Painting the town
Local artists paint the town with colorful visual images to draw community interest.
Gus Bomgardner’s art delivers messages through renderings painted on windows, outdoor buildings and other mediums.
Bomgardner recently completed a series depicting the military seals of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marines and the U.S. Coast Guard. The display at Callahan Barbecue’s windows also includes a silhouette of a kneeling soldier with the phrase, “Remembering those who gave all.”
“It was just something I wanted to do to honor those that gave all,” said Bomgardner. “I had the idea (at the time) for the upcoming Memorial Day.”
After getting permission from Callahan Barbecue owner Danny Murray to paint the project, Bomgardner spent seven days and 70 hours, including touch-ups, to complete it. He worked at night and added the images with the aid of a projector. Once the image was traced by hand, he filled in the details with latex paint. Bomgardner completed the work for free and expressed appreciation for Murray’s willingness to allow him to render the images onto glass.
“I couldn’t do it if I didn’t have the canvas,” he said.
When Bomgardner asked to start the project, Murray was all for it.
“I jumped on that,” he said. “We’re just blessed to have it. He did everything. He wouldn’t let me give him any money for it. He gets all the credit for doing that, but, that’s just Gus. He’s such a great guy.”
Bomgardner plans to update the images by removing the kneeling soldier image and adding art to highlight first responders.
“That would be awesome,” Murray said.
Bomgardner moved to western Nassau as a third-grader in 1971 and attended Callahan Elementary School. His artistic abilities began to flourish after high school. “I’ve always loved drawing – when I was little, coloring,” Bomgardner recalled. “I never pursued it. I took a few classes after graduation.”
He worked various jobs before joining the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office for a time and he was also a member of the Coast Guard auxiliary in Fernandina Beach. He was a Nassau County first responder as well as a volunteer firefighter before retiring in 2010. Bomgardner began window painting projects around 2014 after learning how to do it by watching YouTube videos.
“I thought it would be neat to try for something to do,” he said.
Sometimes he accepts payment for his work. Other times, he does it for free.
“I do a lot of canvas work,” he added. “I’ve done some wall murals. I’ve done some wood art for area businesses.”
He’s put his artistic touch on Carrie’s Florist, El Dorado Mexican Restaurant, Gator’s Discount Outlet, First Coast Pawn and More, Winn Dixie, the former Flash Foods and First Baptist Church of Callahan. R&R Wing Café in Hilliard, Junior’s Seafood and Grill locations in Callahan and Yulee, Jacksonville’s Gore’s Nursery and Sam’s Club on Dunn Avenue have also featured his art.
Winn Dixie Manager Jared Murphy said the painted windows featuring West Nassau’s iconic Warrior emblem, a tomahawk, a football, pom-poms and a megaphone represent the community.
“Winn Dixie, Southeast-ern Grocers – our parent com-
pany, we very much want to be involved in the communities we serve,” he added. “West Nassau High School is a central part of the community and we wanted to showcase his artwork.”
Bomgardner painted a Mexican-themed drawing of two cacti on the windows at El Dorado Mexican Restaurant for Cinco de Mayo. He’s painted the windows at least twice this year.
“He’s great,” said restaurant manager and co-owner Miguel Ruiz. “He does a really good job. It makes the windows look awesome. It’s different when someone local can do that. It’s great for us.”
Ruiz also likes the military-themed art at Callahan Barbecue.
“I think he really outdid himself,” he said. “I really do think it’s awesome – 100 percent.”
Bomgardner’s renderings also include portraits of children and family, which he reproduces from photographs. He once presented wife Mary with a color portrait of her late parents, Betty and Bill Lunsford, which he did from a vintage black and white photograph.
He also enjoys creating Bible-themed art.
“I try to push toward realistic stuff – landscapes and seascapes,” Bomgardner said. “I’m wanting more Bible stories and themes.”
He attributes his artistic leanings to God.
“The Lord’s given me the talent and ability to do this and I want to do this for His glory,” he said.
Karen Clifton takes a whimsical approach to her artwork. She recently painted a colorful display of Noah’s Ark at a local shop along U.S. 1 in Callahan.
The former Noah’s Arc, recently under new ownership with a name change to Noah’s Ark II, displays animals afloat in the vessel as well as a pair of giraffes. On another window, Clifton brushed in flowers and verbiage to alert shoppers of the store’s rear entrance.
The Callahan artist has also painted the windows at Small Town Rags.
In 2014, she completed a mural of characters and animals that represent various selections of beverages available at SCW Liquors.
“I come from a long line of artists and creative people,” Clifton said.
She grew up in Baker County surrounded by artisans. She began drawing and painting as a child. She illustrated two children’s books, “Jack Gives a Smack” and “Mabel is Able” written by her aunt, Beth Evans Caldwell.
Grandfather Milton Meeks built furniture and
did woodcarving. Grand-mother Mable crafted jewelry, sewed and crocheted. Mother Carol Baker is a multi-medium artist who lives in Baker County.
Like Bomgardner, Clifton has created murals of all types, completing about 10 projects a year. She has also painted whimsical flowers and other motifs on furniture, creating personalized signs and even decorating graduation caps for commencement.
“I love whimsical,” Clifton said. “My signature thing is I outline in black.”
She described her penchant for acrylics and how she applies white paint to provide the foundation for her window displays.
“I jut love to put paint somewhere,” Clifton said. “It calms me. It’s just an outlet and it just makes me feel good to spread color and joy around town – anywhere.”