Fiberglass jaguar, part of 2006 fundraiser, gets makeover

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Even big cats need a little love now and then.

Diamonds and Purrls, one of the large decorated fiberglass jaguar statues created for a 2006 Otis Smith Kids Foundation fundraising drive, was looking a little tattered before artist Amy Stump refurbished it.

The statue was covered with thousands of pearl-like beads, then covered with a clear coat of sealant to protect it when it was originally built. It’s been sitting poolside at an Oakleaf home for more than a decade and was showing its years, Stump said.

“Over the years the end pieces of some of the beads have fallen off, some of the jewels have gotten loose, just general wear and tear,” she said.

Ferns were growing from the cat’s feet and mold had gotten under the sealant, so Stump spent a couple of weekends scrubbing down the statue, removing the clear coat and replacing broken beads.

“It was surprising just how much work had to get done,” Stump said. “I spent a couple hours of media blasting to take off the clear coat, which was discoloring it. After that it was pretty simple.”

Oddly enough, Stump’s sister, Lindsay Powell, was the original designer of Diamonds and Purrls. It is owned by Vanice Serrano. Stump said her sister had no problem with the repairs.

Diamonds and Purrls was one of 53 Big Cats for Kids created in 2006-07. Sponsors willing to put up $5,000 were lined up for each of the cats, which were then decorated by artists and put on public display before being auctioned off to raise money for the Otis Smith Kids Foundation, which helped at-risk elementary school children in Jacksonville. The foundation closed in 2007.

It was the second such fundraiser for the foundation. In 2004-05, the Sea Cows for Kids project created 43 manatee statues. A later drive in 2007-08 saw 25 fiberglass sea turtles created to raise funds for the Child Guidance Center. Together, the three drives raised about $500,000.

Bonnie Upright, who now runs the Upright PR firm in Jacksonville, was behind all three fundraisers. She said she’d love to find out what happened to all of the figures. Some are still publicly displayed, while others are in backyards or businesses. She said she’ll still find one unexpectedly from time to time, including a few that have been redone over the years, but she doesn’t know where all of them have gotten to.

“I don’t think I ever thought about them being out this long, so I’m pleased to see them in relatively good shape,” Upright said.

They’re built of fiberglass over a steel frame, so it’s not likely that they’ve fallen apart, she said. But the unique artistic finish on each of them won’t last forever and some are probably in line for a Diamonds and Purrls-like makeover. ManaTina Turner, a sea cow decorated in the style of the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Tina Turner, is next up on Stump’s to-do list.

“Maybe we’ve got a little cottage industry going for Amy,” Upright said.

Upright said she didn’t get one of the figures herself but thinks she still has a manatee head somewhere in her garage. Someone stole one of the figures from outside the Museum of Science & History and it was later recovered under a bridge with extensive damage. So she kept the head as a souvenir.

Upright said she’d love to lead another campaign if she can find an organization that wants to conduct one.

“I get calls here and there, but quite honestly, the upfront cost is significant,” she said. “It’s not for the faint of heart and it’s not for those who don’t have some cash reserves.”

She said she’s already picked out a critter and would love to see them become interactive.

“Oh, it would be incredible. I would love to do this project again,” she said. “I would have them talk, you could push a button and they could give the sponsor name. There’s so much more I could do.”

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