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Shapely mermaid is public art committee's choice for Tarpon Springs

French sculptor Amaryllis Bataille created Ama, one of a series in bronze installed around the world.
Published Jan. 28, 2014

TARPON SPRINGS — In December, the City Commission gave the green light for what will be the first city-sponsored major public art installation here in decades: a bronze mermaid.

A 6-foot-4, anatomically correct bronze mermaid, to be precise.

The statue, called Ama, appears to be emerging from the water, shedding her vestigial tail in favor of legs. This, according to the artist, French sculptor Amaryllis Bataille, is because she is adapting to her new environment.

City officials say the mermaid is poised to make a big splash in town, but will her nautical nudity create waves as well? After all, her long, tapering tendrils of hair barely cloak her female assets.

Dr. Kathleen Monahan, the city's director of cultural and civic services, expects a few possible naysayers, but overall approval and excitement from the community at large. The statue is not only beautiful, but will complement the city's Greek culture and mythology, she said.

She cited the acceptance of artful nudes throughout Europe and in other downtowns in the United States. Plus, Ama won't be the first topless mermaid to grace the west coast of Florida.

"This will be no more revealing than the mermaid statues at Weeki Wachee," she said, "and those are totally au naturel."

Just to make sure, though, the Tarpon Springs Public Art Committee did some checking.

"(Pictures) were shopped around to all sorts of groups like the Rotarians, the City Commission, the woman's club, the library board — many different civic groups," Monahan said. "Everybody has been 100 percent behind it."

Many have speculated that the artist, who generally goes by her first name only, created the mermaid in her own image. Both have long hair and svelte figures.

But as Amaryllis explained in an email: "My model is a composite of all the women who have contributed to my maturation as an artist and a person. However, a part of me that is with each sculpture I have ever done is my soul … each and every piece is passing on our message of the necessity to protect the planet's water resources and sea life."

The bronze sculpture is expected to arrive at Craig Park in mid March, in time for the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce 40th annual Fine Arts Festival, April 5 and 6.

Ama will overlook Spring Bayou, where her fellow aquatic friends, the manatees, are known to gather during the winter months. (Legend has it that manatees were often mistaken for mermaids by sailors who had perhaps spent too much time at sea.)

The mermaid is part of the Amaryllis Art for Charity project, an effort by a German company, Koh i Noor, to install as many as 100 mermaid statues around the world in scenic locales near bodies of water. So far, the company has placed 16 of these mermaids, all named Ama, in a variety of locales including Europe, South Korea and Mexico.

Ama is the name given to female Japanese pearl divers, sometimes known as "Ladies of the Sea." Traditionally, many of them wore only a loincloth.

Dunedin resident Philip Jepsen, a researcher of mermaid art and mythology and founder of mermaidsofearth.com, brought the idea for the sculpture before Tarpon's Public Art Committee in mid 2013.

Jepsen grew up in Denmark, home of Hans Christian Andersen, the author of The Little Mermaid, and has been fascinated with mermaid sculpture ever since.

Tarpon Springs, with its Greek heritage and beautiful bayous, will be an ideal location for the sea creature to appear, he said.

"The committee was very enthusiastic about the idea," Jepsen said. "They thought it was very artful and a good cultural asset for the city. A big tourist draw as well."

The Ama of Tarpon Springs will be the second in the United States and the first on the East Coast. Each Ama comes from the same mold with slight variations that occur during the pouring process, but each is customized with the use of patinas, an inscription of the location and coordinates, and ornamentation at the base.

The statue will be exhibited for three years, and by the end of that period it must be sold, auctioned or purchased by the city for a minimum of $20,000. About one-third of that amount then would be donated to a nonprofit organization in the community.

Lynn Pierson, chairman of the Public Art Committee, which formed in 2007, is sure the city will find a way to buy the mermaid.

"The city is very excited about the idea," she said. "As we were searching for public art projects around town — from very abstract to very representational — this opportunity came along and it was really a no-brainer. I am very confident that one way or another, she will be permanent."

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.

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