New Mural Brightens Up Historic Whispering Waters Condo

It has never been unusual for Burt and Carol Kline to see pelicans from the porch of their Whispering Waters condominium, located just across Shore Drive from a peaceful stretch of Tampa Bay. But a 15-foot-tall pelican in brilliant shades of purple, blue, and yellow? That’s something only a gorgeous marriage of art and nature ­– and Florida-inspired painter Belinda Davis – could produce. 

The pelican, shown in close-up against a bright turquoise sea, with a glimpse of St. Pete’s historic Inverted Pyramid Pier in the distance, is the subject of a new mural Davis recently finished at the condominium complex. Nestled among the eight midcentury buildings, their lush plantings and tranquil blue pools, the mural makes an inspiring chromatic statement on what was once the patchy gray roof of a transformer bunker.

“Color is my thing,” says Davis. “I think I’ve always seen it where other people don’t.”  

Artist Belinda Davis says, “Color is my thing.”

Swiping through her iPad portfolio, that quality is easy to spot. The St. Pete native draws her inspiration from Florida’s already colorful flora and fauna, but infuses her images with striking, highly saturated tones that make them leap off the canvas. She shows me a coral grouper in bold orange with electric blue spots, a seascape of the Don CeSar where a rainbow of colors dances, like scattered fragments from a prism, off the gentle waves. 

Davis, who is largely self-taught, credits her high school art teacher for recognizing and encouraging her interest in painting. Though she set out to study painting and Hillsborough Community College, administrative changes led her scholarship to dry up before she could begin. And by then, her husband needed to move the family for work. While she turned to property management to help pay the bills, she kept practicing her art on her own. “Art was always there, on the side,” she remembers. By the time she returned to St. Pete in 2010, she had learned enough to begin teaching classes of her own.

Her Pelican/Pier project at Whispering Waters – or, as residents have dubbed him, “Paulie Pelican” – is not her first mural. That honor goes to a scene she painted, at age 13, on the walls of her newborn cousin’s nursery. She also created a memorial tribute to U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla No. 73, inspired by vessels and scenes her family members have experienced while in service, for a wall of the U.S.C.G.A. building in Madeira Beach. 

Whispering Waters is an iconic mid-century complex in the Old Northeast. Image via Zillow

Her choice of image for the Whispering Waters project, so well suited to its environs, came from an acrylic painting she has long treasured – pelicans are one of her favorite Florida critters. To recreate the image, she created a grid of letters and numbers that helped her to lay down large solid blocks of color. On top of that, she filled in the finer details – stroke after stroke after stroke – that give Paulie his feathery depth and texture. A friend, photographer Mark Rapien, helped her capture the entire process in a nifty time lapse montage.

The horizontal surface she was working on posed some special challenges. For much of the morning, it was covered with dew and too wet to work on. By midday, it was baked in direct light that cooked the paint and made it too hard to see. “I’d have to wait until around 4 pm and paint until it got too dark,” she recalls. “Or until the mosquitos got too bad!” Not to mention those long stretches of sitting, squatting, and bending over the hard surface, which took a toll on her body. 

But after more than three months’ labor, she is satisfied with the work. “I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to paint this image on a large scale,” she reflects.

Whispering Waters neighbors agree. “It has certainly added more charm to our beautiful courtyard,” wrote Burt Kline in a recent email to the community. He and Carol were one of five Whispering Waters couples whose financial support made the project possible. Beyond beautifying the landscape, Kline sees the mural as keeping pace with the evolving life of the city around it. “St. Pete has become a mecca for local art. We at Whispering Waters have jumped on that bandwagon.” 

The new Pelican mural has been dubbed Paulie.

This wouldn’t be the first time Whispering Waters helped to set a trend. The complex, which was constructed in 1960, was the first condominium of its kind in the city: a “plush new co-operative venture overlooking Tampa Bay,” reported the St. Petersburg Times in 1960. The complex was modeled on avant-garde developments that builder Lionel Mayell had created in Long Beach, Santa Barbara, and Hollywood. Conceived as a refined housing for wealthy retirees, luxuries in each unit included heating and air conditioning, bathrooms trimmed in Italian marble, and airy kitchens equipped with dishwashers and garbage disposals. Fifty-three units in eight buildings – all with balconies wrapped in a distinctive, delicate metal trim – varied from a small efficiency apartment (valued at $13,000) to penthouse ($45,000). 

From where I stand on the breezy balcony of the Klines’ condo, with the ever-changing view of Tampa Bay and the city’s new Pier beyond, Davis’s mural seems to capture so much of what makes living in St. Pete special. It depicts natural Florida, tinted with the brilliant light of our love and fascination for this unique place – the vibrant colors it projects in our imaginations. It reminds me of something Davis says, reflecting on her own evolution as an artist. “We are all born to create,” she insists. “We all have it within us, we just put limitations on it.”

In other words, when you find inspiration – whether it’s creating an extraordinary mural or investing in the beauty and creativity of your community – you’ve got to fly with it. I smile down at Paulie, knowing he’ll understand. 

Check out the video of Belinda Davis creating her mural at