Paintings of two major influencers of the women’s suffrage movement are framed by flowers and sun rays on the wall facing the Thornton Park laundromat.
The newest mural in Thornton Park commemorates Beth Johnson, the first female state senator in Florida, and Mary Mcleod Bethune, the founder of Bethune-Cookman University.
“One really cool fact about Mary Mcleod is that she actually took her bike door to door to all the neighborhoods local to her, and she raised money for poll tax for African-American women, especially who were poorer at the time, to be able to pay their poll tax and vote,” said Kristi Hamby, one of the painters of the mural.
A group of female artists that call themselves “WISP Orlando,” an acronym for “What is she painting?” teamed up to paint the mural. It was the first time the four artists — Kristi Hamby, Sara Berlin, Melissa Hurcombe and Emory Alvarado — worked together.
“Our dynamic is crazy,” Hurcombe said. “We have so much fun together. We’re never not laughing or dancing.”
Each artist comes from different backgrounds: Hamby has experience with murals, painting street drains in Thornton Park and is also in the middle of a series of canvas paint- ings highlighting the different areas of Orlando. While Hamby paints on walls, Hurcombe expresses herself on computers. Hurcombe is a graphic designer who recently moved to Orlando from Massachusetts and met Hamby on Instagram. Alvarado has a background in set design with Disney, and Berlin does paint pouring and painted murals in the Thornton Park garage.
With such a wide variety of backgrounds, painting a cohesive picture together could have proven difficult. The four planned carefully beforehand, brainstorming together and making sketches of each of their ideas before coming to a rough draft.
“What we did is we got together with an idea, and we each kind of worked on it separately,” Hamby said. “We each came up with our own concepts and designs, and then we put them together and took bits and pieces to make one big piece. And then kind of went through and tried to make it cohesive all the way through.
“So we would kind of change our styles to fit each other’s. That’s what’s kind of great about it is we all see things different ways. We all shade in different ways and outline in different ways, so we were able to kind of bring those strengths together and then kind of rework it to create a new style.”
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and City Commissioner Patty Sheehan visited the site of the mural to thank the artists on June 4, the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. They both signed their names on the mural after contributing with strokes of grey paint at the base of the wall.
“Something I’m so excited about as an elected official is we started these murals as an antidote to all the crappy graffiti that was going everywhere,” Sheehan said in front of the mural on June 4. “And what’s the difference between graffiti and murals? Permission. So now we have a process whereby businesses can get permission to put wonderful art on their walls, and we so appreciate that.”
More could be on the horizon for this group of female artists. On June 4, Mayor Dyer told WISP about a wall in City Hall that he’d like them to paint a mural on. He went on to say he would “make it happen.”