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Fish gone wild

Jim Saulsbury, left, and Dick Wohnoutka finish sanding wooden fish they made as part of Spicer's "fish gone wild" summer art project. The fish will be decorated by local artists and put on display in Spicer by Memorial Day. They'll be sold at a silent auction at the end of the summer. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)

There will be something a little fishy going on in Spicer this summer.

With the help of a select group of local artists, about 15 wooden fish sculptures will be painted, dressed up, adorned and put on display throughout the town.

It's a project the Spicer beautification committee has dubbed "fish gone wild."

"We just think it's going to be a lot of fun," said Sandy Saulsbury, committee member.

The project will be an opportunity to showcase the community's numerous local artists, promote community pride and be a tourist attraction as people search for the fish scattered throughout town, said Saulsbury.

"It'll create excitement and bring people into our community," said Mary Wohnoutka, chairwoman of the beautification committee. Even though the economy is tight, Wohnoutka said it's important to keep "creating interest" in your community.

The colorful fish, which are expected to be completed and put on display by Memorial Day, will bring a little joy and fun to town. "It'll make people happy when they look at them," said Saulsbury.

Saulsbury and her husband, Jim, hatched the idea after seeing a similar, but more elaborate, project in Anchorage, Ala.

There, artists had large -- and expensive -- fiberglass molds of salmon to doll up.

The Saulsburys took photos of those fish and proposed that Spicer, located on the shores of Green Lake, take on the project.

After learning that a fiberglass mold cost about $2,000 and each fish would be $600, they quickly moved to a less expensive plan B that involved the volunteer efforts of Jim Saulsbury and his good friend Dick Wohnoutka.

Since Thanksgiving, the two have been working in Saulsbury's wood shop gluing, cutting and sanding the 3-foot long wooden fish that are a couple inches thick and about 16 inches high.

"It's supposed to look like a walleye," said Jim Saulsbury, with self-deprecating humor. "It looks like a fish of some kind."

The committee received a $500 grant from the Willmar Area Arts Council, which is also providing assistance in finding artists.

Janet Olney, administrative assistant with the arts council, said she's sending e-mails and letters to artists in their registry inviting them to participate in the project. Anticipating that there will be more artists than fish, Olney said the artists will be selected by drawing names from a hat.

Even though the project is being done on a shoestring budget, Olney said the fish will look great, draw a lot of smiles and generate some much-needed excitement in the community. "I think we need it more than ever to get our minds off all the gloom and doom out there," she said. "I'm pleased the artists are going to get a chance to take part in that."

The artists will receive a $25 stipend for materials. There will also be cash prizes for the top entries. The fish will be sold at a silent auction at the end of the summer, with the artist getting a portion of that as well, said Olney.

Besides the grant, the city of Spicer gave the committee $200 for the project. Sandy Saulsbury said additional contributions from individuals, organizations and businesses are welcome and needed to make this a community-wide project. "Everyone claims ownership then," she said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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