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Mermaid art gallery brings whimsical touch to Chamber of Commerce

Photo by: Ezra Sanchez | Staff Photographer
The San Marcos Chamber of Commerce features the artwork of mermaids.

City officials are working to rebrand San Marcos with mermaids. It only makes sense for the town’s unique culture to be showcased in a mermaid art gallery at the Chamber of Commerce.

The San Marcos Art League is in charge of assigning artists to the rotating gallery about every month. Mark Lambdin, the league’s president, said he chose mermaid-themed art because of San Marcos’ recent rebranding efforts.

“It’s kind of a way of using the mermaids to bring awareness to the river and helping keep it clean,” he said. “It’s such a beautiful river.”

Lisa McPike Smith, Hep Cat Artworks owner, is the artist behind April’s gallery.

“She is not primarily a mermaid artist, but she does have a lot of pieces that have mermaids in them,” Lambdin said. “Her pieces are just the coolest little pieces in the whole wide world, I think.”

McPike Smith said the mermaid inspiration came from her experience seeing the aquamaids perform at Aquarena Springs as a child.

“I had a piece I made that kind of symbolized the breaking of that tradition,” she said. “I glued all these pieces back together. It seemed like it was a good tribute to what no longer is Aquarena Springs.”

McPike Smith coins her artwork as mixed-media assemblages. For example, she has assorted German bisque dolls and handmade ceramic pieces into different environments.

“A lot of the dolls are broken and chipped,” she said. “I still find them beautiful, and they have such quality to them.”

McPike Smith said the broken ones are valuable to her specific style because if a doll’s body is missing, she is always able to throw a mermaid tail on it. Other objects included in the mermaid assemblages are shells, pearls and other unique trinkets.

The mermaid pieces at the Chamber of Commerce are whimsical with a hint of menace, she said.

“Mermaids originally weren’t supposed to be sweet and beautiful. They were supposed to be scary,” McPike Smith said. “But, there are mermaids that are good and watch over shipwrecks and sailors out at sea.”

Although McPike Smith does not actually believe in mermaids, she appreciates the imagination and magic behind the idea. The mermaid theme is mysterious and dark, yet light. She focuses a lot of her artwork around symbols that evoke this type of feeling.

Margaret Lindsey, Chamber of Commerce membership director, agrees the artwork is quirky.

“Lisa (has worked) in a lot of different mediums over the years,” Lindsey said. “The way I would describe it is whimsical.”

Lindsey said the works add a nice touch to the Chamber of Commerce.

“I love having something on the walls here. It’s interesting,” Lindsey said. “I think it’s kind of neat that we have something like this.”

Some of McPike Smith’s river-related works include dragonflies and flowers. However, mermaids are her main focus.

“I love San Marcos and I have that nostalgic kind of love for it,” McPike Smith said. “The mermaid thing is a good branding for our city, and I think it’s kind of good at the ecological standpoint. It’s the thing that makes this town so great.”

Mermaid Society SMTX promotes taking care of the river, McPike Smith said. Similarly, her mermaid art encourages awareness of the river’s importance.

“We’ve got to conserve our water and take care of it,” McPike Smith said. “It hits home for me. So, I’m just trying to spread a little bit of awareness about conserving our natural spaces and resources.”