As preparations begin to transform Glynn R. Archer Elementary School into the new Key West City Hall, one important detail of the work is about to be undertaken in advance of the main construction project: refurbishment of the huge steel tiger sculpture that has adorned the school's front lawn for nearly three decades.
The tiger, which has served as the school's mascot all these years, was created by Key West artist and teacher George Carey, and his Key West High School welding class, in the mid-1980s. It is constructed of small pieces of scrap metal; its teeth are made from spark plugs.
The tiger is one of a number of metal sculptures that Carey and his students constructed around the same time.
The others include the giant conch shell at KWHS, the menacing shark at Sugarloaf School, the wrecker at Florida Keys Community College, and a buccaneer at Horace O'Bryant Middle School, which also happens to be the planned destination of Glynn Archer's tiger - as well as its students.
The restoration of the tiger will be handled by Key West artist Cayman Smith-Martin, 36, who is best-known for his over-the-top Fantasy Fest floats, and painted murals at Margaritaville restaurants around the world.
Not long ago, he was approached by his brother, District 1 School Board member Robin Smith-Martin, about restoring the famed tiger, which sits on a concrete slab on the school's front lawn.
"My brother knows that I do a lot of pro bono work for schools and charities, so he asked if I'd be interested in helping out," Cayman Smith-Martin said. "I told him it would be a real honor for me. I remember when I was a student at HOB, how blown away I was by those [Carey] pieces when they were installed."
Cayman Smith-Martin said that the tiger is "95 percent intact," but there are a couple of spots where it's losing its war with the elements.
"One of the paws is starting to go, and there are a few soft spots in the face as well," he said. "But the biggest unknown is how to remove it from the concrete slab. "I think we're going to have to try to chisel it out of the concrete, without further damaging the wounded paw."
Though he paints murals for a living nowadays, Smith-Martin is no stranger to metal work, having taken instructor Bob Hans' creative welding course at Florida Keys Community College.
"We're going to strip the old paint off, prime it, paint the colors with automotive finish, and then put a UV clear protectant on it," Smith-Martin said. "Then it's off to HOB, where their maintenance crew will probably build some kind of slab for it."
He figures it's going to take him about a month to get the tiger into shape, from the time it's towed out to "Ye Ole Hippie Workshop" on Stock Island, depending on the number of volunteers who come forward.
"Most of the work I do these days is away from Key West, so it's good to be able to come back and do something good for the community," Smith-Martin said. "It's also going to be a lot of fun, I think. You've got to make it fun if it's for free."
Anyone wishing to volunteer to help Smith-Martin restore the Glynn Archer tiger should call him at 305-304-8672.