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Arty mannequins to strike a pose for AIDS research

Heather Richardson adds colored tiles to her Dude, part of the Outdoor Arts Foundation’s new project. In a first, the foundation will set up a virtual gallery of all the terrific torsos.
Published Jul. 24, 2014

SAFETY HARBOR — In a little, old-style barbershop, artist and barber Brian Feist daubs oil pastels on a female fiberglass torso. A montage of Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea and a blazing sunset emerges.

Clearly, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist is posthumously trapped in a woman's body, but with a massive marlin on the line and a polydactyl cat at his side, does he really care?

Hemingway, or "Papa," will soon be headed to the Key West Bahama House, a vacation rental property near his old stomping grounds. A portion of the sale of the $1,325 mannequin will be donated to an AIDS research organization.

Feist, 57, is volunteering his time and talent for the "Divas & Dudes" project, the latest endeavor of the nonprofit Outdoor Arts Foundation. He is among several Tampa Bay area artists who are decorating male and female mannequin torsos in odd, charming and family-friendly ways for purchase.

Heather Richardson, 52, glued tiny pieces of cut tile and mirror to a "mermanish" Dude in her Safety Harbor studio on a recent day. The merman's nipple areas were covered with what appeared to be two small ceramic jar lids.

"I picked these up at Art Basel (in Miami Beach) and knew they would come in handy one day," she said.

Prices for a Dude or Diva start at $575 and top out at $1,775, depending on size of the torso and complexity of the artwork. Ten to 20 percent of the proceeds benefits the nonprofit AIDS research organization of the patron's choice.

Four institutions — the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the AIDS Research Institute at the University of California at San Francisco, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, and the AIDS Research Alliance — are suggested.

Since 1999, the Outdoor Arts Foundation has worked with local artists to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charitable causes, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Florida Holocaust Museum and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Localized exhibits include the fiberglass elephants used during the Republican National Convention, manatees, sea turtles, doghouses and playhouses. Executive director Jay Goulde estimates that the foundation has organized more than 60 art-in-public-places projects so far.

"This is our first national and hopefully international project using artists from Tampa Bay and beyond," he said. "It's also the first time we'll have a virtual gallery of the artwork."

Divas & Dudes will be viewable through social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Ten torsos are nearly complete, and another batch will be started soon. Goulde is recruiting artists from San Francisco, Boston and Great Britain. The fact that the torsos are lightweight makes them easily shippable all over the world, he said.

"We thought torsos which represent the human form would be a good match for a disease that attacks the immune system of humans," Goulde said.

Contact Terri Bryce Reeves at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.

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