Before the mermaid project got off the ground, artists and City engineers had to figure out how to design a sculpture that would stay ON the ground.
With mermaids on city streets, at the shore, and along busy intersections, the wind characteristics of cities, along the possibility of hurricanes or northeast-ers, had to be considered; which is why both the fiberglass and concrete bases on the mermaids were designed so as to not topple over with winds of 100 mph or less, and would probably remain upright in winds of 130 mph or more.
Local bronze sculptor Kevin Gallup was given the job of mass-producing mermaid castings for artists to decorate. Trained as an aerospace engineer, Gallup had to figure out how to keep mermaids affixed to their sturdy bases, and how to reproduce fiberglass sculptures quickly during what was becoming an exceptionally wet spring.
The first step was to make a prototype mermaid. She was built out of a brew of nearly two dozen materials, from metal to string to automotive body filler that didn't always hold up under the attention of prospective sponsors and artists. Several revisions later, the prototype was approved and used to make a mold from which over 130 "blank" mermaids were produced. The mermaid "nursery" was set up at Old Dominion University. When completed, each 10-foot by 4-foot hollow fiberglass sculpture was relatively light in weight (60-70 pounds) and offered artists plenty of options for painting, molding, drilling or otherwise affixing decorations on them. It was also as impervious to the elements as a boat hull.
At first, production did not go smoothly. The soggy weather slowed the drying process and on some days stopped production altogether because the fiberglass surface wouldn't dry beyond "Sticky."
Also, the mold was in four sections — two halves for the body and two halves for the hands. Blowing fiberglass into the sections was unwieldy because the surface of the mermaid needed to be smooth and the sections had to be uniform enough to fit together.
" Joining together, that was the tricky part," said Gallup, and his group of assistants Ð students and fellow artists Ð struggled to determine at what point in the drying process the edges should be trimmed and the halves joined. Then, the joints were reinforced - sturdy enough to withstand most of the attention people, including skateboarding youngsters, would give them out on the street.
Initially, it took about 20 hours of work to produce a "blank" mermaid, but "we finally got it down to 8 hours for each," said Gallup.
Myke Irving, who helped with the castings and mermaid repairs, when not decorating one of his eight mermaids, said he never planned to get so involved "I only wanted to do one mermaid . . . to give something back to the community."
He said he is surprised how some of his mermaids have been adopted by their community, citing the quote from a construction worker of his mermaid called Flower Garden, "When she was first put in place, I thought she was the ugliest thing I'd ever seen. But, after having lunch with her everyday - she's pretty."