One of Florida’s earliest and most popular roadside attractions, Weeki Wachee Spring, may be known more for pretty mermaids than coastal marshes and eye-catching vistas.
But the natural beauty and ecological diversity of the Weeki Wachee, about an hour’s drive north of Tampa, is the setting for a number of my landscape paintings.
Deep pools that reflect the sky like glazed silver, rustic bridges and tranquil paths into the woods are common themes for some of my most popular paintings, as are the subtle shifts of color in the marshes along the Gulf of Mexico. This must be the Florida the Seminole Indians knew long before development spoiled other parts of the coast.
Jenkins Creek, a little north and west of Weeki Wachee Spring, is a setting I’ve used for several paintings. Two parks, a boat ramp, observation deck and fishing pier aren’t enough to spoil some spectacular views. Wildlife abounds. It’s comfortable and not too far off the beaten path. Looking west there’s little to spoil the view.
Weeki Wachee Spring has been a popular Florida tourist destination since the 1950s. It started in 1947 when a former Navy S.E.A.L. swimming instructor, Newton Perry, developed a way for pretty women in mermaid outfits to swim underwater for an extended time.
Perry then built an underground theater so that visitors could watch the mermaids. The shows and theater became more sophisticated. Mermaids entertained with elaborate underwater ballet moves while breathing through hidden air hoses. By the early 1960s it was the hottest ticket in Florida.
Curves as smiles aside, nature and its splendor still holds sway in this part of Florida. When the Seminole Indians named it Weeki Wachee for little spring or winding river, they were not referring to its depth or massive cave systems. The bottom of Weeki Wachee Spring has yet to be found.
While there’s a remote chance I may one day do a mermaid painting, Weeki Wachee Spring caverns en plein air will probably never happen.