Budding Opportunity with Bellingrath Gardens

I discovered first hand how one opportunity could lead to another.

While painting the piano at the Mobile Downtown Alliance, Bellingrath Gardens called looking for an artist to create a child face-in-the-hole board for an upcoming Christmas event.  I was recommended for the compensated job, which I accepted.  The end product was a 4.5’ tall gingerbread face-in-the-hole board. Everyone was very pleased with the outcome. 

About a month after the gingerbread gig, I received a very unexpected call in the middle of a child-filled super Target from the Executive Director of Bellingrath Gardens (Dr. Bill Barrick).  They were looking for an artist to create a Dr. Seuss themed display for the Festival of Flowers (at Providence Hospital). 

I immediately knew this would be a huge and potentially very stressful undertaking; I also knew that as long as it was compensated I would accept the challenge.  Let’s be real….this could be a fantastic project to get my name out in the local art community. 


Dr. Barrick (who is an incredibly nice and interesting man by the way) and I hashed out the initial design plan and coordinated with the awesome team at the gardens.  Overall, my portion of the display will entail:

  • 12 swimmy swan sculptures ~3.5’ feet in length each (constructed from paper maché over wood)
  • 25 fish sculptures (made with wood and a water-proof maché mixture)
  • A 15’ wooden structure painted like the Once-ler house from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax

The display will also include active water features, interactive aspects, the Lorax himself, and of course tons of beautiful plants and flowers. 


The amount of work is immense (as anticipated) and the deadline (end of March) seems fast approaching.  After seeking the advice of fellow artists and a Mardi Gras float artist, I decided to create wooden armatures for all of the sculptures out of thin plywood.  Any hanging supports are attached to the armature, securely inside the maché. 

For the birds (swimmy swans) I used paper, masking tape, and wire to create the main forms.  Then I used CelluClay (this stuff is awesome…an instant sculpting substance that you simply mix with water) and instant paper maché to cover the armatures.  Let’s just say that the flock seemed to grow more numerous with every bird I completed and drying times vary wildly with thickness. 

The fish were another challenge altogether since they will be partially submerged in water for the duration of the festival.  First I sought the help and advice of an extremely friendly and talented Mobile sculptor, April Livingston , but determined that power tools weren’t my first choice for this project.  Finally, after much contemplation and research, I finally found a YouTube video posted by diyeasycraftsdescribing a waterproof maché mixture made from mortar.  The main armatures are also thin plywood fish profiles sandwiched between purple insulation foam board fish profiles.  This material is waterproof and easy to work with. 

The Bellingrath team cut out the house after I came and sketched the outline on 3 sheets of plywood laid together to equate to 15’ in height.  This structure has been delivered to my studio and I am VERY thankful I have a large working space for this project!! 

Stay tuned, as I’ll be posting a ton of pics and video of the project in action!!!

Visit Marnees Art Studio & Art Gallery Mobile Alabama

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