My introduction to Weird Florida news didn’t take long working in Sarasota, Fla.
A month before my arrival, a lifesize Lego Man washed ashore in Sarasota.
Scratch that. A video released of someone pulling a lifesize Lego Man out of the water on a beach was posted and local media were alerted. It was a stunt for the Sarasota Chalk Festival.
But the first version sounds sexier, so the person interviewed by media outlets, who was involved in the stunt, told a great story. The media ran with it all over the world. How did this thing float across the sea? Where was it dropped off from?
I had enough of the B.S. after awhile and instead of coming clean about the ordeal, I was given an explanation that exposing this story is like telling kids Santa Claus isn’t real.
Where does the media draw the line in media stunts? I tried to tow the line in this case.
The weirdness didn’t stop when Lego Man was let out of jail. Another controversy was brewing about a mural and the hand signs displayed in the art.
I noticed that one of the men helping to load up the Lego Man had the tattoo featured in the mural and got the story behind that, too. That story is featured at the end of this post.
Stories originally appeared on Sarasota Patch.
Because it seemed to be Lego Man was just that—lost—winding up on a tropical beach trying to figure out how the journey came to be while toiling away in purgatory,which turned out to be a lockup at the county jail.
It seems that the phrase NO REAL THAN YOU ARE on the front of Lego Man is appropriate.
But it’s up to you to figure out the true story behind the madness.
What the public knew following the bizarre day (or as Floridians say, today, becasue every day brings something bizarre) in October was that artist Leon Keer had created Ego Leonard, or what people have called Lego Man.
He just so happened to wash ashore on Siesta Key Beach, just in time for the Sarasota Chalk Festival with its Lego chalk theme.
Coincidence? Ego somehow miraculously made his way across the ocean, perhaps from Holland, where the artist lives. If you believe that, then you may not have had time to wonder about the patterns of the world’s ocean currents.
By the looks of a few ocean and wind current videos, that journey could mean turning into an iceberg, going through the Arctic Circle; circulating in the Pacific Ocean, surviving giant squid and whales; meandering from California to Australia, to the Falkan Islands, over to Africa and eventually back and forth between two continents until he reached Siesta Key Beach, unscathed. Nary a barnacle.
Another route would have Lego Man swirl in the Arctic Circle again, caught up by a transpolar current, shooting down alongside Greenland and the East Coast, perhaps via a circular path to Africa, and then swept into the Gulf of Mexico.
Either way, that’s quite the remarkable journey. Captain Nemo would be jealous.
The Legloland folks said Ego isn’t their child and not made out of genuine Legos. There goes that theory.
Then there’s another account by Jenah Victor Smith of , who sponsored artist Leon Keer, which meant she covered the artist’s expenses and brought him to Sarasota.
Victor Smith told a Patch editor in October that her sons were going to find a Lego Man on Siesta Key. Lego Man was designed to promote the chalk festival, which had a Lego theme, where her children were raising money for their charity KidsServe.com, which benefits children in Haiti as well as Feeding Empty Little Tummies in Manatee County.
But there was a kink. Sarasota resident Jeffrey Hindman found Ego instead.
When Patch contacted Victor Smith for details this week, editors were sent back and forth between her and Chalk Festival Event Chairwoman Denise Kowal, and denials and various stories presented on both ends.
In one phone conversation, Victor Smith told Patch she would like two smaller Egos.
“I emailed Ego and asked if I could get two smaller Egos for my kids for Christmas but I haven’t heard back from him, because I guess he can’t produce any work while he’s in jail,” she said.
Victor Smith has not claimed Ego and said she would be out of town Wednesday, so she couldn’t claim him during the first day either.
Kowal claims this is news to her.
“If she knew something then, she never shared it with me,” she said Tuesday inside her Chalk Festival headquarters in Burns Square.
Overall, Lego Man’s appearance has been a positive to the community, she said.
“It’s been a really good thing for the community,” she said. “I’m not sure it really helped the Chalk Festival.”
When Smith’s open account with a Patch editor is brought up, another theory emerges — that telling the real story of how Ego came ashore and was discovered would be the equivalent of telling a child that there is no Santa Claus.
“Now we’re telling the whole world that Santa Claus doesn’t exist,” Kowal told Patch in a telephone interview prior to the in-person meeting.
Victor Smith also had shared the same theory.
“Telling people the story behind Ego is like saying there’s no Santa Claus,” she said. “I believe in Santa Claus and that he came to my house on Dec. 25.”
The following day Patch met with Kowal in her office through her offering, and when asked about what she meant by the Santa Claus reference, Kowal was mum.
“Actually I’m not going to say that because you’re going to report that,” she said.
“I think what you’re doing is on self-interest,” she continued … They want to think you’re clever and smart, and I think that’s the direction you choose to go.”
With that, the interview ended.
