Celebrating Weeki Wachee’s 75th anniversary with monumental sculpture garden unveiling
On January 12, the mystical grounds of Weeki Wachee Springs became a living, nature-made gallery of beautiful artistic masterworks. A lovely sculpture garden was unveiled, brimming with the likenesses of enchanted sirens, each of which stood in noble tribute to a Hernando County historical landmark.
Florida’s Adventure Coast Visitors Bureau has heralded the unveiling of the Mermaid Tale Trail, created in conjunction with the Hernando County Fine Arts Council, Brooksville Main Street, and dozens of artists and business partners from throughout the area.
This legacy project, which celebrated the 75th anniversary of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park – Home of the World-Famous Mermaids, involved the design and creation of 28 mermaid statues–80-pound free-standing outdoor fiberglass mermaids standing 6’8″ tall and 32” in diameter and 54″ across. The ethereal visage of this hand-sculpted statue was cast from the face of veteran Weeki Wachee mermaid Kristy Lowman.
“I take pride in knowing that I’ll be able to show my children and grandchildren these statues,” said Lowman, who swam the springs of Weeki Wachee for seven years and is now a home health nurse. “That they will become a part of our community and its history.”
Each statue then was hand-painted by a juried artist, with the first 28 statues unveiled in a well-attended outdoor ceremony the morning of Jan. 12. Featured speakers included Adam Belden, Park Manager at Florida State Parks.
“For 75 magical years, in our underwater theatre, the world-famous Weeki Wachee mermaids have entertained and amazed audiences around the world,” said Belden. “And this iconic roadside attraction is now a state park.”
Belden introduced and acknowledged the presence of Delee Perry, daughter of Weeki Wachee co-founder Newton Perry. “She operates her father’s swim school in Ocala and is a historian of her father’s legacy,” said Belden.
Belden also oversaw the unveiling of a plaque, courtesy of the Friends of Weeki Wachee State Park, that acknowledges Weeki Wachee Springs State Park on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register of Historic Places is an official listing of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and part of a National Park Service program “to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.”
“This plaque will proudly be displayed here at our park,” said Belden.
Chuck Hatcher, Director of Parks and Recreation for the State of Florida, deemed the mermaid statue unveiling as “such an important day.” “We know how much fun you have here,” he told the crowd. “And no visit is complete without the mermaid show…And while we originally planned our 75th-anniversary unveiling for Sept. 13, Hurricane Ian changed our focus to our southwest parks; we are finally going to celebrate that day today. What a beautiful day!”
The origins of the Weeki Wachee mermaids, Hatcher explained, could be found in Newton Perry’s synchronized swim team known as the Aquabelles, responsible for the choreography of many of the underwater ballet maneuvers still performed by the mermaids. “The symbol of Weeki Wachee, the iconic pose known as the Adagio pose, was created by Aquabelles Mary Dwight and Dianne Wyatt McDonald,” he explained. “At 92 years young, McDonald still fondly remembers her time at Weeki Wachee. It is an honor to welcome her here today.”
Aside from introducing McDonald to rousing applause from the crowd, Hatcher also unveiled the Adagio statue that captures this iconic pose, built in 1966 and restored in 2022 by the Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. He thanked the Friends for their efforts, along with Tammy Heon, Manager of Tourism for Florida’s Adventures Coast Visitors Bureau, who he credited with helping to “extend the magic of the mermaids to the whole region.” He also thanked Robyn Anderson, Weeki Wachee operations manager, along with the staff, mermaids, and volunteers of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. “We are just so proud of what you all do here at Weeki Wachee,” said Hatcher.
Hernando County Commissioner John Allocco heralded both the heritage and the creative process that went into the creation of the mermaid statues. He stated, “This is a project with a long history, over 75 years. This is a uniquely Florida project. Today we celebrate the trail.”
Allocco acknowledged the efforts of the Hernando County Fine Arts Council, the Florida State Parks Department, Kristy Lowman, “the Weeki Wachee mermaid who provided the plaster in her beautiful likeness,” Shannon Werner of the tourism office, who provided initial sketches to inspire the mermaid’s design, Cemex, who donated the cement pads for the mermaid statues; as well as participating artists, all from Florida, sponsors, businesses, and organizations.
Tammy Heon, who completed the roster of speakers for the day, thanked the staff of Florida’s Adventure Coast Visitors Bureau, Brooksville Main Street, Hernando County Fine Arts Council, the Hernando County Board of County Commissioners, Hernando County Tourist Development Council, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Kristy Lowman, Mermaid Model, Shannon Werner, Artist Greg Becker, Sculptor/Owner, Reliable Finishes & Unique Creations, James Morris, Cemex Construction Materials, Brenda Peshel & Mario Perez, Hernando County Fleet Dept., John & Robert Nesseralla, Nesseralla Unlimited Custom Automotive, Lee Middleton, Map Artist, FloridaMermaidTrail.com/Tale-Trail and a full roster of VIP guests, including Congressman Gus Bilirakis, commissioners, administrators, City of Brooksville, and Tourist Development Council.
