just trying to get the word out about conservation," Brill says.  "The green spaces here are important, and they're not going to be here very long unless we preserve them."
   Stein felt the same way.  She had a vision for something larger than two paintings.
   I saw that [Taylor] could really create a wonderful body of work that could depict all the wonderful aspects of Hillsborough County," she says.
   Ikin took up the challenge with enthusiasm.
   The artist, who began studying art and selling her work at age 33, has sold to customers throughout the world.  She even has a pen-and-ink drawing of an old cathedral in Antigua hanging in the Vatican, taken there by the bishop of the Diocese of the West Indies.
   A conservationist at heart and a painter of landscapes by choice, Ikin was smitten from Day One with the natural beauty of the county's wetlands and pristine wilderness.
   "I can't get enough of it. It's like my back yard."
   The collection offers vistas that some residents see-and many don't.
   In "Day's End," a sun drenched Hillsborough River is hugged on both sides by sturdy cypress trees, palms and native grasses.
   "Crossover Bridge at Buckhorn Springs," "Gator Log," "Stillwater Marsh" and "Sunlight on the Hillsborough" evoke feelings of serenity.
   And "Beaver's Home" provides surprising proof that one doesn't have to travel to the mountains to find the tail-slapping rodent.
   The series predominantly depicts waterways, but there are also images of magnolias, a series of small paintings of the indigenous rare aster, one of the Tampa firefighters' museum and four agricultural images that were displayed at the recent state fair.
   I get overwhelmed when I think of what I accomplished and where it's going to go," Ikin says.  "But I really don't see myself in the picture except holding the paintbrush.  It's never been about me.  It's all about the county."

Traveling Exhibit

   "The Hillsborough Collection" exhibit kicked off on Friday, April 2, 2004, at Nuance Galleries, 804 S. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa, FL.  A portion of the proceeds from any piece of art purchased that night went to the Rhea and Lawton Chiles Center for Healthy Babies at the University of South Florida.  Ikin talked about her paintings and their conservation significance at 2 p.m. Saturday at the gallery.  The exhibition at Nuance runs through April 30, then moves on to:
  • Florida House, Washington, D.C.; May 12 through August 10
  • The Capitol Building, 22nd Floor Gallery Complex, Tallahassee, Fl.; August through November
  • Cornell Museum, Delray Beach, Fl.; November through February
  • Norfolk Botanical Garden, Norfolk, Va.; March and April 2005
  • The Leepa-Rattner Museum, Tarpon Springs, Fl.; June and July 2005

River Rapids

Free Copies

   The water department has produced a 13-by-17-inch poster of "River Rapids" and a postcard of another Ikin watercolor, "Standing Guard," a white egret standing over a fallen tree limb.  Both are being offered free to the public to promote conservation.
   To get either or both, write to Norman Davis, Water Conservation Manager, Hillsborough County Water Department, 925 E. Twiggs St., Tampa, Fl. 33602.
   Depending on printing times, poster availability may be delayed eight week.
   At this time, the poster of the "Heart of Hillsborough" is not available to the public.

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