In 1986, artists Todd Ramquist and Kiaralinda bought a house in Safety Harbor. Over the years they have transformed it into Whimzeyland: a multicolored dwelling in a breathtaking courtyard of lush plants, paths of painted tiles, flowers made of plastic bottles, decorated bowling balls and more.
The house at 1206 3rd Street North was and still is known to many in the Tampa Bay area as the “home of the bowling alley”. Tours of the yard are free, although there is a donation box to support the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center which Whimzeyland generates. They own other houses in the neighborhood: one called Casa Loco it is a retreat for artists and musicians.
The performers, both 61, who call themselves the Whimzey Twinz, spoke with the Tampa Bay Weather in regards to Whimzeyland.
What did the house look like when you bought it?
Kiaralinda: It was beige, which is not a color in our rainbow, in our life. There were no plants.
What color did you paint it originally?
Kiaralinda: At the time, grey, mauve and white were what everyone did for interiors… I wanted to do lavender instead of mauve. …
Then, I don’t know how many years later, that changed. Everything became peach and azalea, plum and teal; so it was the second generation. … Then each surface became a different color.
Have the neighbors complained? It’s not a restricted act, is it?
Todd: No not at all. … In fact, the reverse happened. … When we were doing the big Christmas installs, people would come to Safety Harbor and see this and say, “Man, I wish I lived here.” Then we have friends we met here who bought houses on the street and became friends. … All those people were supporters, knew we were artists, knew we were traveling all the time. We would do those great Christmas things. We had a lot of street parties, and they all came.
You travel the circuit of art festivals across the country, you say, from May to October.
Todd: We were doing local festivals, and that would definitely have been a hobby. Then we took part in a show at the Las Olas Art Festival in Fort Lauderdale. A group of artists we knew said – “we had a double booking – they said don’t do the one up here (Tampa Bay area) – do the one downstairs. It’s a whole different market So we went over there (Fort Lauderdale) and sold out all the art we had in the first two hours of the show. It had never happened before. … My cousin got married in Chicago and we signed up for a little show at Water Tower Place. It was an outside thing, and the same thing happened there. We sold out pretty much everything we had. was a Friday-Saturday-Sunday show, and all Friday was gone.
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Kiaralinda: So we became reverse snowbirds.
Bowling ball inspiration struck when you saw a house whose cactus garden was decorated with bowling balls, you say.
Kiaralinda: I thought, wow, that’s a bowling ball. They use it for landscaping. We could do it. We could get them cheap and we were poor. So we started seeing them at flea markets and buying them. And we weren’t buying that many, but we were starting to line the little flowerbeds. …
Then we went to a flea market on 49th Street, and there was a rack of bullets. He (the rack) said, “10 free bowling balls per person.” We thought, “Well, isn’t that weird. Why would anyone want that but us?
Todd: I think he probably took somebody’s place and they were there, and he just wanted to get rid of them.
Kiaralinda: Then I called my sister and she and her girlfriend got 20. So we had 40. Once you got 40 (bowling balls) in your backyard people start paying attention and start to bring them to you.
How many bowling balls do you have now?
Todd: There are between 900 and 1000. …
Kiaralinda: We received one mailed from Atlanta. It’s postmarked, and it didn’t come in a box. Our postman was freaking out… He was like, “I hope no one else is doing this.
How did the art center come out of it?
Todd: Before we had any plans, Pepsi did a Super Bowl commercial and they did a program called “Refresh Your World.” If you were a nonprofit…you could bother your friends enough and have a big enough fan base. …
When Pepsi arrived, the contest was held during the summer. At art festivals, we would say, “Hey guys, here’s a card. You can vote for us. Every person who bought works of art voted. …so we won $50,000 at Pepsi, and then someone gave us $55,000. … Those were our only two giant big donations, and then everything else was between $5 and $20, but a lot. So we were able to build it.
You had concerts in your backyard to raise money for the center, and you say the actor, Jeff Daniels, performed there in front of an audience of 171 people (in 2011)?
Todd: We used to do like, 10 bucks, you got pizza and you could “BYOB”. It became more popular each time. … Then Jeff Daniels found out that we were going to build an art center, and he moved from Los Angeles to his hometown (Chelsea, Michigan) and built a theater. He had just spoken in front of Congress a few months before he arrived about the power of what can happen if you build artistic things. He built the theater, and all of a sudden the town came alive with restaurants and stuff. …
The way we promoted it was “mystery guest”. He said we could give hints, but we couldn’t say his name. So the first clue was, this person has hosted Saturday Night Live more than once…
A lot of people didn’t know he was a musician, so when he came on stage, everyone was like, “Oh, Jeff Daniels. What is he going to do ?
Does this game?
Todd: Guitar. He’s a really gifted player. He tells stories between the two about being in the movies.
Kiaralinda: He told everyone to get their cameras out and take a picture and then put them away so we could seriously pay attention. (He is) super funny. He was so funny.
For more information, visit kiaralinda.com.