frog

Anything except extinct: The story of Erie’s fish and frogs

Feb 13 • Features, Top Stories • 1328

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Take a peak around town in little, hidden corners and you might see the remnants of what once was.
They are large, come in four varieties and are hard to miss. But what are they?
It all started with three people, one idea and a trip to Chicago to make it happen.
In 1999, Susan Black-Keim, then an administrator at Gannon University, took a walk through midtown Chicago marveling at these figures that lined the street.
The exhibit was called “Cows on Parade” and featured around 300 life-sized imitation cows decorated by many artists in the Chicago area as an effort for a public art project.
What Black-Keim didn’t know was that another local Erie pair and artists were marveling at the same cows.
David Seitzinger and his son David Jr. also spent some of the summer in 1999 looking at the same cows.
“I saw a bunch of people gathered around,” Seitzinger said.
“Usually when you see people like that there’s a fight. But this wasn’t a fight.”
What both Seitzingers and Black-Keim saw in Chicago they wanted to bring to Erie, and that is how the project began.
Erie was once known as the largest freshwater fishing port in the country, which acted as the inspiration for its own public art project.
A committee of local artists and art supporters rallied around Black-Keim and the Erie Art Museum to get the project started.
Once the group decided the art project would involve statues of fish, the volunteers dubbed themselves the Fish Commish, led by Jody Farrell and Mary Alice Doolin.
The Commish began working on the project with Seitzinger, who said when the group asked he wanted to
seem cool and collected on the outside, but on the inside he was really ecstatic for the project, since he and his son were thinking Erie needed the same type of project.
He made several sketches of fish for the Fish Commish to look over and decide on which designs they liked.
The Commish decided on two different designs, a horizontal and a vertical rendition of the fish.
Many local artists and businesses came together to sponsor and work on the designs for the fish, and as Seitzinger said, there were so many talented artists but not enough fish to go around.
However, the first fish appeared in the summer of 2001 outside of Old Main at Gannon.
The fish was sponsored by Gannon and called “The Cosmic Fish.”
Seitzinger said, however, that the first fish in Erie really was not the first fish created.
This first fish was given to his son to design.
He said that David Jr. could have the fish if what he could be done fast.
The fish was painted with zebra stripes by David Seitzinger Jr. and had a very short stay in Erie.
The younger Seitzinger said he created the fish in a long weekend.
Meanwhile, back in Erie many artists and sponsors were hard at work on the fish and they began to pop up all over town.
The older Seitzinger even made one of the fish his own by decorating it according to his own artistic vision.
It was called Swingin’ in the Rain and featured a blue and silver metallic fish with many scales.
Coming out of the fish’s mouth is a glass piece made from a single steam vase, meant to mimic the look of water.
On the top of the water is a small Kermit the Frog stuffed animal in a tuxedo, posed and holding a small umbrella.
Now the fish is inside the Kada Gallery in the Colony Plaza on West Eighth Street.
Seitzinger said one of his favorite activities during the project was cleaning his fish.
He would go out on Sunday mornings after the night crowds were out on Friday and Saturday to make sure the fish was in good shape.
“One time I went out there and Kermit was flat,” he said.
“He was smashed up against the umbrella. Someone tried to steal him but there’s a metal rod that runs through the fish all the way through Kermit’s arm. He wasn’t going anywhere.”
By the end of that summer, close to 100 statues could be found across the city and surrounding areas.                                                                                                        The question then became what was going to happen to these large works of art after the completion of the project.
Sponsors of each fish were allowed to either purchase their statues for $3,500 or they would be placed in an auction dubbed the “fish market.” The money raised from the sale was split between the general scholarship fund at Gannon and the Erie Art Museum.
The excitement in Erie had died down as the fish had moved from their resting places on to other locations. The Fish Commish, though, was planning for something else.
A large egg created mostly of foam by Seitzinger Sr. appeared one August day in 2004 on the steps of the art museum and the community began to buzz about what it might be.
After the egg sat for several days, closely watched around the clock by members of the Fish Commish, many local residents noticed that there was a crack around the middle of it. People began to gather around to see what would hatch from this mysterious egg.
Seitzinger Sr. removed the top of the egg and thus was born. The new project was dubbed LeapFrog! and two versions of large frog statues began popping up across town.
One of the first frogs to appear that year was actually at Gannon, located outside of Old Main. The year the frogs began to appear was a leap year, and according to artist and Gannon faculty member MC Gensheimer this frog was one of the leap year frogs.
It was called “Victorian Flower Frog” and is made to resemble small ceramic creatures Victorian era nobility would have used to hold flowers upright in vases.
Gannon still has two frogs and two fish statues on-campus. One frog and one fish were created Gensheimer. Her fish and frog are located inside the Waldron Campus Center in the Beyer Hall Cafeteria.
According to Gensheimer, the frog that stood outside of the Waldron Campus Center since it was placed in the summer of the project was repaired and now resides in the Knight Club.
The paint had to be completely redone on the statue and some holes in its fiberglass body repaired, as Gensheimer said the statues were never meant to withstand Erie’s harsh winters.
The first fish that was placed in Erie from the project is also still owned by Gannon. It hangs in a sitting alcove on the first floor in the Palumbo Academic Center.

JULIA FULTON
fulton004@knights.gannon.edu

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