The Destination Mermaids: Tail Trail project, co-sponsored by Florida’s Adventure Coast Visitors Bureau, Brooksville Main Street and the Hernando County Fine Arts Council, features a colorful coterie of life-sized mermaid statues that line The Tail Trail, launched to mark the 75th Anniversary of Weeki Wachee Springs. Therefore, it is only fitting that a Weeki Wachee mermaid created one of the newest Tail Trail statues and that this piece of tropical art now has a permanent home in Weeki Wachee.
“The Spring,” the masterwork of longtime mermaid performer Lydia Byrd Singer, now sits on an exotic grassy knoll just outside the Newton Perry Underwater Theater, where the artist swims on a regular basis. The statue, dedicated in July, stands among the other 25 Tail Trail life-sized mermaids on display throughout Hernando County at the local businesses and agencies that have agreed to sponsor and display them. Clocking in at 80 pounds, 6’8″ in height, 32” in diameter, and 54″ across, “The Spring” is what Tammy Heon, manager of Tourism Development for Florida’s Adventure Coast, Brooksville-Weeki Wachee, calls “a representation of many of the memories made here at Weeki Wachee State Park.” The Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park were the statue’s sponsors.
Beyond her glowing golden hair and lovely features, “The Spring” is vividly painted with images representing the past and present of this national park, ranging from representative renderings of the Adagio Pose, a signature Weeki Wachee mermaid pose (itself represented in the form of a fountain statue at the Park) created by former mermaid Diane Wyatt McDonald, and of celebrities such as Elvis Presley and Don Knotts who visited the park, to scenes featured in the park’s current production of “The Little Mermaid.”
“I wanted to paint a statue that—in black and white—represented the history of Weeki Wachee, in tribute to Newton Perry, the ladies who performed here, and all of the guests, young and old,” said Byrd-Singer. “And I wanted to paint the tail with full-color images that represent the Weeki Wachee of today.”
And according to Heon, Byrd-Singer more than succeeded. “It’s particularly special to us for many reasons,” said Heon. It’s not just a historically accurate mermaid; our friend Lydia Singer, a real Weeki Wachee mermaid, painted it.
“The Spring” is a dream realized for Byrd-Singer, a Brooksville resident and longtime artist hailing originally from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. She said that Weeki Wachee’s extensive history served as the main inspiration for her design. “I named the statue ‘The Spring’ because that’s really what we’re celebrating this 75th anniversary! Without the natural beauty and enchantment of the spring, we wouldn’t have the mermaids or the magic that we have come to love all these years.”
Art is a true passion for Byrd-Singer. “I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember. My dad was the art teacher at the middle schools in our county where I grew up, so he got me into it at a very young age,” she said. “I got a Bachelor of Arts at East Tennessee State University, and it was there that I found out I really leaned towards painting with acrylics and oils as my favorite media!”
Byrd-Singer’s other passion lies in her ongoing work as a performing mermaid at Weeki Wachee Springs. “I’ve been a Weeki Wachee mermaid for a little over four years now,” said Byrd-Singer. “My favorite part of the job is honestly just having the opportunity to swim in the spring. I’ve never experienced anything like it, and I feel really lucky to get to go to work there every day. Seeing the crowd get excited and the kids’ faces light up is always a plus too!”
It was, in fact, John Athanason, tourism marketing specialist of Florida’s Adventure Coast Tourism Bureau and longtime Weeki Wachee affiliate, who first suggested that Byrd-Singer apply to become a Tail Trail artist.
“I knew that Lydia was a great artist and encouraged her to submit her design,” he said, adding with a smile, “I knew she could do it. And I was right.”
Byrd-Singer was thrilled to become a contributing artist to this historical and cultural countywide art project. “How could I say no?” she said. “This was something I knew I was passionate about and would really enjoy getting to be a part of.”
And as Byrd-Singer conceptualized her statue, she found that her ideas for the design ‘sprang forth’ with the greatest of ease. “Because I’m a Weeki Wachee mermaid, it was easy to get inspired for my design for the statue,” she said. “I’ve got to meet several of the women (the “sirens”) that are a part of my design that represent the history of the park and have heard countless stories of what it was like as a mermaid back in their days. There are also several details in my design that I believe only mermaids will recognize or understand. It helps to know how a certain ballet move should be painted, or the types of fish that swim with us every day, or even recognize the small props we use in our shows!”
Also present at the statue’s dedication was Diane Greenwell of the Hernando County Fine Arts Council. “It is art projects such as the Mermaid Trail that keep Hernando County on the map,” she said. “It’s so incredible to see these statues and the creativity behind them. They have a life of their own.”
Sue Renaldi, Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, also took part in the dedication, as did Park Manager Adam Belden.
“It’s humbling to be a part of a park that has 75 years of impact on its local community,” said Belden. “It is amazing to see this Tail Trail be put in place and to see our culture spread throughout the county. And we’re so proud of our mermaid Lydia.”
And Byrd-Singer, soon expected to unveil her next creation, a baby due in September, is honored to be a part of Weeki Wachee history. “I feel so incredibly honored and humbled to know that my statue will stand at the park for many years to come!” she said. “This place means so much to me already, and to be able to leave this mark on it even after I’ve moved on from being a mermaid one day is so special. I could not be more thankful for this opportunity!”
Soon after the dedication, a number of that day’s guests at Weeki Wachee Springs took special notice of “The Spring,” including a 9-year-old named Riley, who declared upon her inspection of the newly unveiled artwork, “I want one for my bedroom!”