Sunday, December 2, 2012

Memories of BC Woo on Beach Drive

[BC Woo Memorial Gathering @ Seafood and Tap House - Friday, November 30th]

Woo's Tribe

I wasn't the only one who saw it. Driving over the Gandy bridge from Tampa to St Pete, the sun easing itself into the horizon behind a veil of clouds, there was a moment when several shafts of bronze-gold light, what photographers call "God Beams", broke through to the ground. They seemed to be over  Beach Drive.

Later, a woman speaking at the Memorial in a quavering voice mentioned seeing this sight, saying it looked as if Bill Woo had painted the sky.

Carol Mickett & Robert Stackhouse
BC Woo used to paint on Friday nights like this one just outside the Seafood and Tap House [Link] at 400 Beach Drive in Saint Petersburg. Tonight as usual along the drive, people dined and leisurely people-watched. Cars prowled slowly looking for a place to park. But tonight was different. Outside the restaurant, tables were laid out in a manner for a banquet.  People gathered, amongst them many of the city's artists. We had come to pay our respects for the beloved and departed BC Woo, just across from where he painted.

Friends of Bill Woo
Steve, the owner of the Seafood and Tap House went all out on this. The long rows of tables, the flowers, a big screen TV with a slide show of pictures of Bill Correira Woo. The sidewalk and tables filled up with people, at one point I would estimate around 200+.  Many knew each other and hugged, smiling and staring into each others' watering eyes. We all had one thing in common, BC Woo had entered our lives and left his mark on each and every one of us, like painted  brushstrokes on canvas.

One of my favorite stories, something I saw Woo do on more than one occassion, was about two young girls fascinated by seeing Woo live paint, who approached the work. Woo, to their mother's initial dismay, handed them a brush and they got to paint spots on a grouper. All three were by the microphone, and you could see that they too had been touched by Woo and the magic of art.

Frank Strunk III
People got up and spoke about Woo, how he had touched their lives and that of others. Some had known him for decades, others for months, yet they all shared stories, experiences and memories of Woo. Tales of generosity, encouragement, acts of love, wisdom, a passion for life, funny and...

Sarah Thee Campagna

Derek Donnelly & Dirty Tom

.... silly things, kindness, love and wisdom from a multitude of perspectives as we spiritually huddled under a blueing sky, celebrating his life, mourning his loss, contemplating our own lives while thoroughly  experiencing what it means to be human.

Listening to so many loving, appreciative testimonials, I realized that as with many other artists' lives, BC Woo had not just lived life well and  made works of art: He had become one.

Jenipher Chandley at work
Mermaid by Jenipher Chandley
It was the Heartbeat of Saint Pete on Beach Drive that evening. After many tears, smiles, laughter and loving hugs, I said my good-byes and walked away, only to see artist Jenipher Chandley, wearing a hoodie, looking like a cross between a mendicant priestess and a Ninja,  with no easel and nothing to sit on drawing prostrate on the sidewalk working on this...

 Torrents of faces, memories, and thoughts about Art and how it folds our lives like origami raced through me. I drove to the 600 block. It was empty save for a few couples walking close together. I found myself at BC Woo's gallery. The love messages fluttered in the cooling wind. Below, flowers and candles burned into the night.

 I walked, illuminated by the light from the storefront and gallery windows, and around the corner on 6th, into the alley to see Derek Donnelly's mural of Woo hoping others would be there.

They were. The visage of Woo towered over us, transforming the alley. We talked and hung closer than we normally do. As the evening wore on, life resumed in that alley as Derek painted, a beautiful old dog performed tricks. Laughter resonated between the walls. Among many other things, Art is an affirmation of life.




  1. What a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing.