A Central Florida artist has turned one side of Orange City resident Rick Ewart’s home into a piece of public art that can be enjoyed by visitors to Mill Lake Park.
The mural is 24 feet wide and 11 feet high. It’s titled St. John’s Basin Wildlife and depicts a scene along the St. Johns River that includes images of the many animals Ewart worked with over the course of his career as a park ranger.
With a large, blank canvas on the side of his home, Ewart saw the perfect opportunity to let his friend, artist Natasha Callahan, cover it with art. After three months of work, his home at 373 E. Rose Ave. has become a public feature of Mill Lake Park.
“Ranger Rick,” as Ewart likes to be called, is retired and lives at home with his golden retriever, Lyla Belle. A writer and musician, Ewart enjoys spending time at Blue Spring State Park and talking about history and wildlife with his friends. The former park ranger said he loves the natural view of Mill Lake Park out his front window.
“This park is really the jewel of Orange City,” he said. “This and Blue Spring.”
The City of Orange City is a big fan of the new mural, too. Ewart’s house isn’t far from Orange City Mayor Gary Blair’s home.
“I see the mural when I ride my bike around Mill Lake Park,” Blair told The Beacon. “It reflects our history and brightens the neighborhood.”
While DeLand has a Public Mural Art Committee whose permission prospective muralists must get before they can begin work, Orange City law categorizes murals as signs.
“Under the City Sign Code for Original Art Displays, staff will evaluate lighting, if used, to make sure there isn’t a glare or nuisance to neighbors, colors and materials to make sure they complement the structure and aren’t gaudy or unnatural, and the display to see that it respects the architecture of the building,” Orange City Public Information Coordinator Danielle FitzPatrick said. “The display must be maintained in good condition. If not, the City may require it to be removed and the façade restored to original condition.”
In Ewart’s landscape, the mural joins laser lights that decorate the trees at night and various pieces of carved Indonesian teak in his front yard. The retired naturalist and social worker loves that his home has become a piece of public art.
Mural artist moved from Ukraine in 2015
She worries about her adult children, other family members still there
Creating the mural St. John’s Basin Wildlife wouldn’t have been possible without Natasha Callahan’s hard work and artistic eye.
Based now in Longwood, she moved to Florida from Ukraine in 2015.
In her home country, Callahan worked a lot of different jobs. She studied engineering and psychology in college, and worked as a psychologist after graduating. In her 30s, Callahan changed paths and took a job as a choral teacher. It was unlike any work she had previously done, but her passion for the arts drove her forward.
Her love of painting started when she was just a kid.
“It all started when I was 9 years old,” Callahan said.
Her parents arranged for her to enter art competitions.
“I don’t know how, but I won it, and it inspired me,” she said.
The painting that netted Callahan her first win was an illustration of an old fairy tale. As a child, she was mostly painting with watercolors , but nowadays oils are her favorite.
In 2015, once her children, Roman and Andreii, had moved away from home, Callahan moved to the U.S. The conflicts that precipitated the all-out Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year had already begun in 2014. While Callahan was scared, she fell in love with Florida’s natural beauty.
“I remember when I flew here, and from the plane I saw all the lakes; it was so beautiful,” she said.
After living in the U.S. for some time, Callahan came to realize how much of what she had learned about America and Americans growing up in the USSR was flat-out propaganda.
She grew up learning Americans were greedy and exploitative, but that hasn’t been her experience in Florida, she said.
Callahan works a number of odd jobs to help facilitate her painting career. When Ewart asked her to paint the side of his home, she jumped on the opportunity.
“Take that wall,” Ewart told Callahan. “As big as you want.”
“I loved the idea so much,” she said. “It was exactly what I dreamed.”
While Callahan loves her work in the U.S., she finds herself often worried about her family still living in Ukraine.
Her parents live in southeast Ukraine, and her adult children recently left their home near the ongoing battles with Russia to live near the country’s western border.
It’s hard to watch what’s happening to her home country, she said, and while it’s bittersweet to be so far from family, she’s happy to be in Central Florida, making art.
More photos of Callahan’s art are available on her website, www.ncallahan.com.
Ewart, who also goes by the name Ian Ritchie Stewart, has art to show off, too. On his website, www.lostsoulsofparadise.com, Ewart has more information about his original novel, Lost Souls of Paradise, and his original music.