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Deerfield Beach Unveils Sullivan Park

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By Marie Puleo | Photos by Jeff Graves

Sullivan Park, the three-acre parcel of land that lies along the Intracoastal Waterway, just northwest of the Hillsboro Boulevard bridge, has emerged from its nearly $4 million year-long makeover as one of Deerfield Beach’s brightest treasures. The newly expanded and redeveloped park is now equipped with two covered play areas, a picnic pavilion, restrooms, a floating dock for canoe and kayak rentals, 11 boat slips and a continuous waterside walkway. But what makes the park even more special is that it is home to the first major public art project in the City of Deerfield Beach: a colorful 52-foot-diameter mosaic splash pad.

Serving as the park’s focal point, the splash pad, called “Full Circle,” is the culmination of a collaborative process between the City and the community. Incorporating public art into the park’s overall redevelopment was intended to foster the idea that the park is a place for the entire community to enjoy.

“This project gives us a little something for everyone. People from the entire city and surrounding area will come here and enjoy it, and it’s something that’s going to stand the test of time,” said Deerfield Beach Mayor Bill Ganz, who was an early proponent of public art, and as a City Commissioner worked many years on the Sullivan Park project.

The artwork that was used for the mosaic overlay of the splash pad was created by children of Deerfield Beach, who participated in a citywide art contest, and were asked to illustrate their idea of “Fun in Deerfield Beach.” Out of the 33 submissions, 14 winners were selected. The fun things depicted in the children’s artwork include the International Fishing Pier, surfing, sports, nature, wildlife and the Renaissance Festival.

Two artists, Ruben Ubiera and Cynthia Fisher, were selected for the creation of the mosaic. When Ubiera applied, he invited Fisher, a mosaic artist, to collaborate with him on it. They were already working together on a public art project for Bradley Park in Lauderhill. For the Sullivan Park project, they worked with more than 70 volunteers from the community to lay over one million pieces of tile – at least 800,600 one-inch by one-inch tiles were used, and many of those were cut into smaller pieces.

“This was all kind of a leap of faith from the start,” said Fisher. “We said, ‘Hey, let’s do this. It’s a huge project, and let’s just take it on.’”

Ubiera, who is based in Broward County, oversaw the day-to-day assembly process, which took place in a room at the Old Schoolhouse in Deerfield Beach, while Fisher, based in Charlemont, Mass., came as often as she could to help lay tiles, and lend her expertise.

“I’m a speed demon when I lay tile, so I can get a lot done,” said Fisher. “And I think one of the things I brought to the project is that, because of the extensive knowledge I have as a mosaic artist, I could do a lot more advanced kinds of laying patterns, and take it in a lot more directions, just because I’m so familiar with the medium.”

Fisher was able to share some of her techniques with Ubiera, who then passed them along to the volunteers.

“When he saw some of the things I was doing, he just got it instantly, and started doing the same kind of things,” said Fisher. “His workmanship is great.”

The sheer size and weight of the mosaic made it a complex project. There were many logistics that had to be considered, such as the man hours it required, the limitations of the space they were working in, where to put new tiles that were coming in by the truck load, and once it was completed, how to move the mosaic miles from where it was assembled without it falling apart.

“It was a tough job, but it was worth it,” said Ubiera. “It was definitely worth it.”

The Process

Ubiera had to synthesize the 14 children’s drawings into a single design for the mosaic. He took scans of the original drawings and traced them using a computer sketch program. Once the drawings were in digital form, he positioned them into a circular layout to match the shape of the splash pad. He removed all the color, but left the outlines from each drawing, ensuring the children’s artwork was clearly translated.

The mosaic had to be made with federally approved non-slip tiles, which come in a limited color palette. For this reason, the colors in the mosaic couldn’t always match the exact colors in the children’s drawings. About 40 different colors were used, but there were still limitations that the artists and volunteers had to work around. If they wanted to do a pink shirt, for example, they would have to play a “visual trick” and use alternating red and white tiles, which when seen from afar, turns into pink.

It took about four months to complete the mosaic, which was made in 16 sections, called “pies.” Each pie measured 26 feet by 10 ½ feet, and because of their large size, had to be placed on the floor, rather than on a table, to lay the tiles. To continue the pattern from one pie to the next, Ubiera and the volunteers discovered that the best method was to do two pies at a time, and then cut off the last two feet of the last pie and leave it on the floor. The remainder of the two pies was cut into smaller sections, moved to the room next door, and stacked between sheets of cardboard. A large paper print out was made of each section of the mosaic, and then used as a pattern to follow when laying the tiles. The tiles were placed on “sticky mesh,” which held them in place, but also allowed for repositioning. Once the tiles were in place, a strong adhesive tape was put on top.

“This might be the biggest mosaic in Florida, if not the U.S., done this way,” said Ubiera, “with over one million pieces, done by hand, with volunteers. What you can achieve, especially with group support, is amazing. It’s mind boggling to think that people did this by hand, kneeling down, one inch at a time — it’s just too much. But that is the power of the volunteers.”

