CLEARWATER — Iguanas, raccoons and snakes scuttle and slither along the jungle-like grounds at Silas Beach's place on Stevenson Creek. Then there's the elephant in the room — the one getting its hide painted a fiery orange and yellow.
"I'm not sure if I should put the sun in his eye or keep it down here," pondered the 59-year-old artist, pointing to a front leg on the 4-by-4-foot fiberglass elephant.
The pint-sized pachyderm is among the first to join Herd About Tampa Bay, a menagerie of political party animals — all elephants — that will give a thumbs up, or shall we say a "trunks up," to the estimated 50,000 people expected to visit during the Republican National Convention in August.
The Herds project is a collaboration between two nonprofits — the Tampa Bay Host Committee and the Outdoor Arts Foundation. They're recruiting patrons to sponsor the elephants, which will be embellished by bay area artists in a variety of ways to delight the delegates.
"The goal is to exhibit the talents of local artists and the businesses that support them," said Jay Goulde, the foundation's executive director.
He expects that by August they'll have dozens, perhaps even a hundred or more, of the elephants on display in places like Tampa International Airport, throughout downtown Tampa and at other locations around Tampa Bay.
The foundation has created similar fiberglass projects in the past, such as the Tampa Bay Tour of Turtles and Manatee Menagerie. More recently, the foundation commissioned artists to decorate whimsical sculptures at Westfield Countryside Mall.
Patrons may purchase a fiberglass elephant for $2,000, which includes the artist's fee and production and installation costs. If a patron provides an artist, $500 is deducted from the price.
"One of the best aspects is that all patrons get to keep the elephants after the convention or donate them to a charity," said Goulde. Concepts must be approved by the nonprofits, and while creativity is encouraged, no political or social statements will be allowed.
The Plaza Beach Hotel Beachfront Resort on St. Pete Beach is sponsoring the elephant Silas is working on.
"The concept of outdoor art is great," said Robert Czyszczon, the hotel's general manager. "I see it all over the world when I travel, and we need more of it in Pinellas County."
Czyszczon said the plan is to entice convention attendees to come over to the beach. And Silas "Beach," a self-taught professional artist whose real name is Silas Clifton Gatewood III, was selected to create the symbolic invitation.
Those who have patronized Frenchy's Clearwater Beach Restaurants, gazed at the Mona "Lisard" mural that adorns the Franklin Exchange building in Tampa, or passed one of the fish mile markers that appear on Gulf Boulevard along the Pinellas coast, have seen Beach's work.
And soon, he'll finish painting a gulf sunset on an elephant in hues that resemble a marmalade sandwich.
"I love the colors," said Beach. "They are just delicious."
Correspondent Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at [email protected]