“The trail of the mermaid project has been a dream of the tourism office for some years now; we were just waiting for the right opportunity. We wanted the trail to combine the beauty and mystique of mermaids with the popularity of public art,” she said. “That opportunity came with the 75th anniversary of Weeki Wachee Springs. Our artists have created a very special trail, bringing their talents. These incredibly talented artists believed in and powered this project.”
Heon encouraged the public to take pictures with the mermaid masterworks, posting them with hashtags on social media. Then she oversaw the grand unveiling, revealing a beautiful plethora of finned goddesses, each of which also signifies a little piece of history.
The mermaids are:
Alice … Liza Compass …. Panbanged Knits & Fiber Shoppe
Alina … Victoria Maxim … Capricci Gifts & Healing Waters Spa
Amaxura … Diane Liptak & Steve Krou … Cemex Construction Materials
Clarise … Marti Vitulli … Sparacia Witherell Family Winery
Esturia … Deborah Newman … Sonny Vergara, in honor of Legendary Mermaid, Emilia “Vicki” Vergara Smith
Flora … Karen Heidler … Greater Hernando Chamber of Commerce
Great Spiri … Rita Taverni & Shaun Stranger … The Hawkins Family
Ila … Roxanne Marie Campbell … Wellcome OM Integral Healing & Education Center
Kaimana … Mckenzie Montecalvo … Terlep Chiropractic
Lily … Gary Duquette … Lowman Law Firm
Lorelei … Karen Governale … The Weaver Group Realty
Marina … Renata Villemaire … Hernando Beach Motel
Meraki … Arielle Katarina … Florida’s Adventure Coast Visitors Bureau
Mother Nature … Lynne Simone … The Captain’s House
Nico & The Velvet Underwater … Jesse Kasabian … NatureCoaster.com
Nova … Robin Stewart … Sarah Hill Realty
Pasha … Angela Farinelli … West Coast Musculoskeletal Institute
Patience … Kaylee La Placa … Lowman Family Foundation
Queen Bee … Rachel Ford … Brooksville Main Street
Saguara … Tyler Harris … A Fishing Story with Ronnie Green
Sirena de la Fruta … Arielle Katarina … City of Brooksville
The Heart of Weeki Wachee … Johan Casadiego … Krueger City
The Kraken … Brian Morris … The Silver Dolphin Restaurant
The Rebel … Autum Proctor … Hernando Beach Motel
The Spring … Lydia Byrd … The Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
The Way Home … David Hendrickson … Century 21 Alliance Realty
Tifara … Jancie Uribe … Hernando County Tourist Development Council
Undine … Renata Villemaire … In memory of Harvey Blair “Scooter” Sellers, IV; Forever in our Hearts
Karen Governale painted “Lorelei,” a mermaid with a rainbow-colored sea life theme. “I was so excited to see all of the other artists’ renditions of the mermaid statue! They did not disappoint!” she said. “Each one was beautifully painted and original. I felt honored to be a part of this day and a part of this community. It was such a great time. One I will never forget!”
Renata Villemaire painted two of the mermaids presented. She shared, “The event was absolutely breathtaking, with so many amazing, unique and creative fellow artists and their different visions of the statue. I painted two of them, ‘Marina’ was inspired by Greek mythology and is going to a permanent home at Hernando Beach Motel. ‘Undina’ is a tribute to Harvey Blair ‘Scooter’ Sellers, IV, and will be located downtown Brooksville. I was able to meet his family and friends; it warms my heart to bring meaning and memories with this statue.”
Johan Casadiego painted “The Heart of Weeki Wachee.” “I wanted to represent these beautiful elements we get to see at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, interacting together, with a little bit of contrast throughout the composition so it will be easy to see manatees, turtles, fish, and a large mermaid on the back of the statue so people can see it from that angle as well,” he said. “I really appreciate being part of this project, painting my design on one of the statues; it’s mind-blowing, it’s awesome.”
Brian Morris, Studio M Art, was pleased to be a part of this special event. “The event was outstanding, and the park and Florida Adventure Coast team made this event one to remember. I was honored to be chosen to be part of this event and leave a landmark in Hernando County. Seeing all the artists’ renditions of how they interpreted the statue was amazing and so inspirational,” he said. “My Mermaid is known as ‘The Kraken.’ Her song controls and takes the beast from the Black Sea below to do her bidding. She will reside at The Silver Dolphin Restaurant near Hernando Beach. I’m excited to go see her forever home and see visitors from all over the world enjoying her beauty.”
