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History and Heritage

Featured Photo from History and Heritage

Local artist pays homage to the pillars of Oviedo’s black history while beautifying one of the city’s most popular parks

When it comes to black history, Oviedo artist Xavier Moss says, national icons such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks are usually the first people who come to mind.

“But we also have our own unsung heroes locally,” says Xavier. “It’s worth delving into their pasts to see what they did for the community we’re now living in.”

For that reason, Xavier was honored to be chosen to paint a mural at Round Lake Park that’s devoted to Oviedo’s rich black history. In late 2018, the city’s Public Arts Board put out a call to artists for designs that would transform a nondescript racquetball court wall at the park into artwork celebrating the city’s vibrant African-American history, culture, and traditions.

Before starting the sketching and painting process, Xavier did extensive research at the Oviedo library and online. His artistic goal was for the mural to be linked to families who still live in the city, so he included portraits of several local individuals – all now deceased – who made key contributions to the Oviedo community. Two of those featured include Hal King, a Major League Baseball player who was a catcher for several teams, and Harry “Big Newt” Boston, Sr., who founded and coached the Oviedo Black Hawks and Lady Black Hawks youth baseball teams. The city’s Boston Hill Park is named in Big Newt’s honor.

Others pictured in the mural include Marie Jones Francis, a Seminole County resident who was a midwife to families in Oviedo and beyond; Gladys Holmes Smith, a teacher, community volunteer, and the mother of current City Council member Judith Dolores Smith; and Henry Jackson, a former celery field worker who homesteaded land in the area now known as Jackson Heights. Rounding out the faces on the mural is Prince Butler Boston, an accomplished citrus grower, a leader at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, and the namesake of Boston Hill Cemetery.

Judith says when she gazed upon the finished public art project – including her mother’s likeness – it brought tears to her eyes.

“I am amazed at the detail and the various symbolisms Mr. Moss was able to incorporate within the work,” says Judith. “Many of the comments that I have heard reflect pride that the pioneers of our community have been acknowledged in a bold, colorful fashion. The mural goes a long way in assuring that the history of our community will not be lost. I hope that the mural will also be one of the catalysts to help bring other evidence of our local history to the forefront.” (To read more about Judith’s perspective on black history in Oviedo, turn to page 30.)

Xavier’s intricate design was chosen by the Public Arts Board and the City Council from nine submitted entries, and his initial rendering was unveiled to the public at Oviedo’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration back in January 2019. However, due to construction projects at Round Lake Park, work on the mural was delayed for nearly a year.

The artist was given the green light to begin his work in December 2019, and his mural-in-progress was unveiled to much fanfare at this year’s MLK, Jr. Day event. Xavier completed the artwork in mid-February, after two months of intense focus on the project. The timing was especially fitting, because February is Black History Month.

The Round Lake Park mural was a very challenging undertaking due to its size – the pentagon-shaped wall measures about 40 feet long and 16 feet high at its tallest point. Xavier, who also designed and painted a mural at Oviedo’s Center Lake Park in 2019, had plenty of interaction with curious onlookers.

“There was a good amount of interest in the Round Lake Park mural,” he says. “People would stop by and ask who’s who, and so I was able to have some neat conversations. I was also able to meet some of the family members of people who are depicted in the mural, so that was definitely really cool.”

An Oviedo resident for about 15 years, Xavier works at Lawton Elementary School as an exceptional student education paraprofessional. The 27-year-old graduated from Hagerty High School and the University of Florida with a degree in biological illustration. Ultimately, he aspires to become a full-time professional artist.

“I wanted this mural to be a point of pride for the community,” Xavier says. “If you take pride in your community, then that’s going to generate a feeling of wanting to respect and care for it in many ways.”

Also, creating a piece of art that is specific to Oviedo’s black history could have a positive domino effect on future generations.
“If you go back and check out these local people’s stories, who knows?” Xavier asks. “It might inspire you to do something just as great or greater yet.”

Jonathan Boston, the youngest of Big Newt’s children, says the finished mural brought back fond childhood memories of his father and others who are highlighted in the artwork.

“Their legacy and the stories behind their contributions to Oviedo will live on for years and years to come,” Jonathan says. “It brings a sense of pride and appreciation to see a big part of Oviedo’s African-American community history being memorialized in such a way. I applaud the City of Oviedo for making this happen.”

To learn more about Xavier Moss and his artwork, visit XMossArt.com.

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