Galveston Enjoys Bright Turtle Statues but Repairing Them Can Be a Hassle!

Tranquilo might have just been somewhere else at the wrong time. The polyresin Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle hasn’t been seen from his perch on Galveston’s Postoffice Street for months because it needs a costly fix. He was broken during some careless Mardi Gras partying, just a few days after he was put back in place after being vandalized before.

A painter named Kathy VanDewalli said, “I think someone got drunk and just tried to climb on it.” “I’m not sure.” Turtles About Town is a public art project that was started in 2018 by the Turtle Island Restoration Network and Clay Cup Studios. Tranquilo is a part of it.

The project shows how much people in Galveston care about these endangered reptiles by letting dozens of businesses, organizations, and individuals on the island pay around $3,500 to decorate and show off their sculpture. Each sponsor then hired a local artist to give their turtle a personality. Besides Tranquilo, VanDewalli has done two other turtles.

There are more than 60 pretty painted statues spread out across the 27-mile island, plus one more on Bolivar Peninsula. They’ve become a nice feature of the landscape, showing that art can be both serious and fun. I like to tap a turtle on the head for luck every time I walk by it.

A calm person sat outside Rudy & Paco, a well-known restaurant serving food from Central and South America that is close to The Grand 1894 Opera House. VanDewalli said the Vargas family, who owned the business, was excited about the project.

Galveston Enjoys Bright Turtle Statues but Repairing Them Can Be a Hassle

They saw the turtle as a way to honor both their Nicaraguan history and their pride in Galveston as a city. Juan and Denise Vargas, two of the owner’s children, even gave her a rough sketch of how they thought the sculpture should look.

Their drawing was based on the highly colored Flor de Caña rum boxes that were made by Augusto Silva Gomez, an artist from Nicaragua. VanDewalli put a picture of the Vargas family’s church, the Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Cathedral in Granada, Nicaragua, and a plumeria flower on the turtle’s chest because she likes those flowers.

She subsequently learned that the plumeria is the national flower of Nicaragua. The last touch was to write “welcome home,” Paco’s favorite way to meet customers, on the turtle’s flippers.

In the beginning, Tranquilo was put in place in March 2020, the same week that COVID-19 shut down everyday life. A year later, one of its back flippers got broken, but VanDewalli and her husband were able to pay for the repairs. Along with the opera house, that block of Postoffice is home to several bars. She said that the sculpture Terrence in front of the nearby old customs house has been vandalized more than once.

Juan Vargas died in August 2020, which made the family love Tranquilo even more. The Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon-cutting for the turtle’s return a few days before Mardi Gras in 2016. The crime was done a few days later, but this time the damage wasn’t as small. VanDewalli said that the same flipper had been hurt and that part of the sculpture had been pushed into the base, which was expensive damage to the structure.

Popular Galveston turtle sculptures prone to vandalism latelyVanDewalli said she would rather not fix Tranquilo herself this time since she already paid for someone to do it once. A friend of mine who is a builder and co-owns Sand Star Services has offered to help and set up a GoFundMe page. As of this week, it has raised just over $1,400 of the $2,200 needed to fix the turtle and put up a fence around it for safety.

VanDewalli is going to put a sign on the orange barrel that sits where Tranquilo used to be soon. He hopes that a QR code will help get people to donate money to help fix a sculpture that is important to both the artist and the Vargas family. Tranquilo took her about 60 hours to make, just like her other two, so she really cares about the well-being of this bright plastic creature.

He said, “Once you paint them, they’re in your heart.” “They’re you.” It takes a long time to paint them. You don’t just make it in a day.

Tranquilo’s problems are similar to those of Chef Mamacitta, the turtle whose care was paid for by the vegan-friendly 25th Street cafe EATcetera. It was made by Presley Pyles, who is the daughter of EATCetera founders Lena Pyles and Victoria Newsome and is also known as Chef M.

Chef M left her stand outside of EATcetera late one night last summer. Newsome found out the next morning when her staff called to see if she had had it taken down. She thought at the time that it must have been people messing around. Newsome told the Galveston County Daily News that they might have broken it while jumping on it and then ran off with Chef M out of shame.

But when Newsome and Pyles looked more closely, they saw that the thieves had cut half of the way through Chef M’s base and then “pushed and pulled it and ripped her off the rest of the base,” Newsome said. This was clearly not a wild accident. In the months since then, she and Pyles have started to think that there may have been a darker kind of graffiti going on.

Galveston Enjoys Bright Turtle Statues, but Repairing Them Can Be a Hassle

“We often wondered if maybe part of the reason she was hurt was because we’re a same-sex couple who opened and own this business. Was it partly a hate crime?” Newsome told him.

In any case, Chef M showed up again about three weeks later, when the owner of Clay Cup Studios saw the turtle riding along Seawall Boulevard on the back of a car. A lot of people were upset about the news on social media, and the sculpture was found by cops less than two hours later. People were so quick to help that even though no one was ever arrested, it made Newsome feel better.

“The whole community worked so hard,” she said. Chef M now lives in the dining room of EATcetera, which also runs a small cafe in the Galveston Railroad Museum, which is close by. Next, Newsome is going to move the sculpture to the herb yard behind the restaurant.

He also hopes that Chef M will be available for pictures again sometime this summer. A friend who is an artist and welder has offered to make a handmade cast-iron fence to help keep the turtle safe.

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“We did have a fence around her before, but it was just a small toddler deterrent. It was something from Home Depot that you just stick in the ground,” Newsome said. “But this will last forever, and it will be really hard to get through this.”

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