The Next Phase

The mosaic splash pad is the first of three phases in the initiative called the Sullivan Park “Art in the Park” experience. Two other public art projects are planned for the park: a treatment to a walkway along the water’s edge that will run underneath the Hillsboro Blvd. bridge and connect to The Cove Shopping Center; and a treatment to a new staircase that leads from the Hillsboro Blvd. bridge to Sullivan Park. There are no set start dates for the next two phases, however, the City will likely seek to partner again with the Community Foundation of Broward for another “Art of Community” grant.

One of the primary goals of the park’s redevelopment was to increase public access to the waterfront, which qualified it for a $2.03 million grant from the Florida Inland Navigation District, the entity that manages Florida’s portion of the Intracoastal Waterway. Another goal was to create a more pleasant park space that would provide an amenity to The Cove Shopping Center and the surrounding community, and attract tourism dollars.

The new mosaic splash pad raises the park’s profile even higher, acting as a magnet to draw people to the area. As the City’s first public art project, it was an opportunity to engage residents of all walks of life, ages and races in the creative process. It is the crown jewel of a little park with a big purpose.

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MEET THE ARTISTS

RUBEN UBIERA

As a boy growing up in the Dominican Republic, Ruben Ubiera got his first artistic training from his uncle, a priest who was the principal and art teacher at the Catholic school he attended. He learned how to draw and paint in a strict, orderly, Neoclassical style. At age 15, when he moved with his family to the Bronx, N.Y., his perception of art was turned upside down. In his new surroundings, he had his first real exposure to graffiti art.

“One day, I saw this guy paint the side of building. It had a door, an AC unit, and a dead rat on the window sill, rotting away — and he went right over it. He painted over everything in less than two minutes, then left. I could not absorb it fast enough, and just stood there watching in amazement,” said Ubiera. “To me, it was like: Wow, how free is this? Because here I am. I’m not even supposed to paint out of the lines.”

Although he never actually painted graffiti, he was drawn to the rapidity and immediacy of it.

A year later, Ubiera and his family briefly returned to the Dominican Republic – where his father had been a lawyer and the editor-in-chief of a leading national newspaper – then moved back to the U.S., this time settling in Salem, Mass. He moved to Florida after receiving a full-tuition Fernando Botero International Scholarship to the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. He was chosen out of 60,000 students.

After earning his degree, he worked for over a decade at several ad agencies. He had a good salary but felt his work in the ad agency world become “more and more empty.” In 2007, when his mother died, he began to take stock of his life.

“She was gone, and I realized I had never done a painting for her,” said Ubiera. “Not because I couldn’t – because I had all of the capabilities — but because I didn’t consider myself an artist.”

So, he did the first painting he had done in a long time, and it was of her.

At around that same time, he was laid off from his job. He decided to dedicate himself to his art. He preferred the freedom of graffiti, so created a style he calls Post-graffism, which is a more formal and thought out version of the art form.

“I learn so much from what I see in the streets, and then I apply it to my art, every day,” said Ubiera.

The goal of the mosaic in Sullivan Park is “to make something very permanent as part of public art,” he said. “It will never fade, and that’s one of the aspects of the mosaic that I like a lot. It’s always going to be there for generations to come.”

Now that the Sullivan Park mosaic is completed, Ubiera plans to spend some time in his studio in Miami’s Wynwood Art District, which is known for its street art. He wants to create “Ruben Ubiera-moving-in-a-new-direction” kind of work, including small-scale mosaics that people can put in their homes. He also plans to do graffiti-driven mosaic public art projects.

“The way that my career is going is perfect,” he said.

CYNTHIA FISHER 

Cynthia Fisher has been a professional artist for over 25 years, but has focused on mosaics since 2000. An aspect that she likes best about the medium is that a lot of the laying patterns are rooted in the Roman mosaics, especially when using one-inch tiles like the Sullivan Park project.

“As a mosaic artist, I’m always calling on that history of the way the Romans did it. It informs all my work, and is just a big part of what mosaics are,” said Fisher. “Everything that is happening in the Sullivan Park mosaic is rooted in the way Romans laid mosaic tile.”

There are many things that make this project stand out from the other art projects Fisher has worked on.

“In my career of doing mosaics, this is by far the largest project that I’ve ever been involved in. It’s just huge. Especially using the one-inch tiles, it’s a big project.”

What also made the project unique for Fisher was that she was working on someone else’s design.

“I always do my own design work, so it was different for me,” she said, “but I really enjoyed working on Ruben’s design.”

Before becoming an award-winning mosaic artist, Fisher had a varied career path. She graduated from the University of Maine with high honors in Wildlife Biology. After spending time in the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer, she worked for the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service.

Although she started out with a science background, she eventually found her calling.

“When I had those jobs, I always tried to find some kind of an art angle, so I was in charge of doing the exhibits, or if there was a flyer, I would design the flyer; anything that was borderline art is what I gravitated towards. And then I decided to make the switch and go back to school for something more in line with who I am as a person – the art.”

She studied illustration at the Art Institute of Boston and for a number of years worked as an illustrator of children’s books and magazines. It was then that she made her first mosaic and discovered her passion.

