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  • Kelly Sanford

The Lady on the Wall

The Lady on the Wall has stood sentinel over Third Street for almost seven years, watching with piercing eyes and windswept locks of ivy hair; chic, silent, and compelling. She has born witness to a massive revitalization and an artistic revival in this southwest sector of Downtown Winter Haven, the likes of which are only just the beginning. She has watched as businesses like Grove Roots Brewing, The Bike Shop and N+1 Coffee, Barrel 239, Haven Coffee Roasters, and Lucille’s have opened their doors to the community. Maybe you’ve noticed her while driving through town? Or you’ve stopped to have your photo taken in front of her iconic image. Perhaps you’ve wondered about her origin. Why is she here? Where did she come from? Who does her hair? The truth is, The Lady on the Wall has quite the story to tell. Hers is a story of beauty, transformation, art, and collaboration, and it is finally ready to be told.



It begins with the meeting of two artists: Kenneth Treister, an accomplished Master with a career that spans decades, and William Larence, a young man only beginning to make his way in the art world. Their fateful introduction and ongoing friendship would lead to the first “living mural” in Winter Haven and pave a path for the renaissance to come.


TWO ARTISTS

Kenneth Treister is well known in the art scene; a quick Google search of his name reveals a plethora of his works and achievements. On March 5, 1930, the artist was born in Flushing, Queens, and his parents moved to Miami Beach, Florida, shortly after his birth. While he is best known for the Holocaust Memorial he designed, sculpted, and constructed in Miami, his portfolio is vast and extensive. He is an architect, architectural historian, painter, sculptor, horticulturist, photographer, author, lecturer, and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. This prolific artist spent most of his life in Coconut Grove and moved to Central Florida with his wife, Helyne, about twenty years ago, where he continues working at the age of 92. It was Helyne that introduced Treister and Larence by booking an appointment for the artist at Spectrum Studio, a salon owned and designed by Larence. It was an introduction that would eventually become a catalyst for Larence to comprehend his creative potential fully.


William Larence was born on February 19, 1979, in Winter Haven, Florida. Due to his father’s military career, he spent his youth traveling the globe, living in Las Vegas, Shreveport, and Athens, Greece. Larence visited many historical sites and museums and credits his view of the Parthenon as a young child with igniting an artistic spark in his heart. “I’m completely convinced that these experiences in those formative years have most certainly played a major role in my artistic development and passions,” Larence said. This development and passion would continue throughout his life.


Larence’s family returned to Central Florida during his junior year of high school. He graduated from Haines City High School in 1997 and moved to Winter Haven shortly after where he has lived for the past 24 years. He intended on enlisting in the military but ended up meeting someone in the cosmetology field and his life took a very different turn. “Hair was certainly not at all on my radar,” Larence continued, “but I was taken with the energy and artistry involved. A large part of the hair industry is definitely a visual art form based around geometry and angles and, of course, color theory.” Larence felt it was a great opportunity and decided to earn his cosmetology license. It was a decision that would quickly lead to owning Spectrum Studio and designing not one, but two locations for the salon.


“When we settled on the [first] location in the arcade on Central across from the Ritz, I was in creative bliss,” said Larence. “The Waddell’s owned the building at the time and asked me to present my plans.” Once the plans were approved, Larence began working on his first large-scale redesign. “I was very into modern and contemporary design, so the direction was already predetermined and natural,” he explained. “In that time there was a blend of inspiration for me: certainly Gene Leedy’s work, and of course Frank Lloyd Wright, also Paul Rudolph, Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier.”


There was an element of simplicity in his design with a concentration on contrast and details. It was minimalistic and modern and the first of its kind in the area. Larence exposed the original brick bones of the building, used metal and birch wood on the ceiling, smooth and rough-textured concrete throughout, and added pops of color along with his signature greenery arrangements. He created a space that would captivate everyone who entered, including the wife of a renowned artist.


Kenneth Treister and Bill Larence
THE MEETING

Larence first met Treister 17 years ago. “His beautiful wife, Helyne, started coming into the studio from a referral when we were on Central,” Larence said. “She raved about the design of the studio and insisted I meet Ken and booked him an appointment.” Larence was unfamiliar with Treister’s work but looked forward to meeting him as he knew he was an artist and architect. He felt an instant connection. “It wasn’t until after our first interaction and conversation and truly connecting with Ken that I really researched him and was amazed,” he said. From that point on, the two would discuss art every four to six weeks while Larence cut Treister’s hair. “I always had my sketchbook at my station waiting,” recalled Larence. “We would have great conversations about architecture and design, and Ken would always ask for a pencil and a piece of paper to sketch an idea or concept for me based on those conversations.” The two discussed Larence’s plans and ideas for Spectrum Studio’s growth and design moving forward. “He was a great inspiration that I cherished and felt I needed in that moment of my artistic development,” said Larence.