Whether that artistic construction was done here in Sarasota or overseas is unclear.
The world had hoped Wednesday the rightful owner, or at least Hindman, would come forward and claim Ego. But that hasn’t been the case so far, according to The Herald-Tribune:
“He’s not going anywhere this week,” said Wendy Rose, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, on Wednesday. “I have had conversations with Mr. Hindman. I anticipate he’ll be making arrangements to pick up his property next week.”
Nobody still knows if Ego came here like Santa Claus, if he washed ashore, or someone placed him just enough into the water during the night to be discovered the next morning.
Or maybe all of this is just a figment of something imaginary, and we’re waiting until all of the Lego Men come together on some far away island, pondering their existence.
No real than any of us, right?
Lego Man Ego Leonard is out of protective custody and in the hands of Sarasota Chalk Festival founder Denise Kowal.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office released Ego to Kowal at the sheriff’s office Venice station shortly before 4 p.m. in front of the meida, where Kowal appeared surprised to be receiving Ego.
The fiberglass sculpture was created by Dutch artist Leon Keer and , just days before the Sarasota Chalk Festival, which had a Lego theme in one of the exhibits.
Kowal said she was handed the papers today to claim Ego, and Ego is now legally hers. Jeff Hindman of Sarasota had originally claimed him, but at the end of the day, Ego belongs to Kowal.
“He has so many opportunities that I heard about to travel the world,” she said. “He has people in LA who want to come visit him.”
Kowal said that Ego will stay with her until they figure out where he would like to go.
“Hopefully he’ll see a lot of kids around town,” she said.
Kowal thanked the sheriff’s office for the handling of Ego.
“Thank you to the sheriff’s office for allowing him to take his walks and do everything he needed to do to keep those muscles strong,” she said.
Wendy Rose, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, said Ego has been interesting for her community affairs department. Relentless media calls from around the world for three days straight, then an uptick in attention December when he appeared on Time’s most bizarre news list, contributed to some unconventional conversations, she said.
If Ego became property of the sheriff’s office, agency had planned to use it for fundraisers and community events, giving kids something to smile about, she said.
Kowal said she did hear one suggestion around town the most.
“I think everybody I’ve talked to said, ‘Oh you should let him stay with me today,’ ” she said.
Today, Ego will stay with Kowal as Brian McInnis and Jeremy Cattanach, both of Sarasota, loaded Ego into a pick-up truck and rode off into the sunset, back to Sarasota.
Until next time, Lego Man.
Sarasotans have looked at artist MTO’s “Fast Life” mural on the building’s wall and wondered, “What does it mean?”
They’ve also assumed that those are the hands of the artist MTO, but both of those mysteries at 10th Street and Central Avenue are now somewhat resolved.
The same day Lego Man Ego Leonard was set free, one couldn’t help but notice Jeremy Cattanach’s tattoos as he loaded up Leonard in a pickup truck with Brian McInnis.
The colorful ink ran head to toe, but it was the simple artistic markings on his hands: FAST LIFE.
“It’s just a part of life,” Cattanach said of the tattoo’s message. “Life goes by fast, you’re not promised tomorrow. I love to surf, love to skate and love the artistic rush.”
The hands are unmistakable as the styling of each letter matches the mural.
He said he was asked by the artist to be the hands of the mural and was told to form his hands for M for MTO for the artwork that was installed as part of a .
Cattanach said he’s still amazed with all the interpretations out there — good and bad — and some, like the “Fat Lie” one because of how letters are shaded out, didn’t come to him at first either.
He’s happy to be a part of the mural and is glad that
“What he feels is right and he’s participating in the act of art, and he’s still standing by it and it’s good for a business, man,” he said.
Cattanach works at the custom T-shirt shop, , co-owned by Austin Kowal, son of Chalk Festival Founder.
That day the mural was created and the entire Chalk Festival felt like a fast life, Cattanach said, going from place to place, seeing all the art created so rapidly that weekend.
Denise Kowal said the mural has been a “big conversation starter.” She is disappointed with a story from Rise Magazine, which she said gives a slanted view of the piece.
“It’s difficult to get people on board if you’re not giving people the truthful story,” she said.
In part, she said, that’s been contributed by a survey that was passed out in the community and a press conference that started the community complaints about it being gang related.
One thing she aims to make clear is that the mural is not in a residential area — it’s at the entrance of an industrial zone in the Rosemary District.
Det. Kim Laster is an expert on gangs and works with the . Laster examined the mural in late November.
“The mural was not gang related,” Laster told Patch in an e-mail conversation. “However, I can understand how one could interpret it as such without first gathering the background relating to it.”
She added the way the hands are positioned would make one think it would be gang-related.
The debate will continue in the community as And the mural that started it all is nothing but good, Cattanach said.
“It’s good for MTO and for the whole Chalk Fest,” he said.