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Thursday, December 07, 2023

Walldogs, local artists take over High Springs with arts and history festival

Local organizations The Heart of High Springs and Good News Arts organized the event

<p>A little boy paints the kids mural setup at the Walldogs Mural Painting festival in High Springs Friday, March 24, 2023.</p>

A little boy paints the kids mural setup at the Walldogs Mural Painting festival in High Springs Friday, March 24, 2023.

Standing on a yellow stepladder, Jessica Caldas was using careful brushstrokes to render an image of an alligator rising out of a swamp onto an eight-by-twenty-foot freestanding mural.

This was just one of many murals created by local artists at the Walldogs Dive Into High Springs Mural and History Festival in downtown High Springs on Saturday. 

Throughout the festival, young children stopped by to pick up a brush and help Caldas paint the brightly colored flowers that make up the lower half of the mural. The result was what Caldas calls a “youth mural”, incorporating some of High Springs’ youngest artists.

“Tons of kids from the community of all ages have come to help us,” Caldas said. “Everybody can be a part of it.”

Caldas, the director of the nonprofit community gallery Good News Arts, said her organization took on the task of youth programming in preparation for the festival. However, like the youth mural itself, the festival was a mix of efforts from different sources — all passionate about bringing the arts to High Springs.

The festival also showcased an exhibition of murals created by the Walldogs, a group of traveling mural artists and sign painters. They were invited by Heart of High Springs, a non-profit organization that works to support the town’s culture and tourism. The group has been planning the Walldogs’ visit for over three years, said Heart of High Springs treasurer Ross Ambrose. 

“We invited [The Walldogs] here to High Springs to help tell our stories, and preserve some of the history in the town,” Ambrose said. “People that live here can learn some things they may not have known.” 

Festival goers walked the streets of downtown High Springs to watch the Walldogs paint murals of local attractions like the Priest Theatre, built in 1910, and Old Bellamy Road, developed in 1824.

Upon seeing the artists’ dedication to their city’s historical landmarks, attendees shared stories about High Springs or memories from their own childhood, he said. 

“People are telling stories about living on Old Bellamy Road or the race track,” Ambrose said. “It’s really special to see those memories shared with the community.”

The festival was originally scheduled for 2021 but faced a yearlong delay due to COVID-19. After a years-long planning process and a conglomeration of efforts from nonprofits, artists, and community members alike, the festival will give High Springs residents the chance to enjoy the murals for 10 to 15 years in the future, Ambrose said.

“These murals are designed to last,” said Ambrose. “They’re not going to fade.”

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Alongside the murals, artists selling craftsmanship from jewelry to dog treats filled the sidewalks in a line of white tents.

One of these artists, Gainesville resident Alma Elaine Shoaf, made the trip to High Springs to display her watercolor art and promote her bookmaking business, Inky Cap Books.

This was her first street festival, Shoaf said, and she admired the connections it fostered between artists and their communities.

“I think it’s really important to have communities, especially smaller communities, be able to look at our purchases and support artists and talk to artists,” Shoaf said. “Art makes everything better.”

Chyna Rosemarea, a local artist who describes her focus as illustrative realism, said that in the five years that she’s lived in High Springs, she’s been excited to see the promotion of opportunities for artists begin to grow with events like the Walldogs festival.

“I believe the Walldogs coming here this week will make a huge difference,” said Rosemarea. “This is my first Walldogs event and I’m stoked to be a part of it.”

Pam Eaker, a 66-year-old South Florida resident, was one of the festival goers browsing the collections of art presented at the event. Eaker owns property in High Springs and said she enjoys visiting the area largely because of her appreciation for the care that its residents put into bettering their downtown through events like these.

“Everybody can spend time out in the open, enjoying themselves,” Eaker said. “People can get out and be part of the community.”

Although the festival created a nice weekend for art enthusiasts like Eaker, Ambrose believes the real value of the event rests in its lasting positive impact for the High Springs community. 

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Zoey Thomas

Zoey Thomas is a second-year media production, management and technology major, reporting for the metro desk. Other than writing, her passions include sweet potatoes, Agatha Christie and long-distance running.

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