There will be "Gators Galore" in Naples

and around the county, beginning this month, but they won't be the fearsome kind.  These will be 6-foot fiberglass alligators, colorfully painted and decorated by several area artists, including Tara O'Neill of Goodland.  

O'Neill will be doing two of the 68 gators that will grace various streets and businesses in Naples and on county streets and roads coming out of Naples.

The artistic gators are part of a mammoth fund-raising event for the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County and the Naples Art Association, located at the von Liebig Art Center, both in Naples.

The gators constitute a "museum without walls," according to Natasha Alyeshire, director of marketing for the Boys & Girls Club. She hopes the event will raise $300,000 or more for the two organizations.

The kickoff and showing of a number of the gators will be at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, at the von Liebig Art Center in Naples.

"That will be the first showing of the gators that will then be placed at various locations for viewing until an auction is held on April 17," Alyeshire said.

"Tara (O'Neill) was chosen to do two gators because of her great sketches she presented to qualify as one of our artists. She is very talented and we are very pleased to have her as one of our presenters."

O'Neill submitted a résumé and portfolio of her artistic works, including eight gator sketches, to a special committee that selected the 60 artists who are working diligently to meet the Jan. 17 deadline.

"I actually did 24 sketches," she said. "I became obsessed. I would be lying in bed and at 2 a.m. I would think, 'I didn't do a chef,' and jump out of bed to draw the idea. The sketches were plastered all over my walls in the house. It has already been great fun."

A serious artist for 15 years, O'Neill has "never dressed an alligator," she said. "My works have been in the Tampa Museum of Art, University of South Florida Contemporary Art, and I do (Marco Island) art league shows, but this is definitely a new experience.

"Nan Dietrich, an (Naples) art league volunteer is one of the 'shepherds' who watches over the artists. The shepherds offer encouragement while keeping us on track to meet the deadline. She has been just sterling."

The gators are a creation of Kathy Spalding, a Naples sculptor. Spalding created a mold to make the fiberglass models. One gator stands upright, while the other stands on its back legs, with its tail high in the air. From there each artist can modify the gators to fit their artistic qualities.

O'Neill's two offerings are "Dancing on the E-gator," and the "Navigator."

"I am very impressed with the patrons who have stepped forward to sponsor the artists," O'Neill said. "They are putting out an enormous amount of money to make our creations possible."

Sponsors have contributed $5,000 for each gator, covering the cost of the fiberglass creation, materials to create their gator, shipping, insurance and a plaque at the base of the gator that identifies the patron.

 "It made it easier to create designs with the Boys & Girls Club in mind. Inspired by the thought of helping children, my designs are bold and whimsical. More than once did I have a poetic thought."

O'Neill works as a bartender at the Little Bar Restaurant in Goodland where a number of her paintings are hung.

"When my friends found out I was creating sketches for the event, they were very supportive and gave me many ideas," she said.

She feels special pride in her involvement with the fund-raiser because "I grew up on Marco Island and now live in Goodland and can represent them as part of this project."

O'Neill will have her paintings on display  in Goodland on Jan. 18 through Jan. 20. She also has a studio behind her home at 545 Coconut Ave. where her works can be seen, along with metal sculptures done by Kevin Scobie in her yard.

From an article by ROGER LALONDE, Staff Writer for the Marco Island Eagle and the Naples Daily News Wednesday, January 9, 2002