Quinn McGrath-Fitzgerald and her Aunt BeanLocal artist Heidi M. Sallows is the director of the 7ly Design Studio in Rock Island, and when she describes her venue's forthcoming The Mermaid Show as "not so much a show as an experience," you should know that she's speaking literally: If you so desire, the artworks on display will include you.

"My niece was part of what started the idea burbling in my mind," says Sallows of the event's origins. "Because last year I face-painted at a birthday party, and I painted her up like a ... . Well, I was trying to do a really cute zombie, but it was green, and it turned out looking more like a mermaid. And I was like, 'Oh, that's an interesting idea ... !'"

A number of fellow artists agreed, and the consequent Mermaid Show - taking place at 7ly on July 23 and 24 - will display mermaid-themed works by such area talents as Alex Iaccarino, Regan Hatfield, Katie McGrath-Fitzgerald, Ange Glade, Tony Seabolt, and Celeste Broder.

Yet the two-day event will also find Sallows and Black Canvas Studios' Sarah Robb, through body-painting, transforming adult and child models into mermaids, an experience also open (at no charge) to any of The Mermaid Show's willing patrons. "The show's just supposed to be fun and energetic," says Sallows, "but it's also very much about my artistic process, and I very much like to use the human body as my canvas."

The recipient of a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the Art Institute of Chicago, Sallows says that, in addition to her niece's faux zombie, the notion of employing human canvases for The Mermaid Show stemmed from two other sources.

Heidi M. Sallows and Katie McGrath-Fitzgerald at 7ly Design StudioOne was her collegiate study of classical paintings of odalisques - Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres' Grande Odalisque is probably the most familiar of these works - in which female nudes are posed in reclining positions on couches and beds. "I became really fascinated with the odalisque and works of that nature," Sallows says, "and this [The Mermaid Show] is very much a sort of live interpretation, with a nod toward some of that artwork." (Sallows states, though, that "we're not having any nude models" at The Mermaid Show.)

Her other inspiration came from her burgeoning interest in body painting, which Sallows says began "probably back in 2004. I started face- and body-painting around then - just doing it on myself, friends and family ... whoever would let me, you know? And I was getting better and better at it, and my sister let me body-paint her during her first pregnancy. She was seven months pregnant at the time, just huge, and I painted her all zebra-striped, with lots of tropical plants and stuff. And she was like, 'I felt so beautiful and sexy, I went home and just wore that paint around for the rest of the night.'"

Sallows laughs. "I think when I get painted up, and when models get painted up, you just feel transformed. You kind of feel a little bit freer, and a little bit friskier, and you sort of embody what's been painted on you. So we're really going to push the painterly aspect of the show."

Quinn McGrath-FitzgeraldAnd, to be sure, the notion of transformation is a key factor in the popular appeal of mermaids, which have served as artistic subjects for centuries, with such masters as Marc Chagall, John William Waterhouse, and Sheila Wolk immortalizing the mythical creatures through paintings.

"There's really a cultural fascination to them," says Sallows of mermaids, "and I think it has a lot to do with possibility. Possibility, and exploration, and being hopeful. They're visually stimulating - that whole fish/human hybrid thing is fascinating - and there's this otherworldly nature to them. But there's also this idea of travel. You know, when you're on a boat and you're looking into the distance, there's the horizon and this kind of 'new world' feeling."

Fittingly, Sallows says that The Mermaid Show - separated into a "kids night" event on Friday and an adults-only event on Saturday - will find the 7ly Design Studio itself turned into a "new world," with areas in the venue's interior decorated to resemble an aquarium and an under-the-sea locale complete with sand and a boulder for models to rest on.

"I even thought about having a Mermaid Dunk Tank," says Sallows with a laugh. "Maybe for the second-annual Mermaid Show! There we go!"


The Mermaid Show will take place at the 7ly Design Studio (2044 Third Avenue, Unit A, Rock Island) on Friday, July 23, and Saturday, July 24; Friday's "Kids Night" event runs from 5 to 9 p.m., and Saturday's 18-and-over evening runs from 6 to 11 p.m. Both nights will feature sidewalk chalk-drawing, additional art activities, and refreshments, and more information is available by visiting 7ly-art.com.

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