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Calusa mural shines in Mound House exhibit

September 12, 2012
By BOB PETCHER, , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

There's a new addition to the Mound House underground exhibit on Fort Myers Beach that will be aesthetically pleasing to those who enjoy visual arts in their learning process.

A 44-foot-long custom-made wall mural has been completed and depicts the life of the Calusa Indians and their site usage at Mound House over the past 1,000 years inside the Town-owned exhibit at 451 Connecticut St. (end of road on left). It was recently completed with the collaborated efforts of Artist Merald Clark, who did the original drawing; Kevin Thomas of Synergy Design Group; who provided the digital painting; and Color Reflections, responsible for the printing and installation.

The mural is part of improvements made to the exhibit, beginning with the construction of a new wall along the north and east side of the exhibit. The east wall is now fitted with a door for authorized access to the exhibit. The room's floor was also stained and colored.

Article Photos

Town of Fort Myers Beach Cultural Resources Environmental Coordinator Parke Lewis stands beside the recently completed custom-made wall mural inside the Mound House Underground Shell Mound Exhibit.

The Calusa mural, which was part of the exhibit's conceptual plan, will enhance the "Stories Beneath Our Feet" Underground Shell Mound Exhibit tours that have restarted after a short hiatus for the improvements. Summer tour hours that run from 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays will continue until Oct. 1.

"This mural brings the underground exhibit alive," said Town Cultural Resources Environmental Coordinator Parke Lewis. "It depicts life on top of a Calusa mound."

Lewis described the scenes in the mural and how it illustrates Matanzas Pass and Sanibel Island.

Fact Box

Mound House programs

"Stories Beneath Our Feet" Underground Shell Mound Exhibit

Summer Tour hours

- Tuesdays at 9 a.m. to noon

- Wednesdays at 9 a.m. to noon

- Saturday at 9 a.m. to noon

NOTE: Summer tour hours apply until Oct. 1. Tour runs every hour; last tour leaves 30 minutes prior to end time. Meet on top of mound by the picnic tables. Donations area appreciated.

"Plants & People" Guided Walk

Summer Tour hours

- Tuesdays at 9 a.m. to noon

- Wednesdays at 9 a.m. to noon

- Saturday at 9 a.m. to noon

NOTE: Summer tour hours apply until Oct. 1. Tour runs every hour; last tour leaves 30 minutes prior to end time. Meet on top of mound by the picnic tables. Donations area appreciated.

--information provided by Sarah Desquesnes

"This really brings to light the shells and archaeology and ancient part of it. The artist made it a very animated piece so that you can see a lot of different aspects of life," he said. "The depiction of Calusa life really brings the exhibit together. As you're talking about history, this is your first real look at what these people looked like."

Regan McBride, who is currently the youth coordinator at Bay Oaks Recreational Campus, served as an intern under former Town Cultural Resources Director and Archaeologist Theresa Schober when the exhibit was in its infant stage.

"Most of our imagery comes from illustrations that were provided by Spanish explorers," she said.

Archaeology and bone make-up also come into play. Researchers were able to re-create facial structures as well, says Lewis.

"Archaeological interpretations can tell you how tall these people were. We know they were taller and healthier than the Spanish explorers that met them. They ate low-fat food such as seafood, fruits and vegetables," he said.

Images of the mural show many younger Indians as compared to older adults, who succumbed to disease and warfare. In one panel, a storm is brewing and campfire smoke and other factors reflect that throughout the full scene.

The work on the mural was funded by a grant provided by the Florida Humanities Council. Final touchups were completed Aug. 31.

The exhibit room is actually a shell mound that was created by removing and excavating a 1950s in-ground swimming pool. Its walls - which hold fish bones, shells, ancient tools and pottery items-describe the Calusa's long history through the layers in the mound.

"By revealing where the pool sat, you can see the different strata of archaeology," said Lewis. "When you dig down to the bottom of the exhibit, you are seeing natural grade elevation. The mound-building process went on for over 1,000 years."

The "Stories Beneath Our Feet" exhibit can be viewed by itself or combined as a dual tour with the Plants & People Trail, a 400-foot winding pathway where tour volunteers show and tell about native landscape and how it was used by early pioneers and indigenous peoples. Well-informed Mound House volunteers run most of the tours.

"We like to first stand on top of the mound and talk about history, why the Calusa wanted to live here and the vast natural resources of the area," said Lewis, who pointed out different items on the mural that may be first discussed on the pathway. "This is the culmination of the experience."

Folks who take the tour can make a direct association from what is involved in the layers of the wall with illustrations in the mural. Private and state archaeologists donate time for consultation and clean up of the exhibit project.

"When you are looking at the mural and I talk about a shell tool that can be seen in the mural, then a visitor is able to look into the wall and actually see shell tools protruding from the wall," said Lewis. 'There's an awl right there, and there's a piece of pottery right over there. All these tools are right here in the archaeological record. The mural pulls it together."

McBride pointed out the exhibit is still lacking fiber-optic lighting in the ceiling, lights for the mural and a final version video that will be shown on tours.

Once the actual Mound House (Estero Island's oldest standing structure) becomes fully restored to its 1921 grandeur, it will become part of the tour or a separate entity for guest viewing.

"When it's finished and the interpretive signage is up, the Plants and People Trail may become a self-guided tour," said Lewis. "But, the underground exhibit will remain a guided tour."

The interpretive signage for the pathway is part of the ongoing project for the property -something that is expected to be completely finished in early 2013. The Town of Fort Myers Beach acquired the Mound House property with funds from Florida Communities Trust in 2000.

The visual depiction of the mural is a picture worth a thousand words.

"Their life was integrally tied to the estuary and Gulf of Mexico," said Lewis. "The mural is all part of the allure."

For those who would like more information on the exhibit, call 765-0865 or email



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