NEW BEGINNINGS

The studio would end up undergoing an expansion and three more remodels before eventually moving to its current location on Third Street; a move that would begin to infuse new life into what was, at the time, a somewhat desolate part of town. Larence had done all the remodels himself, learning and developing as he went. When the decision was made to relocate, Larence said, “It really fell into place with the new location,” and noted the building’s address is the same number as the month and day of his birth, 219. “The Ulches, who were already clients at the time, owned the building,” Larence said. “It had been used for storage but, most recently, a CrossFit gym, so it was pretty open and raw.” It would be his biggest project yet and, in his mind, made way for a greater opportunity. “I felt as Third Street was to become a very hip, energetic street off Central,” he continues. “I presented my plans to the Ulches and again, jumped into action.”


The renovation took a solid year while Larence maintained his full-time schedule as a stylist, devoting his nights and weekends to the rebuild. The doors opened in December of 2015 to reveal a refined and polished version of Larence’s original vision. “My style and process has definitely evolved over time with my art,” he said, “but I have stayed true to my underlying philosophies with integrating simple materials composed in an organic flow approach, inspired by geometry and even numerology.” Ultimately, Larence created a beautiful salon that also has the feel of an art gallery, with many of Treister’s works on exhibit.


“When we moved to Third, I knew that I wanted to display some of Ken’s paintings in the salon as they seem to mesh perfectly into my visions and designs, especially the largest piece, ‘Rainbow in the Clouds.’ It is made up of nineteen panels of color, showing a blend of the full spectrum. “He’s never displayed that anywhere else,” added Larence, “as if it was meant for the space. Full alignment.” In total, there are nine large, permanent pieces that are now one with the studio, as Treister has donated them to Spectrum for all who walk through to enjoy.


THE LADY

With everything well on its way inside the studio, Larence turned his attention outdoors. An exterior wall, hiding a unique courtyard space behind it and perfectly inset between Spectrum and the building next to it, called to him. “I envisioned it to be something very special but didn’t know exactly how it was going to go,” he said. Larence shared this with Treister during one of his visits, and right away, Treister had an idea. “A very unique concept that was created specifically for the salon and our downtown setting,” said Larence, “as Ken always said, ‘inspired by beauty and everything surrounding it.’” Treister brought in a drawing of a woman’s face with living ivy for hair, and Larence was taken with it, instantly knowing it was the right choice.


“We planned a day and met at the site to lay it out,” said Larence. They used a graphing method to transfer the image onto the wall, and Larence painted as Treister oversaw the whole process. “I was very nervous that day,” Larence recalled, “rightfully so as a master was sitting at times, watching me paint.” Then, with Treister’s instruction, Larence planted two Creeping Fig plants on either side of the face. For three years, Larence hand-watered them every night. “No one really knew the magic that was to come,” explained Larence. “As the vines ascended, I sculpted.” Her tousled tendrils now reach the surrounding walls, creating a dynamic, ever-evolving living mural. Larence has nurtured and maintained her organic tresses from the beginning, trimming them every few months like Winter Haven’s own Edward Scissorhands.



Since her creation, The Lady on the Wall has watched Third Street transform. What was once quiet and deserted has become energized and bustling. Businesses continue to spring up and thrive, new murals have appeared, and there is even a flourishing weekly farmers market. With all of this bringing more and more foot traffic, countless people have stopped to take photos with her and admire her beauty. Larence plans to attach a QR code to the mural that will link to his website, which he is developing with a local company, where people can share their photos, both recent and past. Larence said, “I have been deeply inspired and greatly humbled by witnessing the effect she’s had on our downtown community.”


THE FUTURE

Over the past year, Larence has undergone some significant life changes and been inspired to devote more of his time and energy to new artistic ventures. He is announcing a partnership with Spectrum Studio and the Ulches to bring exciting things and new retail. This will allow the artist more time to pursue his passion. Larence is currently working on a “magical,” one-of-a-kind project at Mountain Lake, and simultaneously designing an art installation that will act as a backdrop for Spirit and the Cosmic Heart’s performance at The Ritz Theatre this August. Larence is also planning his first solo exhibition, Project Kaleidoscope, to be held at Spectrum Studio in early 2023. An epic evening is promised. In addition, Larence is working with local companies to develop ideas for the community moving forward. Bud Strang, President of Six/Ten, said, “We’re big fans of The Lady on the Wall. We are in discussions at Six/Ten with Bill [Larence] about some additional art installations Downtown. We are big believers in public art and believe it’s an important component in any downtown development project.” Strang added, “We like what Bill’s doing.” The feeling is certainly mutual as Larence said of Six/Ten, “They are passionately committed to the awesome growth of Downtown and adding every detail to heighten the experience for everyone visiting to enjoy.”


While it is still too soon to give any concrete details, there are undoubtedly some exciting projects on the way; synergy like this will continue to add allure and culture to our city.


“I have learned a lot about synergy over the last several years from Ken,” Larence said. “It’s powerful.” Synergy is the concept of two or more forces working together so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects. “I have felt that on a deep level with The Lady on the Wall and my relationship with Ken,” said Larence, “and my mind has been very much expanded by this experience.” Through this experience and connection, Larence found the ability to fully spread his wings, and now, the sky is the limit.


The Lady on the Wall will surely be watching for the beauty to come.


219 3rd St. SW, Winter Haven, FL 33880

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