Directly across from DeLand’s Museum of African American Arts, the Dr. Noble “Thin Man” Watts Amphitheater is ablaze with color with a freshly painted mural by internationally acclaimed artist Moses Sun.
Mr. Sun traveled from Seattle, Washington on April 26 to lead efforts to complete the mural, which he designed in Seattle.
Dr. Watts is best known as one of the preeminent R&B tenor saxophonists of the 1950s. Cultural events, including an annual jazz festival in his honor, take place in the amphitheater named after him.
When I step back and look at the mural, it motivates me,” said Museum Director Mary Allen, owner of the amphitheater. “The colors blend together and look so refreshing. We were thinking of something that would get the community to come together and come see what was going on. A place where they can come and enjoy events or even organize their own events because it is for rent. Getting something like this revives the community.
She added: “Everyone knows (Dr Watts). It makes them proud to see it on a big wall. When people drive by, they know who he is or they can ask who he is. This (mural) brings it to life.
Besides the silhouette of a saxophone player and some musical notes, the accompanying abstract art can inspire people to have their own interpretations and feelings, she said.
Professors and students from the creative arts department at Stetson University helped Mr. Sun complete the mural, including video mapping his creation with precision on the architecture.
Katie Baczeski, who teaches 3D art at the university, said her creative arts colleagues created a committee after the Black Lives Matter movement to fight racism and increase diversity, equity and inclusion. They knew the museum and thought it would be a good partner once they formed the band.
“For this particular project, we applied for a Nina B. Hollis Impact Grant,” Ms. Baczeski said. “We contacted a variety of artists and he was the one who was available on time. His work is quite abstract, so it kind of lends itself to a backdrop that isn’t necessarily too heavy in message. This one, you can read a bit more about everything you see in terms of abstract music, jazz. The background is lively but does not describe any specific situation.
Althea Shavers and children from Deland Boys & Girls Clubs painted different designs that local artists had drawn on the front of the stage. Other community members stopped by and helped out as well.
A lifelong artist, Mr. Sun, 50, said, “For me, this is not a drawing but a conceptual sketch of what is to come. It’s to commemorate ‘Thin Man’ but it’s also about the neighborhood, it’s about the community, it’s about the energy of the community and all that he brought to it . What I really love is the collaborative nature of it all between the Museum of African Art and Stetson University and the neighborhood.
The first mural he worked on was a Black Lives Matter mural during the 2020 uprising and protest in Seattle.
“A bunch of us just picked a letter and we didn’t coordinate any design or anything, we didn’t do any committees,” Sun said. “I made the ‘M’ for Moses, not because of my name but Moses is my father’s name. He has always been involved in the community. It has gone from a protest piece of art to a monument. It attracted international attention.
In the end, his group had to redo the entire mural to properly preserve it.
As for his time in Florida, he said, “I lived everywhere and got to experience music in different places. It’s an amazing opportunity to connect with a community I had no idea I had. It is a mixture of diasporas. My way of working is like an artistic activation. Art activates space. I intentionally work in abstraction because I want people to bring their own interpretations to things and not be so literal.
The mural will be officially recognized at an upcoming community event.
The amphitheater and museum are in the 300 block of South Clara Avenue. For more information, visit africanmuseumdeland.org or mosessun.studio.