By JEFF ROSENFIELD, Suncoast News Nov 25, 2020 Updated Dec 11, 2020
TARPON SPRINGS — As city officials continue to engage in discussions about pending projects designed to improve the visitor experience at the Sponge Docks, including installing a sound system, a live webcam and a new entryway sign, one area merchant decided to beautify his business on his own.
Arnold Serafin, owner of the Serafin de Cuba Cigars shop, recently commissioned a local artist to paint a colorful mural on the side of his building, located at 45 Dodecanese Blvd. near the entrance to the historic tourist district.
The piece, which depicts images from Key West, Cuba and Tarpon Springs, is a tribute to Serafin’s late father, Ramon Serafin Jr., a Cuban native who moved here from New Jersey and always enjoyed talking about history with colleagues, coworkers and customers.
“Part of my inspiration for this project was the death of my father,” Serafin said Nov. 17, a few days after the mural was (mostly) finished. “My dad passed away last year, and he loved chatting about history, especially with his Greek friends. The history of Cuba, and the history of Tarpon Springs. So, my inspiration for the mural was to showcase the history of Tarpon and the connection to Cuba in honor of my father.”
Serafin, who along with his dad opened their original shop a couple of doors down in 2005, describes the mural as “Key West, Tarponized,” and it features several instantly recognizable images including the Anclote Key Lighthouse, a sponge diver, Havana’s famed Morro Castle and the iconic mile-marker buoy denoting the distance from Key West to Cuba with a Tarpon twist. It also shows a plane from the Bay of Pigs invasion flying overhead as well as a fisherman reeling in his catch, presumably a tarpon.
“The whole thing is a crazy concoction of mine,” Serafin said, adding, “I figured the mural would bring Tarpon Springs to Cuba.”
When it came time to bring his “concoction” to life, Serafin turned to Mark DiClemente, a longtime local artist who formed a strong bond with his father soon after they moved to the area from New Jersey.
“Mark is a talented painter,” he said of the man known as the ‘Markelangelo’ of the Docks. “He does a lot of murals in the area and he and my dad had a great relationship, so I immediately thought he was the right person for the project.”
DiClemente, a graduate of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh who painted the bright blue mural on the side of the Sponge Factory building, among roughly 50 other works in the area, said the collaboration brought his 30-year career of decorating the docks full circle.
“I ran into Arnold’s father about 13 years ago when he first moved here and he asked me to do a piece for the front of his shop because he knew I did the mural on the other side of the building,” DiClemente said, noting he is the fisherman in the painting. “When he told me about this project I met with Arnold and he gave me an idea of what he wanted. It started with the buoy and it just grew from there.”
Serafin said the mural, which isn’t quite complete, has already been receiving a lot of attention.
“People are pulling up in the parking lot, taking pictures and asking about it,” he said. “In fact, I’ve heard from several people who think we need to have a real buoy like that here at the docks!”
He said he hopes that what started as a small tribute to his dad will leave a lasting impression on the area for many years to come.
“People always say your father was a cigar maker, why did he choose to open a shop in Tarpon Springs and not Tampa, which was once known as the cigar capital of the world?” Serafin said. “I tell them there was something about Tarpon that drew us to this place, like it was meant to be. Tarpon is a special place that is dear to my heart, and that’s why I wanted to do this mural, which showcases our history here.”