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Ahfachkee murals preserved through laser scanning

BIG CYPRESS — In 1993 and 1994, Seminole artist Mary Gay Osceola used her talent and experience to paint 13 murals on the walls of the Ahfachkee School in Big Cypress.

Those murals, which depict Seminole life and legends, have been preserved for posterity despite the imminent demolition of the building, which was built in 1991.

“We wanted to save the images so we have a memory of the building,” said Principal Dorothy Cain. “The murals are important to the community. We would like to use them in the new building in some way. We want to be able to have some of the old in the new building.”

The large mural of a Seminole village by Mary Gay Osceola was the showpiece of the Ahfachkee School cafeteria. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Details of the new elementary school building have not been announced, but the project is currently in the design phase.

Working with the University of South Florida, the Tribal Historic Preservation Office spent Jan. 27 and 28 using a state-of-the-art laser scanner and photography to document the artwork and create digital three dimensional visualizations of the murals, which adorned the school’s hallways, library and cafeteria.

“Laser scanning is an up and coming preservation technology,” said Lacee Cofer, THPO chief data analyst. “It’s gaining more ground and is becoming more popular. We are pretty excited about it.”

USF lab director and archeologist Laura Harrison operated a single reflex digital camera, a Faro Focus laser scanner and four spheres – used as landmarks to orient the scene properly – to create the final interactive 3D images.

The process is a combination of laser scans and photogrammetry, which extracts 3D measurements from 2D data such as photos and merges hundreds of those images together to create the 3D model.

Laura Harrison, of the University of South Florida, photographs the Seminole sun legend mural in the hallway of the Ahfachkee School. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

The photos Harrison made of the murals overlap 70 to 80 percent of the image to create the 3D visualizations.

“The laser scanner is creating a visualization but it also captures the context of the entire architectural environment,” Harrison explained. “It will create more details than the camera.”

The final images will be 3D models that the viewer can manipulate in space and zoom in or out. The option of a “fly through”, or a video of each image from various angles, will also be available.

Painted by Mary Gay Osceola in 1993, this large mural portrays all the clans in the Seminole Tribe of Florida and was on the wall in the Ahfachkee School’s library. Below left, the Seminole sun legend is depicted in this mural painted by Osceola in 1994. (Photo Beverley Bidney)

THPO also worked with Harrison and USF to create a 3D visualization of Egmont Key, in which the site appears to have been photographed from above by a drone flying over and through the site.

The visualization included images of the inside and outside of the lighthouse. However, it was actually created the same way as the Ahfachkee murals.

This series of poster sized murals graced the walls of the cafeteria and were painted in 1994.
This series of poster sized murals graced the walls of the cafeteria and were painted in 1994.

“The 3D visualization of the fly through shows one viewpoint of the data, which can be viewed from any angle,” Harrison said.

Harrison photographed every mural from a few perspectives – eye level, higher and lower – that, combined with the laser scans, will create that fly-through environment.

Although details are not yet available, the digital collection of the murals will be available online.

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at