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  • Jayne Lisbeth

Random Acts of Art: Drive-By-Vacation Day in Dunedin

Our latest call to adventure arrived on the Monday after July 4th. We had been locked in our home throughout the July 4th blasts of fireworks and screaming meanies. We were both screaming meanies by the end of the weekend.

Tim recognized my disgruntled slouch towards coffee and studied me as I poured my morning brew. The symptoms of cabin fever had erupted again. My perceptive husband quickly diagnosed my affliction. On a whim he said, “Let’s go to Dunedin!” Immediately my mood lifted, symptoms of CF disappeared and I found myself humming through my morning chores.

We looked at one another as we decided on our newest Drive-By-Vacation. I hadn’t worn make-up in weeks. My hair was a mess. Tim, unshaved, wore a torn tee shirt and his boxer shorts. “Do I need to put on makeup? If we go anywhere no one will see anything besides my mask, anyway.”

“No, of course not. We probably won’t even get out of the car.” I chewed over Tim’s words, put on make-up, jewelry, did my hair and changed my ensemble. One can only hope, I told myself as I carefully applied eye makeup. After all, some things were better not left to chance. Our destination was another environment besides our own with other faces besides ours. I was excited with the prospect of other homes, views and Gulf vistas. That alone was something to celebrate with make-up and a fetching summery outfit.

Dunedin is one our favorite little coastal towns. The unique shops and fun restaurants along Main Street are always a treat. The Farmer’s Market, with a varied array of fresh produce, artisan breads, home canned goodies, jams and relishes as well as wonderful clothing and crafty items never fails to lift the soul and spirits. Stirling Galleries, tucked away in a large upstairs space, was one in which Tim had shown his art in the past. Stirling is a well-respected and favorite gallery of the locals, artists and art lovers throughout the Tampa Bay area. The gallery is a co-op, adding to the talented offerings of art and the dedication of member artists.

Beyond the downtown are pristine beaches caressed by Gulf waters with views of Caladesi and Honeymoon Islands. Magnificent old mansions set back from Gulf views on manicured lawns, settled amid ancient palms and shrubs and surrounded by colorful and well-tended flower gardens reminds one of days long gone. “Delightful Dunedin” was just the fix for our quarantine blues. Even if we couldn’t visit the shops and restaurants, there were many other little streets and avenues to explore on our Drive-By-Vacation Day.

We needed the Bay, the water, our beautiful beaches. We drove over the Causeway and were refreshed and exhilarated by the ruffling breezes and wind struck bay, sparkling like diamonds. The relaxation of watching waves roll in and sailboats launched across them was enticing. I recognized Spinnaker Cove across the water, the home I had purchased after my children left for college. It was my first completely independent nest, shared frequently with Tim.

The sparkling blue Tampa Bay waters acted as a weight lifted as we breathed deeply perfumed sea air. The mood of the water is always interesting. The waves or the calmness is an important reflection of the perfection of our world which always transports me to peace in my soul. The random boat spearing through the crystalised marine blue surface provided more waves. The diving seabirds searching for a meal was much-needed entertainment.

We decided to begin this Drive-By-Vacation in Clearwater, then continue to Dunedin via route Alternate 19 and to aptly nicknamed “Delightful Dunedin”.

Clearwater Beach was closed but we had no desire to mingle in the heat and humanity during the quarantine. The Gulf water views and breezes did not disappoint, even from a distance. We decided to wander through Dunedin streets where we had never explored previously.

We drove past the Fenway Hotel. It’s history had always intrigued me. It was built in 1924 and had a true jazz age reputation with all that entailed. It was also the home to the county’s first radio station. Eventually, it had fallen on hard times and we were thrilled when it was returned to its historical beauty. We were awestruck by it’s transformation. Unfortunately, we drove by too quickly for me to snap a photo. We decided to go around the block for another view.

As is so often the case with Tim and I we immediately became lost and disorientated. Our loss became a tremendous gain. We ended up in a little neighborhood, Fenway Park, and were struck by an amazing sight: the street of enchanted mailboxes. Dozens of mailboxes crafted into artful, comedic, outlandish extravagant mail receptacles were laced through front yards. You could hardly call these mailboxes. They had been reborn as mermaids, Flamingos, bicycles, possums, turtles, a bagpiper, fish with gaping mouths, pelicans, a Yellow Submarine, and shell encrusted works of beauty. We were astounded. They were random acts of art. Who knew these delightful mailbox creations existed in Dunedin? With Dunedin’s artful history, it should have been no surprise. We stopped at mailbox after mailbox, snapping photos, exclaiming loudly, getting out of the car, posing with the mailboxes. It was our usual crazy Drive-By-Vacation antics.

Our presence was not missed. Eventually one woman came out of her home as we drove by for the third time. She held her broom threateningly and studied us closely.

“Uh oh. We might have been trespassing on that lady’s personal space.” Tim looked nervous and rolled down his window.

“Hi, we were just admiring all the fabulous mailboxes on your streets. Hope you don’t mind our taking photos.” She smiled at us broadly, obviously pleased with our interest. I hoped she could detect the smiles behind our masks.

“No, not at all. In fact, these streets are known for our mailboxes. All the neighbors just started getting decorative, one thing led to another. You know, artists.” She chuckled. “It became almost a competition. And here we are.”

We chatted for a few moments and made the woman’s acquaintance, Bette Saiberlich. She was an artist herself, one of the co-op members of the Stirling Gallery.

“I showed there, years ago.” Tim replied. I wondered how much space ships, nudity and floating body parts were depicted in the paintings he had shown there. This woman didn’t appear to be into Tim’s more avante garde, signature art.

“Well, Stirling is closed due to the quarantine. Since I’m a member I can take you over, I’ve got the keys. I do prints.” Of course, we were delighted. Tim is also an etcher and printmaker. We own a beautiful Intaglio Press which he wants to begin etching on again. Any artist gravitates to another, so we were off and running.

We met at the Sterling Gallery and found that indeed, Bette’s prints were impressive. They were etchings and woodcuts with a very refined quality, well printed and presented. Her work had a cool underlining originality. We were awed by her art. Obviously, floating body parts and spaceships would not be a problem with Bette, as with most artists.

She provided us with a full description and history of the “Mailbox Marvels of Delightful Dunedin” in a book she had created, published and gifted to us. In it were all the mailboxes, many of which we had not viewed on our wandering through the neighborhood. Bette is now working on a second edition of her Mailbox Marvels. We couldn’t imagine how more mailboxes could be added to the first edition, there were so many astounding beauties already.

We left enthralled and thrilled with Bette’s introduction to Dunedin’s random acts of art. Had we not misplaced the Fenway Hotel and gotten lost in the adjacent neighborhood we never would have discovered these wondrous delights. Our curiosity and love of art encouraged us to take photos of the mailboxes. Had we not done so we never would have met Bette or discovered the neighborhood artists colony. Getting lost in Dunedin was another plus. That’s the beauty of our Drive-By-Vacations. We never know what we’ll find, who we’ll meet, or where we’ll end up.

Thank you, Bette and Dunedin, for a delightful quenching of our thirst for scenic views and anything not related to Coronavirus. From an early morning whim to flights of whimsy in a Dunedin neighborhood it had been a perfect Drive-By-Vacation day. We can’t wait to return when CV departs to peruse the artful shops, Farmers Market and array of terrific restaurants of Delightful Dunedin.

















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