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Fanciful bird sculptures arrive on the St. Petersburg art scene

Molly Doyle, 17, shows off one of the Birds on Beach sculptures perched in places near and on Beach Drive. The high school senior began working on the project in her sophomore year.
Molly Doyle, 17, shows off one of the Birds on Beach sculptures perched in places near and on Beach Drive. The high school senior began working on the project in her sophomore year.
Published Dec. 25, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — Nestled on perches in and around the downtown waterfront, eight whimsical yellow-throated warblers wait to be found.

There's Brian, wielding a paint brush in his beak near the Museum of Fine Arts' columned entrance.

Beatrice peeks inquisitively down on shoppers crossing the threshold to Bruce Watters Jewelers.

And spot the rest of the bronze flock outside the Dalí Museum, at Straub Park, the Vinoy, the St. Petersburg Museum of History and the Birchwood.

High school senior Molly Doyle came up with the idea for the diminutive sculptures after seeing a similar project in Greenville, S.C. It took more than a year to make it happen. Doyle talked to city staff, enlisted the talents of sculptor Donna Gordon and sought permission to install the artwork at downtown locations near and on Beach Drive. Hence the name, Birds on Beach.

"It definitely took a lot longer than I expected it to, but it was definitely worth it," said Doyle, 17, who envisioned the project in her sophomore year. "I kind of went into it thinking it was a great project and that it would be really good for St. Pete. I didn't care how long it took, just as long as I finished it before I graduated."

Gordon accompanied Doyle to meetings at which the teenager pitched her proposal to officials at such institutions as the Dalí and Museum of Fine Arts.

"It was great watching Molly grow through the process," she said of the Northside Christian School student who had to schedule appointments during study hall and after classes. "She had to put together a business case to them to sell it. It was all her. I was there to present the artist side of it."

Birds on Beach, recently unveiled by Mayor Rick Kriseman in South Straub Park, takes the form of a scavenger hunt, or "bird quest," based on the tale of a winged family called the Warblesons.

"One sunny day in beautiful St. Pete," the story goes, "a family of birds on vacation decides to land and take a look around town." But Buddy, the youngest Warbleson, gets lost and the family must find him.

The clues, laid out in a brochure and on the project's website, point to places where each bird has stopped, and happily, to Buddy. Hint: he is preening himself in the garden of a "distinguished museum that houses the works of surrealist painter Salvador Dalí" and is sporting a mustache.

How did Molly decide where the sculptures should be installed?

"I just thought of places where I go when I'm downtown, influential places, historical places," the St. Petersburg native said during an interview across the street from Bruce Watters Jewelers, the first to agree to host one of the Warblesons.

At the Birchwood, where Daddy Warbleson can be found perched near a mailbox "eating his favorite food" — beetles — Chuck Prather praised Doyle's project as a fitting addition to the city's burgeoning art scene.

"It is important that we as business owners embrace that art culture," said Prather, who owns the Birchwood with his wife, Kathy.

Museum of Fine Arts spokesman David Connelly spoke of the benefits of having one of the tiny sculptures near the entrance of its great hall.

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"That's our classic entrance and I hope that it will bring people closer to us and our architecture," he said, adding that the scale of the bird integrates well into the museum's natural setting.

Birds on Beach is similar to Greenville's Mice on Main, also developed by a high school student.

Doyle and Gordon, of Donna Gordon Studio in St. Petersburg, credited Elizabeth Brincklow, the city's former manager of cultural affairs, for bringing them together.

"I was really excited about being a part of something that could be a fun, interactive work that would benefit the entire city, not just one location," said Gordon, who created the birds out of clay and sent them to be cast in bronze at a Port Charlotte foundry.

"Molly wanted each bird to have a distinct pose," she said. "They are all charming in their own way."

Molly's parents, Bob and Jillian Doyle, founders of Doyle Wealth Management, sponsored the project with $15,000 for the sculptures, website design, legal fees, trademark search and brochures.

The experience has been good for her daughter, who has benefited from "real world training," Jillian Doyle said. "I think she's learned that big projects sometimes take longer."

"I feel really proud in a good way,'' Molly Doyle said ''It's cool to see I've left my mark on this place."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.