By Ed Offley
Visitors to Pier Park beginning this month will have the opportunity of learning about the enormous variety of sea life in the Gulf of Mexico as they walk from the east parking lot to the storefronts on Pier Park Drive.
Thanks to a private partnership between Pier Park and SkyWheel Panama City Beach, the 53-foot pedestrian breezeway between Smoothie King and Kilwins Chocolate & Ice Cream has been transformed into an “underwater tunnel” featuring painted images of local sea life. Artist Kollet Hardeman, who specializes in outdoor murals, was selected to paint the two 15-by-53-foot wall murals and a larger rendition on the breezeway ceiling.
Born and raised in Tallahassee, Hardeman said she has been fascinated with painting since her elementary school years. “I was always that kid in class who was coloring all of the time,” she said. Currently a resident of Auston, Texas, Hardeman said she was delighted to return to Panama City Beach for the project.
After a brief career in mortgage banking, Hardeman – still driven to be a painter – became interested in creating outdoor murals. Over the past decade, she has completed 81 separate projects in Florida and Texas, including a sea life mural at the Days Inn by Wyndham at 12818 Front Beach Road.
“It just took off,” she said of mural art. “I learned how to contain my energy.”
For the Pier Park breezeway, Hardeman applied a primer coat, then added layers of sea foam blue, teal and dynamic blue background paint for the underwater background. During a week of dawn-to-dusk brushwork late last month, she added images of local sea life. This includes Pompano, Sergeant Major, Snapper, Grouper, Mahi Mahi, Leatherback Turtle, Dolphin, Queen Angel, Sheepshead and Octopus. Crowning the project is a massive rendition of a Great White Shark overhead.
The $25,000 mural is the first private project approved by the city’s Public Art Committee since its inception last year, according to committee Chair Helen Ferrell. Aware of the growing popularity of outdoor art, the city formed the panel to review public art works for quality and – equally important – durability.
“You don’t want to have something go up that won’t last very long,” Ferrell told PCB Life. Our climate is harsh on objects resting outdoors, particularly paintings and sculptures. “We want to make sure that this is something that is going to last.”
Pier Park Marketing Director Lee Ann Leonard said that the proliferation of public art in Bay County, including mural projects cropping up in Panama City, had triggered the idea of transforming the blank pedestrian tunnel into artwork.
“Because of Pier Park’s proximity to the beach and fishing pier, transforming the breezeway into an underwater tunnel seemed like a natural fit,” Leonard said.
Leonard credited Hardeman for recommending an educational element to the mural project. Pier Park plans to mount a bronze plaque in the breezeway containing an index of the sea life featured in the artwork. Families can try to match the images to the index.