Almost ten years ago I was invited by the wonderful Bobby Welch to be a participating artist in the "Gadsden Reads" program. This city-wide literacy program would be featuring the book "Big Fish", written by Daniel Wallace. I'm sure you are familiar with the kind of city wide projects that feature large colorfully painted statues scattered about town? Well, Bobby was commissioning a few Alabama artists to paint a SIX FOOT FIBERGLASS CATFISH. (Sorry. Caps seemed appropriate.) These would be sold to businesses as a fundraiser as well as a fun way to drum up interest. I agreed and for weeks we had a gigantic fish, complete with whiskers made out of weed eater string, in our basement. Since nests were my "thing" I envisioned covering this fish with sticks and titled it "Fish Sticks". My son who was five or so at the time named him "Fin". I don't think I ever told Bobby this, but I hid my name in the artwork just for fun.
"Fish Sticks" aka "Fin" before it left our house for his wild adventure.
To unveil these marvelous creatures which had been mounted along Broad Street in Gadsden, Bobby found a truck to pull a decorated pontoon boat down what he now referred to as "the Broad River" and the artists onboard would lean over the edge and, with a long pole, remove the drape that was covering their fish to unveil it for the crowd walking alongside in somewhat of a parade of one vehicle fashion. Here's the website with my bio and photo of my catfish. Below is a photo of the unveiling.
Bobby (lower left) helping me as I reached from the boat. My daughter looks on from behind.
Do you see my name on the fish? This was on the cover of the Gadsden Times.
Every good story has a tragedy they say and here it is. Someone stole "Fish Sticks"! And not long after it's debut either. And really, I was ok. It had served it's purpose and in this tragedy it gained another one. It made the 10 o'clock news and people, out of kindness but mostly out of good humored fun, began a memorial at the site of the empty pole where "Fish Sticks" once stood. There were fish lures, flowers, fish food, and tall memorial candles. It's pictured below. Bobby printed "Have you seen this fish?" posters offering a $500 reward and they were everywhere. I made t-shirts with that poster on it for our family and I even wrote a short poem about it. Click here to see the poster and poem.
"Have you seen this fish?" reward poster and memorial on the pole, now empty.
The picture my friend saw yesterday was probably a poster pictured below that shows all the fish painted for this event. In the end, this tragic tale helped draw more attention to the wonderful reading program and we made some great memories. I so enjoyed spending time with Bobby and the other artists. Daniel Wallace the author also painted a fish. He was kind enough to autograph his books for my mother and I. I loved the movie version of "Big Fish" as well as the book. This crazy story seems right in line with it. And did you know it is a felony to destroy public art? I did not either. But they did find out what happened to Fin and those who destroyed it were caught.
"The Big Fish of Broad Street" poster my friend saw (autograhped)