Mckenzie Montecalvo was honored to be a trail artist. “I am so honored to be a part of this special 75th-anniversary project and to have my mermaid placed at Pine Island Beach,” she said. “The project itself is just incredible! To have all these diverse and amazing artists contributing to the enrichment of the community is so cool and seeing all of the mermaids together at the unveiling was magical.”
Montecalvo found special inspiration for her mermaid statue.
“My mermaid’s name is ‘Kaimana,’ which means powerful ocean,” she said. “My inspiration was my dad, who passed away 13 years ago. He was a big fisherman, and we grew up on the ocean doing everything from fishing, tubing, spearfishing, etc. One of his favorite things was shark fishing. So I knew I wanted to do a shark theme and to have the sunken ships. I really wanted to capture the depth of the ocean and how full of life it truly is. As for my mermaid’s tail, I played off the idea of the depth of the ocean and thought of the transparent fish you find in the abyss and loved the idea of her having a skeleton tail. I wanted her to have a dangerous look to her, so I made her tail radioactive green to make it seem like it’s glowing, pale skin and dark grungy hair. I love how she came out and can’t wait to see her in her new home and for everyone to come and see her.”
Arielle Katarina shared, “I loved participating in the Mermaid Tale Trail! When I found out I’d be painting a life-size mermaid, I was so excited. When I found out I had the opportunity to paint a second one, I was even more stoked! One of my mermaids ‘Sirena de La Fruta’ will be going in front of Brooksville City Hall, and the other ‘Meraki’ will be at the Florida Welcome Center on I-75 on the state line. ‘Sirena de La Fruta’ is Spanish for ‘mermaid of the fruit’ and is a celebration of all things tropical fruit and living life in abundance. She is fun, festive, and nature-y and surrounds herself with all sorts of tropical fruit, all of which can be grown in Florida!
‘Meraki’ is a Greek word that means ‘to do something with soul, creativity, or love; leaving a piece of yourself into what you are doing.’ ‘Meraki’ is a creative mermaid who loves what she does, puts her soul into beautiful expression, and shares her creativity with the world! She celebrates the beauty and amazing experiences that can be had in this life. Her line work is bold, and her colors are bright. Both mermaids represent who I am as an artist, yet look completely different. My work ranges from soft and natural to bold and trippy. And all of it is a part of me.”
Katarina greatly enjoyed her participation in the tail trail dedication. “It was such an honor to be a part of Weeki Wachee’s 75th Anniversary, and I loved being able to meet real Weeki Wachee mermaids past and present,” she said. “I brought my mom (also a lover of mermaids) as my honored guest, and we even got to watch a mermaid show together. It was her first time at Weeki, and she loved it.”
Allisa Babor, chair of the Hernando County Fine Arts Council, takes immense pride in the success of the Mermaid Tail Trail Project. She stated, “Today, I felt great joy as I witnessed the unveiling of the mermaids for the Tale Trail! It was such a special day as we celebrated 75 years of Weeki Wachee State Park, 28 stunning mermaid statues, and the amazing artists who helped bring this vision to life! What was just an idea not long ago is now a beautiful, interactive public art project that will bring residents and visitors all over the county to various parks, businesses, and points of interest in Hernando– all while spotlighting local art.”
“We have enjoyed working alongside our partners Florida Adventure Coast and Brooksville Main Street and are thankful for the support of the Board of County Commissioners, various sponsors, talented artists, and the community here in Hernando,” she added. “It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite mermaid because each one is as unique and special as this place we call home here on the adventure coast. We invite you to see all of them for yourself along the Mermaid Tale Trail!”
Heon agrees.“We’re delighted to unveil our newest trail of public art while celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Weeki Wachee Springs, one of Florida’s original and most iconic attractions and the inspiration for The Mermaid Tale Trail. The historic mermaids have been the muse of many artists over the decades; today, we honor that inspiration by unveiling the first of the statues that will form a trail of Mermaids leading visitors throughout Florida’s Adventure Coast,” said Tammy Heon, Manager of Tourism for Florida’s Adventures Coast Visitors Bureau.
Autum Proctor of Traveling Art Parties, who painted ‘The Rebel’ mermaid, looks forward to creating more community art in the future. She shared, “The entire event was amazing! Everything was so well coordinated, and the other mermaids were absolutely stunning! This was such a fun and unique experience for me, and I look forward to more projects in the future!”
Natalie Kahler, executive director of Brooksville Main Street, said that “The dedication was lovely and very well attended.”
“We were honored to help County Tourism develop this beautiful public art program and to work alongside them in making it come to life,” she said. “These mermaids will provide joy and inspiration to residents and visitors alike. As we’ve seen from our Florida Mermaid Trail in operation since 2020, these exhibits will also raise awareness of local businesses and grow their customer base. Everybody wins!”