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Art imitates wildlife for sculptor of animals

Steve Brancati started making animal replicas as a hobby, but it has grown into a business that even the queen of England has enjoyed.

By ERIKA VIDAL
Published February 17, 2006


The walls in his office read like a history of his craft.

The first two dolphin fish he ever molded are mounted on one wall. So is a mold of a guitar fish, which took first place in a national competition. A skin mount of a blue crab and a lobster, a gift to his father that he inherited, hangs above an empty snack machine.

A longtime beach lover and marine animal admirer, Steve Brancati started around 1982 with crabs, lobsters, and small fish. Now he's onto 16-foot sharks and 13-foot alligators.

Brancati, 51, is no crocodile hunter, but give him a few days and he can make a mean fiberglass reproduction of just about any marine animal.

What started out as a hobby soon became a business. Brancati and his two employees at Ocean Creations on Martin Luther King Boulevard call themselves reproduction and sculpture specialists. Not only can they do replicas of actual animals, they make sculptures of animals in any size.

Their work can be seen at SeaWorld, Adventure Island, Lowry Park Zoo, aquariums in England and Portugal, and at restaurants, bars and hotels all along the strip in Destin, Panama City, Fla., and Myrtle Beach, S.C. Even the queen of England has seen their work while at the Blue Planet Aquarium in England.

"It's taken a long time to get to this point," says Brancati, a cable installer who started this business with $3,000.

He taught himself to make molds through trial and error. Friends who fished gave him crabs, lobsters, and eels. He would mount these for them in exchange for more practice specimens like dolphin fish and porcupine fish.

Brancati is a jean-wearing, God-loving, politically opinionated man. He lets it be known that he isn't exactly confident in humanity's ability to preserve itself, and that he has doubts concerning the direction the current administration is taking this country.

He's fearful for the future of small businesses like his. With the rising cost of insurance, taxes, and supplies, he said, he has faced some challenges.

"Gas companies can raise their prices. They've got you." he said. "People don't have to have this stuff."

That's why he has kept his prices the same. But much to his 13-year-old daughter's embarrassment, he's perfectly content shopping the thrift stores and more than satisfied with the Bulova watch on his wrist, which he bought for $35 at a flea market.

Outside, in a covered supply room adjacent to his office, is a wall that hosts an array of fiberglass fish molds of tails and fins. Next door to that is a work area with rafters loaded with fiberglass molds of bull sharks, marlin, tarpon and other large fish.

That's where the real action happens, where the molds get hung and painted and dried. This is where the immortalization is completed.

His most popular item is the great white shark head. He has sold 50 since 1989, and at $3,500 apiece, that's $175,000 in shark heads.

He delivers his work in his bright yellow Nissan Frontier. He drives a Nissan because he doesn't have too much faith in American cars, but he said this doesn't make him un-American.

A couple of weeks ago, he drove from Dover to South Carolina with a 14-foot lobster chained to an uncovered trailer attached to his truck. It was the second lobster he's delivered to that particular restaurant. He threw an alligator on there, too, just in case anyone happened to be interested in buying one along the way.

Erika Vidal can be reached at 226-3339 or evidal@sptimes.com

[Last modified February 16, 2006, 15:06:34]


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