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HERE COME THE ELEPHANTS

Tampa's first artistic pachyderm in "Herd About Tampa Bay" makes a Channel District debut.

His scenes-of-Tampa mural disappeared years ago, but artist Carl Cowden III has replicated much of it on a medium he never expected: A fiberglass elephant, hanging on the wall of the Tampa Bay & Company's Visitor Center in the Channel District.

Cowden unveiled the Tampa-themed elephant Thursday, featuring such images as the University of Tampa's minarets, the balustrades of Bayshore Boulevard and an Ybor City street car.

It is the first in a series of painted pachyderms known as Herd About Tampa Bay, a partnership between the 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee and the Outdoor Arts Foundation.

Patrons pay $2,000 to sponsor one of the elephants, a Republican Party symbol. So far, artists are working on about 25 elephants, which will be displayed at Tampa International Airport, the Tampa Convention Center and at hotels from Tampa to St. Petersburg.

Aileen Rodriguez, the Host Committee's communications director, said the project is a way to showcase Tampa Bay artists. She said she envisions visitors posing for photographs with the elephants, many of which will stay in the public eye after the convention.

"Hopefully, people will go around and visit them," she said.

Themes under way include beaches, NASCAR and patriotism, said Jay Goulde, the foundation's executive director. But don't expect any subversive pro-Obama elephants. For that matter, don't look for any overt pro-Romney elephants, either.

"At the end of the day," Goulde said, "it's just an elephant."

Cowden was selected to be the Tampa Bay & Company's artist. He's a master printmaker at the University of Tampa, a former guitarist for the old punk rock bank Voodoo Idols. He's into the slightly surreal: His business card bears an image of a monkey holding a gun.

Tampa Bay and Co. asked Cowden to do something that reflected potential tourist activities for Tampa visitors. For inspiration, Cowden thought about a mural, based on an old postcard, that he had painted on a Florida Ave.

He borrowed some elements - the UT spires, Gasparilla festivities - and added new ones, including a roller coaster ride at Busch Gardens on the elephant's trunk. The project took him about a month, and he finished up at his home studio early Thursday.

Travis Claytor, spokesman for Tampa Bay & Company, said he's happy with the new artwork. "What we really wanted was some of our most recognizable elements. For us, it's a way for people to come in and interact with the convention."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374.

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Fast facts

To get involved

To become an elephant patron or for more information regarding Herd About Tampa Bay, call Jay Goulde at (727) 954-4025 or email him at jgoulde@tampabay.rr.com. Tampa Bay & Company's Visitor Center is at 615 Channelside Drive.

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