For those who visit St. Petersburg, it’s evident fairly quickly that the downtown area is adorned with hundreds of murals. We have the annual St. Pete SHINE Festival in part to thank for this, but SHINE only accounts for a portion of the city’s murals. Murals, and street art in general, has much deeper roots in St. Petersburg. Certainly, the city has had an art club since its early years that initially sat where the Museum of Fine Arts is today. But the mural culture actually developed later and in a very organic way. And one who was quite influential in this regard was a well-known artist in St. Pete named Bill Correira.
Bill Correira moved into the St. Pete area when he was only 7 years of age, relocating from Dartmouth, Massachusetts, with his family. He attended Northeast High School, and he worked as a graphic designer before going all-in on an art career. As one who loved to paint fish and aquatic life, Bill Correira soon became well known to those in the downtown area. And when the city decided to revitalize a run-down 600 block on Central Avenue, he had the opportunity to have his own gallery. Known as Gallery Woo, Bill catered to a vast array of clients. But more importantly, he was a fun-loving, generous, and inspirational figure that helped other artists as well as local business owners persevere.
Unfortunately, Bill Correira’s life was cut short. In 2007, he suffered a debilitating seizure in his gallery that placed him in a coma for nearly 2 months. It was then that he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which was subsequently removed. Doctors believed he would no longer be able to paint, but Woo proved them wrong. His art became more vibrant, and he became more passionate according to those who knew him. Perhaps he knew his time was short, or maybe he simply threw himself into what he loved. For an additional 5 years, he continued to inspire others through his gallery works and live painting venues. In 2012, however, Bill Correira was found unresponsive, having passed away in his own art studio.
Within 24 hours of Woo’s passing, St. Pete art icon Derek Donnelly began painting a mural in the alley behind the stores of the 600 block of Central Avenue. What would become known as the “Woomorial” showed a central image of Bill Correira with paint brush in hand. Dozens of other artists in St. Pete at the time also contributed, painting additional aquatic life around the periphery of the mural. The mural itself was incredible, but it impacted St. Pete in a more profound and lasting way. Soon, other artists with studios on the 600 block added additional murals throughout the alley. And ultimately, it was this “mural movement” that fueled the very first SHINE Festival in 2015.
Many artists who knew Bill Correira undoubtedly miss him today. But his spirit and passion for art remains. His influence and impact on others contributed greatly to the wonderful outdoor art gallery we enjoy in St. Pete today. With over 600 murals in the downtown area alone, murals have become an entrenched in our culture. While other cities are actively and purposefully pursuing city murals as well, St. Pete’s mural culture had a more grassroots origin. And Bill Correira was a significant part of that. This is why the “Woomorial” is included in all of our mural biking tours along with others that have historical significance.