Talking giraffes are not just the domain of animated movies, as can be seen this weekend when Salmon Arm’s Westgate Public Market formally welcomes its newest addition.
Standing tall near the rear of the market, located on Salmon Arm’s west end in the former Canadian Tire location, is a mixed-media, life-sized giraffe. The body, from mid-neck down, as well as the surrounding landscape, is the work of artist/painter Jordyn Penry. From mid-neck up, the giraffe is a wool animatronic puppet designed and constructed by Mixed Uppets/SoulFibre Studio owner and fabric artist Melissa Nasby.
At 1 p.m. this Saturday, May 26, the name of this collaborative creation will be revealed, after which animated ungulate can begin its duties as a sort of in-house spokes-giraffe.
“It’s going to tell a lot of fun facts about giraffes, about the area… it’s going to have a sense of humour,” said It’s Handmade Shoppe co-owner Karen Dow.
Nasby said the idea for a giraffe came from the building’s owner, Bill Laird, who has a passion for raising awareness of endangered species.
“It just kind of evolved organically because Bill had seen my work and said, ‘Do you think you can make a giraffe head?’” said Nasby. “At first it was really just a head, right, and I’m like, of course… And then we met about it and it started to become a collaboration, because of course Jordyn, the artist that paints all those beautiful murals (at Westgate), she was like, ‘well, I can do the body,’”
Later on, as the head was nearing completion, Laird offered Nasby another challenge.
“When he saw how realistic it looked, he was thrilled. I think that was the point when he decided this thing is worth investing more in and using it as a tool, not just a piece of art,” said Nasby. “So we chatted, and he’s like, ‘You think you can get it to talk?’ It turns out, I know some puppeteers and I know a manufacturer of these mechanisms…”
While the notion of retrofitting the head with animatronics was initially both exciting and intimidating, Nasby said the process wound up being much simpler than she’d anticipated.
The end result is her first electronically animated artwork.
“The upper and lower lips both move, so it’s a puppet mechanism, it’s a servo that is linked to whatever we record… It moves realistically with whatever is being said,” explained Nasby.
Dow sees the four-legged fixture as becoming a mascot for the market, and is already working with another local artist, Adam Meikle, at incorporating a giraffe into the building’s external signage. Dow is also working with Nasby on another animatronic, a talking pug face for her Ugly Mug Bistro inside the market.