(MOBILE, Ala.) – Giant oysters are curious new attractions in downtown Mobile. Local artists paired up with businesses and organizations to paint and place fiberglass oyster sculptures in several locations. Six were unveiled July 11, and another half-dozen will be unveiled at a later date.
The oysters form The Oyster Trail, which is an artistic treasure hunt of sorts that allows people to find the colorful sculptures throughout town. The trail also educates people about oysters in Mobile Bay. For example, did you know it takes one to three years for an oyster in Mobile Bay to grow to a harvestable size of 3 inches? Each work of art on the trail includes a plaque that displays an interesting fact about oysters.
At the unveiling ceremonies, which took place simultaneously across the city, people already were posing for photographs with the oysters.
“The sculptures help people engage with the environment and better understand the role of oysters in Mobile Bay,” said PJ Waters of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program.
Waters, who coordinated the trail with a team of volunteers, is hoping that the Oyster Trail also will help grow interest in the Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program. In the program, volunteers grow oysters from their piers. At the end of the growing season, the oysters are planted on reefs for restoration. People who do not have waterfront property get involved by adopting gardens through a $25 donation. They receive updates on the oysters’ progress throughout the season. The program is in its 13th year, and oyster gardeners have grown more than 535,000 oysters for restoration.
While oysters from the program are not for consumption, many people have a love for eating oysters. Artist Devlin Wilson painted a portrait of a man shucking oysters on the front of the Oyster Trail sculpture across the street from Wintzell’s Oyster House on Dauphin Street. The man in the painting is Willie Brown. He has been shucking oysters for hungry patrons at Wintzell’s for a very long time.
“It’ll be 43 years come November,” Brown said.
The Mobile Arts Council also played a role in creating the trail. Bob Burnett, executive director, worked with others to identify artists to or the oyster paintings.
“The collaboration of business and the creative community is always a driving aspect of a thriving community,” he said.
Owner of Wintzell’s Oyster House restaurants Buffy Donlon said it made sense for Wintzell’s to get on board and support the trail.
“We’re the oldest restaurant in the city,” she said. “It was a natural thing for us to be a sponsor. The Oyster Trail helps people become more educated about both oysters and the arts.”
Oyster Trail sponsors and partners include the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, The Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Wintzell's Oyster House, Hampton Inn & Suites, Mobile Arts Council, Auburn University Marine Extension and Research Center, Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau, Downtown Mobile Alliance, Alabama Coastal Foundation, 100-1000 Restore Coastal Alabama, Mobile Bay National Estuary Program and Felix's/Bluegill Restaurants. The oyster statues were painted by local artists and art groups including Ameri'ca Jones, the BayArt Project, Riley Brenes, Devlin Wilson, Melissa Shaver and Dyann Munoz.
For more information about the Oyster Trail and the Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program, visit http://www.facebook.com/theoystertrail.
Photo: Mobile Mayor Sam Jones poses for a photograph with an oyster sculpture in downtown Mobile, Ala.