JOHN BARTUS: MARATHON’S LANDMARK MURAL IS UNDER A VERY REAL THREAT

Wyland works in March 2022 to restore ‘Whaling Wall #87 - Florida’s Radiant Reef’ on the shuttered K-Mart building. BARRY GAUKEL/Keys Weekly

Legendary local commercial fisherman Tommy Coppedge had a saying — often directed at Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Samess when discussing new ideas for the Seafood Festival: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” 

Wyland’s 87th Whaling Wall, “Florida’s Radiant Reef,” certainly isn’t broke. With just a little over 100 Whaling Walls in existence worldwide, the greater Marathon community is lucky to have one. The mural painted on the exterior wall of the old Kmart by Wyland and Guy Harvey, just touched up and restored last year, has been a work of art and a community treasure for 22 years.

That’s why you know that someone’s going to try and screw with it.

Surf Style, a “leading beachwear and souvenir shopping destination,” is leasing the old Kmart space for one of its stores. Plans filed with Marathon’s building department detail what they intend to do with that exterior wall. If those plans are allowed to move forward, Marathon’s landmark Whaling Wall will indeed be broke.

As reported right here in the Weekly, “As currently permitted, the structure’s east end is set for a full redesign with a series of graphic metal panels, affixed with metal anchors over renowned artists Wyland and Guy Harvey’s 22-year-old ‘Whaling Wall #87.’” Not only will the Whaling Wall totally be covered by these panels, plans include breaking through the wall to install another set of doors.

When warned by Marathon Planning Director Brian Shea about potential community backlash, project architect David Keener wrote, “We have made the owner aware. He is working with Guy Harvey to either recreate the mural as a graphic applied to the metal panels or to repaint on them. We did what we could to keep the original but there was just no way with the exterior work proposed.”

Social media has been abuzz with a lot of back-and-forth, rumors and much discontent. Some posters in the Save Wyland’s Whale Mural Facebook group have engaged with people at Surf Style. One posted a response from the Surf Style support team that stated, “Thank you for your message regarding the Wyland mural at our new Marathon, FL location. We want to reassure you that we have no plans to destroy this mural. We wholeheartedly recognize its value as a unique piece of public art in the town and its importance to the community. … We are dedicated to preserving this cherished mural as a sign of our respect for the town we are becoming a part of.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Before anyone goes to bed thinking that the battle has been won, keep in mind that no revisions or alterations to the original permit have been filed. While one voice at the company is attempting to ameliorate public outcry, no effort to actually make those changes is happening. I’m willing to bet that the higher-ups at Surf Style don’t care that much about what locals think — because their core business will be our visitors, who won’t be aware of what they may potentially destroy.

Alex Rickert’s article in last week’s Weekly offered some hope of federal protection of the mural under the Visual Artists Rights Act. Multimillion-dollar judgments have been awarded to artists after developers painted over or destroyed works of public art. One can only hope that the threat of losing money, as well as face in the community, will inspire Surf Style to do the right thing and preserve the Whaling Wall.

In the meantime, continued pressure from the community just might make a big difference. Check out the Save Wyland’s Whale Mural Facebook group, contact the company with your feelings on the matter and stay informed. In my opinion, the only good outcome is the total preservation of Wyland’s 87th Whaling Wall.

– Catch John live Wednesdays at Brutus Seafood, Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing, and Sunday at the Skipjack Resort Tiki Bar. Find his music anywhere you download or stream your music. www.johnbartus.com • johnbartus.hearnow.com

Very few towns or cities could ever claim that their Mayor was a smokin' hot guitar player. The island city of Marathon in the Florida Keys is one of those towns. While politics is a temporary call to service, music is a life sentence. John Bartus, a more-than-four-decade full-time professional musician, singer, and songwriter, continues to raise the bar with his groundbreaking solo acoustic show. It’s easy to catch John on one of his more than 200 shows a year throughout the Keys on his Perpetual Island Tour. His CD releases include After The Storm, Keys Disease 10th Anniversary Remaster, and Live From the Florida Keys Vol. 2. John’s music is available wherever you download or stream your music.