“I remember as a kid I had a craft book my Mom gave me that had a picture of mosaics in it, and I remember thinking, ‘I really want to do this someday,’” said Fisher.

In addition to doing public art projects, Fisher creates installations in residential settings and teaches workshops. She also does mosaic projects at schools in the Boston area, with all the students helping to assemble a mosaic made for their school. As a volunteer, she has initiated and led five community projects in Guatemala, giving local people hands-on experience in creating mosaics, and she plans to keep going back.

“I love this medium and I really love sharing it with other people,” she said.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • The Community Foundation of Broward ($75,000)
  • The Deerfield Beach Community Redevelopment Agency
  • Kiwanis Club of Deerfield Beach (Corporate Sponsor – $25,000)
  • Deerfield Beach Cultural Committee
  • Greater Deerfield Beach Chamber of Commerce
  • GFWC Woman’s Club of Deerfield Beach
  • Deerfield Beach Rotary Club International
  • Steve Scaggs, Two George’s Restaurant
  • Mike Boss, MBR Construction
  • Christy Haney
  • Brenda Abshear
  • Stuart Clark
  • Lisa Watson

A Few Winners of the Children’s Art Contest 

The design used for the mosaic overlay of the new splash pad in Sullivan Park is a synthesis of drawings made by 14 Deerfield Beach children who participated in a contest organized by the city’s Public Art Committee. The children were invited to do an artwork that represented their idea of “Fun in Deerfield Beach.” All of the winners are children who attend the Art With A Heart after-school program offered at the Jim and Jan Moran Boys and Girls Club in Deerfield Beach. Four of the children shared their thoughts about having their artwork selected to be part of the mosaic.

Allison, 14, drew a deer with antlers that are trees depicting different seasons.

“I was really happy that I won because I wanted to be a part of our city through my art. It’s going to be permanent, and will be there forever. I think it’s really good that kids are going to be around artwork that was made by other kids. It kind of gives them inspiration that they can do that as well.”

Adjanie, 12, drew a Renaissance woman, a reference to the Deerfield Beach Renaissance Festival.

“When I look at the mosaic and see my drawing, I’ll just tell everybody, ‘That was me that did it! That was me.’ It feels like I did something in life that’s going to be history, and going to stay forever and ever, and nobody’s going to do anything to it. In 20 years, I can come back and still see my drawing from when I was 11.”

Cassidy, 12, drew the beach at sunset.

“I like that it’s there. I was just doing it for fun. I didn’t know I knew how to draw – I thought I was a bad drawer, so it made me feel better about my drawing. When I see it, I’ll feel good, like one of those big-time artists.”

Neissa, 13, drew a girl surfing at Deerfield Beach.

“I just feel excited. I was very proud when I found out I was picked. It took me about 2 ½ weeks to do my drawing. I worked on it two or three hours a day. Knowing that people will see it in the park or from the bridge, I just feel good, and proud.”

DEDICATED VOLUNTEERS

Gordon Vatch

The Kiwanis Club of Deerfield Beach was the corporate sponsor of the project, donating $25,000.

“I just think it’s a fantastic project,” said Gordon Vatch, immediate past president of the club, and one of the dedicated volunteers who worked on the mosaic. “I think the city’s going to be very proud of it, and we’re very proud to be a part of it.”

As the lead sponsor, the Kiwanis Club received naming rights to the splash pad: In the center of the mosaic is a large Kiwanis Club logo set in tile.

“We’re very excited about that,” said Vatch. “When this came about, we thought, what a fantastic legacy this would be for our club to have our name out there.”

“Deerfield has become an international city,” said Vatch. “It’s no longer the sleepy little town it used to be, so it’s going to be exciting to see kids from all over the world come and play on the splash pad, including adults, including myself.”

Jim Higgins

Jim Higgins, who is on the Public Art Committee and the Deerfield Beach Cultural Committee, worked on the mosaic from the very beginning, coming three or four times a week, and working about 3 ½ hours a day.

“To have an artwork like this, and have the public working on it, improves the overall cultural environment of the city,” said Higgins. “It raises the cultural awareness and the overall intelligence of a community. I see it as Deerfield Beach really coming of age in a sense.”

For Higgins, a trained artist, learning the whole process of creating and installing a mosaic has been the most rewarding aspect of his hands-on participation in the project, because he hopes to eventually do mosaics of his own.

“I think this is just wonderful. Not only does it beautify the space and make the space useable, but it involves the community in such a wonderful way.”

Wendy and Barry Lieberman 

Barry and Wendy Lieberman worked on the mosaic for several months, often putting in about six hours a day.

“We live a quarter of a mile away from the park,” said Wendy. “It’s our backyard, so it’s a commitment to the community, it’s a responsibility as a resident.”

Barry, a member of the Public Art Committee, did his part to get the community involved, recruiting volunteers. Barry has been painting for about 30 years, but had never done mosaic art before.

“The most rewarding part of working on the project,” Barry said, “has been, as an artist, being able to participate in another type of art, and in something that always attracted me.”

For Wendy, it was rewarding to see the sections being completed, and to be able to say, “Wow! We did this, and look at how good it looks.”

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