‘The Magic River’ is coming to life, piece by piece, on new City Centre parking garage

Depictions of musicians, baseball players, skateboarding, fishing and a river all made of brightly colored tile have started to stretch across the new City Centre parking garage in downtown Bradenton as part of a soon-to-be completed mural.

The ceramic tile mosaic, “The Magic River” is about 6 feet tall and stretches 120 feet along the north side of the facility and brings the $13.8 million garage another step closer to completion.

Every 10 feet is a new image or theme. A streak of bright blue tile runs through the mural represents the Manatee River, connecting each one.

The artist, James Simon, of Pittsburgh, was wearing a straw sombrero hat Tuesday as he and a small group of assistants put up the artwork and filled in the final touches. Simon, 64, and two women worked under blue tents, putting an adhesive on the back of tile and sticking them to the already installed panels. A few feet away, two men hammered and drilled completed panels into the wall.

Simon got his inspiration for the piece by spending a few days in Bradenton.

“The compositions have to do with the different lives that go on in Bradenton, some history and some contemporary,” Simon said. “A little bit of everything and a little bit of my own stuff.”

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James Simon, 64, adds hair to a musician depicted in a mosaic tile mural he created that is being installed on the north side of the City Centre parking garage. Sara Nealeigh snealeigh@bradenton.com

He knew of Bradenton before arriving for the visit, Simon said, since Pittsburgh Pirates spring training has been held in town for years, and he had heard of the beauty of Anna Maria Island.

Simon, with the help of a few others all sweating under the hot June sun, will install the work of art that took him nearly a year to create in 15 panels throughout the week. The seams of the panels will be covered with more mosaic tile and more details will be added.

“Because it was months and months of work, the ebb and flow of creating something like this is kind of like a long adventure that has ups and downs. But mostly ups. And when you work on something that’s ... it becomes like a part of your life every day for almost a year. So you kind of get in the groove. And when you’re working that much all the time, I always think that’s when the creative stuff can happen,” Simon said.

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Panels of completed portions of ‘The Magic River’ mosaic mural were installed on the City Centre parking garage Tuesday morning. The work started Monday and will continue throughout the week until the 120-foot long mural is completely in place. Sara Nealeigh snealeigh@bradenton.com

The community will also contribute directly to the mosaic that reflects the community they live in.

A group of Bradenton “apprentice ceramicists” will create ceramic bugs, butterflies and fish that will be part of the mosaic on Thursday and Friday with Simon’s guidance.

Simon will also be back in town July 2 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. to meet the public at the City Centre parking garage and discuss his creative process and inspiration for the piece.

Simon was chosen by Realize Bradenton in July 2018 to put his creation on the side of what city officials have called an “iconic” building.

Including his art, the city now has 67 pieces of public art scattered throughout downtown, said Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton.

“We really feel downtown Bradenton has embraced public art,” Isham said.

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Pittsburgh-based artist James Simon adds a group of tiles to “The Magic River,” a mosaic mural decorating the north side of the City Centre parking garage in downtown Bradenton. Simon created the mural on 15 panels that were shipped to Bradenton and are being installed this week. Sara Nealeigh snealeigh@bradenton.com

As part of their ongoing WalkBradenton project, Realize Bradenton raised $250,000 for the addition of 10 new public art pieces over the last few years. Some of those funds went to Simon for the mosaic mural. For his work, Simon was paid $58,500.

Before Simon started working with mosaics, he made violins in Mexico and Brazil and sculpted, according to a profile of the artist by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as he created Bradenton’s newest work of public art.

He’s made welcome signs for multiple communities, a wall sculpture for Duquesne University as well as a concrete sculpture featured in downtown Pittsburgh. He was also commissioned to create the sculptures at the gateway of Perry Harvey Sr. Park in Tampa.