Pelican public art initiative has Slidell residents talking

Slidell residents have experienced an avian invasion of sorts the past few months. It’s not a gaggle of geese, or a Hitchcock movie; and it’s certainly not the presence of 1980s New Wave band Flock of Seagulls.

What’s caught the eye of many, however, is “Pelicans on Parade,” a community art initiative that aims to help a charitable cause at the same time.

The pelicans are not of the feathered variety. Instead, they are a series of 4-foot tall fiberglass “birds” that have been cropping up on street corners and in front of private businesses since earlier this year.

They have become, in some ways, a primary point of discussion in the north shore’s largest city, with many residents stopping to snap pictures of the birds, or in some cases, plopping their kids atop the statues for prime photo-ops.

Pelicans on Parade is the brainchild of Slidell lawyer Laura Mauffray Borchert, who along with her husband, Bill Borchert, viewed a similar public art initiative while on vacation last summer in Clearwater, Fla.

“When Billy and I saw Clearwater’s ‘Dolphin Project,’ we knew it had to be done in Slidell, too,” she said.

The Borcherts decided on a symbol that was a little more familiar to south Louisiana residents — the state bird. The project began as an initiative through a local leadership group, but has since been primarily coordinated by Laura Mauffray Borchert.

And one doesn’t have to look far to find any number of the “birds.” There are 68 pelican statues on the streets of Slidell, with orders for another 70-plus birds coming. They dot places all over town, but primarily are found in Olde Towne Slidell, and along Gause, Robert and Pontchartrain boulevards.

The 40-pound statues surely stand out. Perched above their wooden or fiberglass pedestals, they have been adorned with festive paint jobs by more than 50 local artists, and they populate prominent spaces in front of doctor’s offices, hospitals, restaurants and more. The birds cost $1,250 each and though the public display is scheduled to end on Aug. 17, the overwhelming majority of the birds have been purchased (at an extra cost) and may remain permanently wherever the owners choose.

All proceeds will benefit the Children’s Wish Endowment. An estimated $70,000 already has been raised for the St. Tammany-based charity.

Dr. Fred Birmingham, a Slidell optometrist, has an “eye catching” pelican of his own on Robert Blvd. His statue sports a shiny, white doctor’s coat with a pair of glasses dangling from the front pocket. There is an eye chart painted on one side of the statue’s pedestal, while a caduceus adorns the other side of the pedestal.

Birmingham purchased his pelican statue for keeps. He is keen on the idea of helping a children’s charity, but also about bringing a public art movement to Slidell.

“It seems like Slidell was ready for something like this,” Birmingham said. “You have people going around with their kids and having their pictures taken with the statues. It’s stirred up a lot of interest. I think it adds a little cement to the brick and mortar of the community.”

Mary Christopher, a local artist, painted two of the pelicans on display: “Georgia O’Keefe Motif” which sits in front of John Slidell Park and “Pelicopia,” which abuts the Slidell Municipal Auditorium. Though her statues are scheduled to be transferred to private owners next month, Christopher jumped at the chance to aid the multifaceted cause.

“From the moment I heard about the pelican project, I wanted in,” Christopher said. “It is always fun to have a new and different canvas, especially one so irresistible and endearing that locals are attached to. Knowing that our state bird almost became extinct at one time, and then seeing them covered in oil after the (Deepwater Horizon) spill, makes every one of our Slidell birds more fun, and even more colorful.”

Christopher said each of her works of art took several weeks to paint and that she afforded special focus to each.

Restaurant owner Kevin Young, who owns the popular K.Y.’s Olde Towne Bicycle Shop on Carey Street, said he didn’t buy the “Slidell Station” bird that sits outside one of his plate-glass windows overlooking the historic center of Slidell. But a customer purchased the bird and requested that it be placed near one of his favorite eating establishments.

“We’re happy to be a part of it,” Young said. “It certainly strikes up conversation among the people who come in to eat, or even pass by.”

Though no large-scale pelicans are being sold, a smaller version of the sculpture is being offered for $150 each. The small bird is suitable for a table top or household showing and can be painted by the purchaser.

Mauffray Borchert said the few pelicans that were not purchased for permanent display will go up for auction in August. A block party is in the works for Olde Towne Slidell on Aug. 17 where visitors can view pictures of each pelican sculpture, enjoy music, food and more.

For more information, a Facebook page titled Pelicans On Parade contains specifics on how to purchase the smaller statues, as well as a complete list of larger pelicans now on display around Slidell. Information on the auction and block party will be forthcoming on the site.

For more information on the Children’s Wish Endowment, which assists locals 18 and younger who have a chronic, life-threatening or terminal illness, go to childrenswish
or call (985) 645-WISH.