EASTPORT, Maine — Piece by piece, downtown Eastport’s shore-walk mermaid is slowly coming to life.
The bronze beauty is a work in progress at the foundry in the studio of Eastport sculptor Richard Klyver, who was recently commissioned to create a life-size mermaid inspired by the iconic “Little Mermaid” statue that since 1913 has attracted countless millions of admirers to her rocky harbor perch in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Klyver fired up his Prince Avenue foundry last week to pour the seventh of eight elements of the sculpture, which he hopes to install on Eastport’s downtown waterfront before winter sets in.
“The sculpture will belong to the City of Eastport,” Klyver said. “Once it is installed on the sea walk’s granite wall, there will be a contest that will give local school kids a chance to see what kind of a name they can come up with. It’s something we hope will delight the town.”
Last week’s pour required bronze ingots to be melted down into a 2,100-degrees-Fahrenheit molten sludge before being carefully poured into a mold created by Klyver. The mold itself was built through a multistep process that begins with a wax rendering of each piece to be cast into bronze. There are two dueling, gas-fired components to Klyver’s outdoor foundry, one rendering the bronze to a viscous state, the other bringing the mold to 1,500 degrees.
The most recent pour yielded Goldilocks results: Two hours into the process, the bronze was too cold. Twenty minutes later it was too hot. Finally, the temperature of the molten bronze was just right, and the pour went off without a hitch, celebrated by the cheers of those watching from the sidelines.
After the final element is cast, all eight anatomical components of the mermaid will be welded together and worked by Klyver into a gleaming finish before being installed on a polished stone base.
“It will be installed at eye-level height, so as people come by they will look directly into her face,” he said. “Being exposed to the waterfront weather will affect the patina, as will people touching it. And you know what part they will be touching.”
The project has received the blessing of both the committee that oversees Eastport’s downtown historic district and the city council, although it was not without controversy when considered by the council, as mermaids — except for the Walt Disney version — are bare-breasted.
“There was one council member who accused me of peddling pornography,” Klyver said. “It was kind of a humorous affair. Although this mermaid doesn’t look anything like Denmark’s mermaid, I asked him if he knew about the Copenhagen mermaid, which is one of the biggest attractions in Northern Europe and is popular even with mothers and children.”
How many hours does Klyver have into the mermaid commission already?
“Egads,” he says with a smile. “It’s got to be hundreds.”
Eastport’s mermaid was commissioned by George and Sarah Kurzon and Hugh and Edie Stubbins. The Kurzons are summer residents of Eastport, while the Stubbins summer in Pembroke.
“It was inspired by the mermaid in Copenhagen, which is such a big tourist attraction there that we thought it might be the same for Eastport,” George Kurzon said. “As far as I know, it will be the only mermaid on the East Coast of the United States.”
Kurzon said he was delighted to have an artist of Klyver’s caliber take on the project.
“Putting a gifted and talented artist like Richard together with Eastport’s seawall seemed like a perfect combination that we couldn’t ignore,” he said. “It was such an attractive culmination of artist and location.”
A native of Long Island, Klyver first came to Eastport in 1974. Now 72, his work as a sculptor largely reflects his travels, including years spent in Africa teaching art and geography in Kenya. His cluttered studio is a menagerie of sculpted beasts, some in wax, others in bronze, ranging from water buffalo and giraffes to lions and wildebeests. His creations include life-size bronzes as small as a dragonfly and as large as a one-ton replica of a triceratops dinosaur skull on exhibit outside the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History on The Mall in Washington, D.C.
Klyver is currently working on a bronze depicting the alewives that migrate up Maine’s rivers and streams. He’s also working on a kinetic fish sculpture constructed of elements that resemble leaves, an outdoor piece that will shape-shift with the winds. Locally, Klyver’s work is on exhibit — and for sale — at the Asticou Connection gallery on Mount Desert Island and at The Commons gallery on Water Street in downtown Eastport.
In addition to his studio work, Klyver teaches art one hour a day at Shead Memorial High School in Eastport.
“It’s not much,” he says. “But, without it, they would have no art at all.”