FRANKFORT — Donna Ervin couldn’t have chosen a better mascot for her made-in-Michigan products store than a giant “Petoskey stone” fish called "Rock Bass."
The 5 1/2-foot fiberglass fish painted to resemble Michigan’s distinctive state stone has invited double-takes in front of Ervin’s new Glenwood Market in downtown Frankfort since the store opened in May.
“You can stand there and watch the reaction on people’s faces,” said Ervin, also owner of The Glenwood restaurant overlooking Portage Lake in Onekama and of two other Glenwood Markets in Manistee and Pentwater. “They ask questions like, ‘Is this a real Petoskey?’ ‘Where did you find it?’ ‘What kind of a fish is it?’, like it’s a fish species. You just to have smile. He actually has a couple of worn spots from people touching him.”
The sculpture's story is no fish tale, though it has all the hallmarks of one.
“I’m telling the story quite a bit because people are coming in and asking about it,” Ervin said.
The fish was painted by artist William Hattendorf, of Onekama, as part of a 2007 Fish Out of Water auction for the Portage Lake Watershed endowment fund. It was one of 15 painted by Manistee area artists and donated to the fundraiser.
But first the fish — with names like Salmonenchanted Evening and Mojo Coho — were displayed at Onekama businesses including The Glenwood, where Hattendorf was a server.
“All the businesses got a fish to display for six weeks and ours was his," Ervin said. "Every day we took the fish out to the road and set him by our sign and every night we hauled him back in. He became part of the staff.”
When auction time finally arrived, the restaurant threw a going-away party for the fish, even taking pictures with it for a Christmas card, she said.
"Rock Bass" was the last fish auctioned in the most hotly contested bidding war. Ervin said it finally sold for $6,750 to a summer visitor from the Chicago area — who donated it back to the restaurant.
“He’s a regular customer who has been coming with his family for 19 years. And he knew how much we loved this fish,” Ervin said.
Hattendorf said it took two weeks to paint the fish, the first of several faux-Petoskey stone projects that included a 7-by-5-foot longhorn steer that now resides in Austin, Texas, and a 2-foot diameter golf ball and tee for a Manistee National Golf & Resort home.
"I live on the lake, Lake Michigan, and I love Petoskey stones," said Hattendorf, who is experienced in faux-stone paint finishes like carrara marble. "I always wanted to paint something in a Petoskey stone pattern. As a fine artist, I was intrigued by the pattern. I wanted to get the three-dimension feel of the Petoskey, so I used a stone as a reference and I tackled the little fellow."
He said he started with a coat of metallic acrylic "mica" paint to help simulate the shimmer of the facets inside a Petoskey stone. Then he painted the entire fish in the distinctive coral pattern using fine acrylic paints in black and earth-tone pigments that won't fade. The fish is finished off with a clear coat of automotive paint.
Ervin said the fish is just "summering" in Frankfort and will return to the Onekama restaurant come fall.
“He is the unofficial Glenwood mascot,” she said.