Several years ago 78 year old artist and retired social worker, Janice McMurray, was invited to participate in a public art festival organized and coordinated by 1708 Gallery, a non-profit artists’ cooperative. Similar to the public art display in Chicago of cows, Richmond’s “critter” would be a fish! The fish symbolized the return of the rockfish to the recently cleaned up James River. Artists would submit ideas and illustrations of interesting, colorfully painted fish to Gallery 1708’s project committee for approval.
Made of polyurethane cast in a stylized design, each fish measured about 60 inches long and weighed 50 to 250 pounds. Most came with a heavy metal stand and were mounted on a concrete base. The unadorned sculpture would be transformed into a unique iconic work of art after it was painted and decorated. Sponsors would pay $500 per fish for each artist to paint.
The entire city of Richmond was caught up in the excitement! Corporations and individuals wanted to Go Fish! The painted fish would be auctioned off and installed all over town.
Janice immediately thought of her church—Second Presbyterian—as a sponsor because of the many references to fish in the Bible. (Loaves and fishes from the sermon on Mount; disciples were fishermen; Jonah was swallowed by a big fish and even the symbol for early Christians was a fish.)
Janice took her request to the associate minister. “Do you think Second Presbyterian Church would sponsor me to paint a fish to put in the public display?”
“Why not 12 fish since there were 12 disciples and the whole church could paint them?” was the enthusiastic response.
THE ANGEL AND THE TWELVE
Janice was thrilled. She then contacted an “angel” in the church who was willing to pay the $6,000 sponsorship fee for 12 fish but wanted to remain anonymous.
They were on their way!
Using blank fish outlines supplied by Gallery 1708, artist members of the church suggested ideas for 12 fish: Holy Mackerel, Angel Fish, The Loafing Fish, Rockfish of Ages, The King Fish, Rainbow Fish, the First Fish, musical Tuna-fish, Fish Scales also a musical fish, Church Lady Fish, Lit-er-Sea and Food Fish.
After the illustrations were approved by Gallery 1708, next was approval by the governing body of the church. There were some skeptics. (Those skeptics later wanted to purchase a fish.)
Finding a place to paint the fish was a challenge. Sunday School rooms, church balconies and even private homes were turned into painting sites.
Janice was the organizer. Figuring out how much paint to buy (a huge amount for 12 fish), writing directions for all painters to follow, mixing colors, getting brushes, finding drop cloths, etc. took an enormous amount of time.
It was complicated, too. Paints had to be put away on Sundays, fish had to be moved around, and once painting was scheduled during a Wednesday night church dinner.
For six weeks many, many persons worked on those fish including two boys who were in the Big Brother program, visiting relatives, and people who just dropped in to say hello.
Everybody was proud of their efforts and proud to be a part of the “Go Fish” public art project.
The fish were auctioned off and placed all over the city. Second Presbyterian’s 12 fish brought $17,000 which was allocated to 12 programs in the church including adult and children’s choirs, the feeding program, youth group, and women’s retreat.
The church became art friendly and as a result has supported other art undertakings with Janice as the “go to art person.” A full color book, called “Go Fish” was published and serves as a reminder of that glorious time.