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Pod of decorated dolphins to welcome RNC visitors to Clearwater


More dolphins will find their way to Clearwater Beach this summer, but beachgoers won't see them in the gulf. Friday marked the launch of "Clearwater's Dolphins," a project in which artists will paint 38 identical life-sized dolphin sculptures. Most of the artists picked up their 6-foot fiberglass dolphins on Friday. Once they're painted, the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce will showcase all of them at Pier 60 from Aug. 6 to Sept. 4.

The chamber wants to showcase Clearwater and its artists during the Republican National Convention, which is expected to draw 50,000 visitors to the region. Of 56 delegations to the RNC, 13 will stay in Clearwater and two in Palm Harbor's Innisbrook Resort.

The chamber knows that when people think of Clearwater, they think of dolphins — especially its most famous one, the movie star Winter, who lost her tail to a crab trap line and now lives at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium with a prosthetic tail.

Each of the bottlenose dolphin sculptures has a sponsor who paid $2,000 for installation, transportation, and an artist stipend of $500. Sponsors could choose a design submitted by one of the chamber's pool of artists, or they could choose their own artist.

Once the exhibit is over, each dolphin will go where its sponsor sees fit.

One sponsor, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, will auction off its sculpture to raise money. The aquarium's chosen artist is Winter, who can hold a paintbrush in her snout. Other sea mammals at the aquarium will sign the sculpture with their flippers and paw prints.

Another sponsor, the original Hooters, will have its uniform painted onto its sculpture — cleavage and all. Artist Doug Wright, 45, is doing the job. He previously painted a sea turtle sculpture for the restaurant.

"The sea turtle was an ugly Hooters girl," he joked. "But this one will be cute."

He'll also be painting a second sculpture showing a mermaid swimming out of a dolphin's belly. He was surprised to learn Friday that his proposed design was chosen by a 6-year-old named Carlin Gillen.

Her father, Kevin Gillen, is the regional president of TD Bank's Florida operation. Anita Treiser, the public art project's manager, contacted him when the chamber began searching for sponsors. She knew Carlin was probably Winter's biggest fan.

"(I chose it) because my favorite color is blue and I like dolphins and I like mermaids," Carlin said.

Kevin Gillen said the dolphin is a gift to Clearwater from his family, not TD Bank. He said they may donate it to a charity for disabled people.

In honor of the RNC, there will be some patriotic sculptures — such as the Yankee Doodle Dolphin, to be painted by Dunedin artist Priscilla DiBlasi, 61.

Her husband, John, 64, was inspired by the Fourth of July and had an Uncle Sam vision for their dolphin. Priscilla will paint red- and white-striped pants, a blue jacket, a bow tie and beard. "I am so excited," she said.

Artist Silas Beach, 59, is being sponsored by two companies and is still deciding how to paint his two dolphins.

"I've been part of this beach for 30 years," said Beach, who has done paintings for the well-known Frenchy's restaurant chain on Clearwater Beach. "If I wasn't part of this, I would feel left out."

He's also an artist for "Herd About Tampa Bay," a public art project in which 4-by-4-foot elephant sculptures painted by local artists will be displayed all over the bay area (see story, page 9).

To avoid competing with the elephants, Treiser said the chamber agreed to restrict its dolphins to Pier 60. "We wanted to do something complementary," she said, "not competitive."

The chamber chose Icon Poly, a Nebraska-based business, to create the dolphin sculptures, based on its previous work in Florida.

Its owner, Kyle Vohland, hauled the dolphins to Clearwater in a 30-hour drive. He said the artists must use a UV coat on their dolphins to prevent the paint from fading.

Chris Hubbard, Clearwater cultural affairs specialist, said each sculpture will be anchored to a concrete base. Also, there will be overnight security for the dolphins.

"We really wanted this to be strictly local artists," he said. "This is Tampa Bay's finest."

Diedra Rodriguez can be reached at (727) 445-4154 or

Pod of decorated dolphins to welcome RNC visitors to Clearwater 07/13/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 5:51pm]
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