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Manatees try on dreadlocks, Bucs helmets, beads

Artists are putting their spin on the animals for the Manatee Menagerie, a fundraiser for public arts and conservation groups.

Published January 31, 2005

[Times photo: Keri Wiginton]
Geary Taylor looks for the best place to put a guitar on Rasta Bob, the manatee he is basing on Bob Marley for the Manatee Menagerie, on Thursday in Largo.

SAFETY HARBOR - The manatee's whiskered face made Geary Taylor think of dreadlocks.

He envisioned the mammal wearing red, yellow and green, at a microphone singing Bob Marley's One Love .

Doug Wright of Clearwater saw his manatee as a Tampa Bay Bucs player - wearing a helmet, shoulder pads and the uniform. But he still has to figure out how to put shoes on the flippers.

More than 25 artists from across the Tampa Bay area are turning fiberglass manatees into fun, lively characters - a Manatee Menagerie. Their goal is to raise money for a public arts organization and promote manatee awareness.

"We really feel that this project has so many benefits to the community," said Jay Goulde, who is leading the manatee campaign. "We're promoting the artists and providing an educational campaign about an endangered species."

The manatees are from the Resource Factory in Sarasota and come in two different poses: swimming or standing. The standing manatee is 61/2 feet high and 4 feet wide. The swimming manatee is 6 feet long and 31/2 feet wide. Both are modeled after the West Indian manatee.

Most of the artists have sponsors, such as the Glazer Foundation and Publix, which paid the $1,500 cost of the fiberglass manatee and gave the artists money for materials and an honorarium.

Goulde, executive director of the Outdoor Arts Foundation in Safety Harbor, modeled the Manatee Menagerie after the Tour of Turtles, where more than 100 artists painted and decorated 6-foot-long fiberglass turtles. The 2001 project raised more than $250,000 for 68 nonprofit organizations.

The board chose manatees this time, mainly because they are an endangered species.

It is harder to be creative with manatees, said Pam Marks of Clearwater, who also did the Tour of Turtles. She is calling hers the Marbelous Manatee.

"He is going to be so cute," said Marks, who is getting help for her project from Skycrest Christian School students. She also serves on the board for the arts foundation. "I don't know why it's a he, but it is. It's going to have over 20,000 glass beads."

Lisa Vogt, who lives in North Tampa, is doing something similar - a mosaic design on a swimming manatee.

She is teaching kids from Tampa Preparatory School how to cut the glass, assemble the pieces and glue them to the body.

"They have really stuck with it," said Vogt, who is working on two manatees. "They have come in every week. Their energy is contagious.

"It's a physical challenge, of course," she said. "Usually your palate is flat. I was working on the base of my manatee and stood up and it bopped me on the head."

Peter Stilton admits he had to take a trip to Lowry Park Zoo to look at the manatees before he began. He is using a technique called metallic leafing on his mammal.

"I said, right off the bat, I want to do something that captures their spirituality, their essence," said Stilton, who lives in New Tampa. "Something that is really uplifting."

The manatees will go on display starting in March at public areas such as the Clearwater Main Library and Westfield Shoppingtowns Brandon, Citrus Park and Countryside.

They will be auctioned in May 2006, with proceeds going to the Outdoor Arts Foundation and several manatee conservation organizations. Goulde is unsure how much each of the organizations will receive.

Taylor, who lives in Largo, hopes the Bob Marley Foundation gets something out of this too. He plans to send that organization pictures of his Bob Marley manatee.

First though, he has to figure out where to put the guitar. Behind the manatee's back, perhaps? He also wants to make sure those dreadlocks stay on top of the animal's head.

And then, somehow he has to figure out how to wire his manatee to play One Love .

--Megan Scott can be reached at 445-4167 or

[Last modified January 31, 2005, 00:38:15]

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