Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Showtime Nears for Sea Cow Art to Help Kids

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Showtime Nears for Sea Cow Art to Help Kids

Article excerpt

Byline: Susan D. Brandenburg, Shorelines correspondent

When Katrinka Walter saw her 4-month old grandson, Freddie Streisfeld-Leitner, cradled in the colorful tail of a very special manatee, she was deeply touched.

"Freddie is lucky," she said. "He will grow up with every advantage, assured of a good education. He doesn't know it now, but Susanne's sea cow will help make it possible for less-privileged children to receive an education, too."

Walter, of Ponte Vedra Beach, her daughter, Karen Streisfeld-Leitner, and her grandson, Freddie, recently visited the L'Atrium subdivision studio and temporary manatee habitat of artist Susanne Schuenke.

Replicating a public art concept that has been presented in cities across the nation, the Otis Smith Kids Foundation has teamed up with the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville to bring Sea Cows for Kids to Northeast Florida. The project is intended to generate funding for the foundation's programs, providing education and art opportunities for approximately 900 inner-city children annually.

"Moose were loose in Toronto, Chicago had cows, and catfish were out of the water in Nashville," said Bonnie Upright, director of community development for the Otis Smith Kids Foundation. "The manatee is one of Northeast Florida's greatest natural treasures and will mirror the friendly charm of the First Coast from September 2004 through February of 2005."

On Sept. 1, dozens of life-sized manatee sculptures will emerge on street corners, in parks and at corporate sites. Painted imaginatively by local artists, each sea cow will be funded by private or corporate sponsors and will be auctioned off after their public display.

Sponsored by Gary and Dianne McCalla of San Marco and titled "Once Upon a Time . . . There was a happy Manatee in Clear, Clean Water," Schuenke's massive, 6-foot sea cow has a brilliant depiction of stylized fish, flora and fauna traversing an intact water world that the artist hopes will encourage a return to the "once upon" environmental good times of man and sea mammal.

"He's huge!" Schuenke exclaimed. "We had to remove the front door to get him in here, but he's got such a sweet expression on his face that I'll actually miss him when he's gone. …

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