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  1. Life & Culture

Meet Tampa’s new celebrity: a giant airport flamingo

The sculpture has been under construction all summer and was only recently completed to look like the big bird is dipping its head below water in the main terminal.
Phil Garrett takes a photo of his girlfriend, Julie Marie Fischer, beside the new sculpture, "Home," by artist Matthew Mazzotta. The 21-foot floor-to-ceiling sculpture of a flamingo has been a popular stop for guests boarding and arriving at Tampa International Airport.
Phil Garrett takes a photo of his girlfriend, Julie Marie Fischer, beside the new sculpture, "Home," by artist Matthew Mazzotta. The 21-foot floor-to-ceiling sculpture of a flamingo has been a popular stop for guests boarding and arriving at Tampa International Airport. [ LUIS SANTANA | TIMES | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Sep. 25|Updated Sep. 25

TAMPA — An eye-catching 21-foot flamingo has finally fully landed on its perch at Tampa International Airport, and people are talking. And tweeting. And taking loads of selfies.

As part of Tampa Bay Fashion Week, three local designers were challenged to create works inspired by the newly installed flamingo. They showed off their creations Saturday and offered their response to Tampa’s latest Instagram celebrity.

The resin and fiberglass flamingo sculpture by artist Matthew Mazzotta is called “Home.” It was commissioned for $520,000.

The sculpture "Home," by artist Matthew Mazzotta, has recently been completed at Tampa International Airport. The 21-foot flamingo, commissioned for $520,000, has been a popular stop for pictures at the airport.
The sculpture "Home," by artist Matthew Mazzotta, has recently been completed at Tampa International Airport. The 21-foot flamingo, commissioned for $520,000, has been a popular stop for pictures at the airport. [ LUIS SANTANA | TIMES | Tampa Bay Times ]

It has been under construction all summer and was only recently completed with metal panels on the ceiling to look like water and dappled lighting on the floor. The effects make it look like the big bird is dipping its head below water to grab a snack. Its effect on tourists has been a steady line of people posing for pictures with it at the airport.

The giant flamingo already feels destined to be a Tampa Bay icon, captured in everyone’s vacation pictures, the artists and travel merchants at Saturday’s Fashion Week gathering said. When the hefty head and pink webbed feet were first set up in the main terminal in March, the sculpture immediately drew attention as a selfie magnet on social media.

With the construction barriers only recently brought down, Saturday felt like a coming-out party.

The artists designed hats, handbags and dresses emblazoned with flamingos, which are on sale at a local goods pop-up shop set up near the flamingo at the Shoppes at Bayshore on the third level of the Main Terminal. They felt a kindred spirit with the bird, which they said gives a good first impression of the Tampa Bay area.

“It really speaks to us as a city. It makes you happy,” fashion designer Erik Wise said of the flamingo sculpture. Wise owns the boutique store Artisan Row in Westshore Plaza.
“It really speaks to us as a city. It makes you happy,” fashion designer Erik Wise said of the flamingo sculpture. Wise owns the boutique store Artisan Row in Westshore Plaza. [ Sharon Kennedy Wynne ]

“It really speaks to us as a city. It makes you happy,” said designer Erik Wise, who owns the boutique store Artisan Row in Westshore Plaza. “Airports don’t usually make you smile. Some of them go far in the opposite way from that. But this gives you something to make you smile.”

Instead of a dress or hat, designer Karen Fultz-Robinson, who runs her ObservaMé label of comfy athleisure wear out of Tampa, wrote a poem, she said, because she felt inspired.

Fashion designer Karen Fultz-Robinson, who runs her ObservaMé label of comfy athleisure wear out of Tampa, wrote a poem about the airport flamingo, she said, because she felt inspired.
Fashion designer Karen Fultz-Robinson, who runs her ObservaMé label of comfy athleisure wear out of Tampa, wrote a poem about the airport flamingo, she said, because she felt inspired. [ Sharon Kennedy Wynne ]
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“I like that it is under water, allowing you to see that it is busy at work,” she said. “Like us entrepreneurs, when you see us above water we are very calm but maybe paddling feverishly below water.”

She predicted that Tampa would one day be called the “flamingo airport” by travelers.

Fashion designer Elizabeth Carson Racker said the flamingo is a perfect icon for Tampa Bay: “We are big, loud and over the top. We are showing our colors.” She has a fabric and design store, Queens Fabric, at 14902 N Florida Ave. in Tampa.
Fashion designer Elizabeth Carson Racker said the flamingo is a perfect icon for Tampa Bay: “We are big, loud and over the top. We are showing our colors.” She has a fabric and design store, Queens Fabric, at 14902 N Florida Ave. in Tampa. [ Sharon Kennedy Wynne ]

It took three hours for the embroidery machines to imprint each flamingo image on the tunic dresses Elizabeth Carson Racker designed for the Fashion Week challenge. She has a fabric and design store, Queens Fabric, at 14902 N Florida Ave. in Tampa, and said the flamingo is a perfect icon for Tampa Bay.

“We are big, loud and over the top,” she said. “We are showing our colors.”

Fashion artists designed hats and dresses emblazoned with flamingos, which are on sale at a local goods pop-up shop set up near the giant flamingo at the Shoppes at Bayshore on the third level of the Main Terminal at Tampa International Airport.
Fashion artists designed hats and dresses emblazoned with flamingos, which are on sale at a local goods pop-up shop set up near the giant flamingo at the Shoppes at Bayshore on the third level of the Main Terminal at Tampa International Airport. [ Sharon Kennedy Wynne ]
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