A Merry-Go-Fish frenzy in Port

The works of dozens of artists are now being exhibited throughout the city ahead of auctions to raise money for the expansion of Possibility Playground

HOLDING THREE OF THE stylized fish that will be auctioned to benefit Possibility Playground were organizers (from left) Mardy McGarry, who held “Metalica” by Cate Babcock, which is displayed at Java Dock; Greta Schanen with “Fine Fish For a Fanny,” a glass-fish backed chair displayed at Glaze in Thiensville; and Sue Mayer holding “Out of the Water” by Rodrigo Santamaria, displayed at Tello’s. “Link Trout,” top, was made by Mike Kusserow and is at ZuZu Pedals while “Catch of the Day,” bottom, by Peg Haubert is at Ozaukee Press. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
By KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

A school of fish has invaded Port Washington, but we’re not talking about the coho and trout often seen at the lakefront.

The artist-designed fish for the Merry-Go-Fish campaign intended to raise funds to expand and improve Possibility Playground in Upper Lake Park are now being displayed in businesses around the city.

The fish are colorful and playful, whimsical and thematic. There are glass fish and stainless steel fish, fish with gears and fish with bottle caps. There are mosaic fish and scrapbook fish. There are fish that light up and others that serve. There are intricately detailed fish and simple fish. 

There’s even the well-known “Rainbow Fish,” named after the popular children’s story.

“I’m just stunned at people’s skills and creativity and artistic eye,” said Mardy McGarry, who spearheaded the original campaign. “Everybody put their heart into it. It really exceeded my expectations. Each is unique and each is incredible.”

Those comments are echoed by John Sigwart who, like McGarry, is a member of the Greater Port Washington Kiwanis Club and its playground committee.

“The art is just outstanding,” Sigwart said. “There’s such variety in the fish — that’s what makes it fun.”

The fish each started life as a wooden blank, a stylized fish that Sigwart described as a cross between a blue gill and a carp.

Businesses purchased the blank wooden fish, which were cut out by students in Port Washington High School’s woodworking class, and they sponsored artists to decorate them.

Some of the fish depict the businesses that sponsored them. Brenda Peterson’s fish for CoCaLeNa candy shop, appropriately titled “Sweet,” depicts a variety of candy while Adam Draeger’s “Barley” fish for Inventors Brewpub is made of brewing ingredients toasted into graduated colors and placed to form sprockets and gears.

“The Craft of Fishing,” sponsored by Sir James Pub, includes almost 200 flattened and painted bottlecaps, while “Fire Fish,” sponsored by the Port Washington Firefighter’s Association, uses a fish as the base of a lamp with a painted shade that glows like a fire when the light is on.

Mike Kusserow created two fish, “Link Trout” for ZuZu Pedals and “Angel-r-Fish” for the Bailey House bed-and-breakfast inn.

“Link Trout” is an intricate melange of sprockets, gears and chains like those seen on bikes, while “Angel-r-Fish” appears to be a slab of raw wood in the shape of a fish.

“It’s a pretty faux finish,” Kusserow said. “Someone might ask, ‘Where did you find a tree that’s shaped like a fish?’” 

It’s all a play on “It’s a Wonderful Life” — from which the Bailey House gets its name — and the comment that when a bell rings, an angel gets its wings, Kusserow explained, noting that his fish is designed after an anglerfish but with a branch from which a bell hangs used to mimic the distinctive appendage of the species.

For Kusserow, the project was more than just an art piece.

“My son grew up in town and we spent a lot of time at Possibility Playground,” he said. “I’m happy to collaborate with them.”

There are 25 fish in all, and in the past week they have taken refuge in Port Washington businesses, where they will stay until September. Each business has a sign describing the fish and what it was made from, as well as the name of the sponsor and a brief biography of the artist.

There’s also a poster that shows the location of each of the fish.

“It’s kind of  like a little walking tour of Port Washington,” McGarry said. “You can walk around and find the different fish.”

Come September, the fish will school at the Port Exploreum for a month. A special artists’ reception will be held there from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9. There will be no admission charge for the Exploreum that day.

Live and silent auctions for the fish will be held during a Friday, Oct. 5, event at the Exploreum, although organizers are considering holding an online auction for some of the fish as well.

People are looking forward to the auction with anticipation already, Sigwart said.

“Some of these fish are already in demand,” he said. “We have people who have already told us they’re going to bid thousands of dollars for specific fish.”

McGarry said the organizers are hoping to raise $25,000 to expand Possibility Playground. 

The funds were originally intended to go toward a merry-go-round that could be used by youngsters in a wheelchair or able-bodied children, but local philanthropist Shirli Flack provided the funds as a Christmas gift to the children of the community.

Instead, the funds will go toward other improvements at the playground. McGarry said they would like to replace the current twisty slide, which is cracked, and add a formal entryway with a Loch Ness Monster climbing structure.

Organizers want to replace the sandboxes — the sand spills out and is ruining the playground surface — with a courthouse clock tower replica, she said, and some of the musical instruments — the paddles used to play them are constantly being stolen — with a replica of the Veterans Park bandshell.

The cost of these improvements isn’t yet known, McGarry said, but will exceed the $25,000 goal.

“Merry-Go-Fish is just the beginning,” she said. There may be special 10th anniversary pickets sold for the fence around the playground, and maybe another fundraiser similar to the Merry-Go-Fish effort in the future.

“This whole fish thing is so gosh darn exciting,” McGarry said. “We’re just so thrilled with the response. Everyone is so excited about it, and we are too.”

Photos of the fish will be posted on the Possibility Playground and Greater Port Washington Kiwanis Club Facebook pages, McGarry said.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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