March 31, 2010
— The Philadelphia Phillies' fuzzy-green mascot "Phillie Phanatic" received a NASA makeover this week, thanks to the artistic efforts of a space enthusiast.
Professionally-trained artist Cliff Lentz, who for years has served as the "unofficial NASA correspondent" for a local Philadelphia sports-radio morning show, was selected with 19 other artists to decorate 20 six-foot tall statues of the baseball team's mascot as part of their "Phanatic Around Town" public art program.
The artists were given a month to decorate their fiberglass Phanatic and an aluminum home plate-shaped base. For Lentz, the theme for his statue, dubbed "P. Phanatic Star Voyager" was obvious.
"Since I live in the Philadelphia area and, as you know, I'm a huge space fan, I wanted to make something of a statement about spaceflight," wrote Lentz in an e-mail to collectSPACE, where he's been registered as a member since 2002. "My design is a tribute to the American space program with a sort of whimsical look."
Lentz drew inspiration from both Apollo and shuttle spacesuits for his "P. Phanatic Star Voyager." (C. Lentz)
Lentz's design outfitted the mascot in a shuttle astronaut's bright-orange pressure suit, complete with a name tag. Its gloves and boots though, more closely match those worn by the Apollo moonwalkers. A star-studded baseball cap completes the Phanatic's space-inspired wardrobe.
Lentz complimented his astronaut-inspired mascot with a space-history-themed base.
"With five sides I decided to do scenes from Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, shuttle and an 'Earth to the Moon' panel for the front," he described. "I couldn't resist adding the iconic footprint on the moon and the personal photo of the Phanatic's mom like Charlie Duke's family photo [that he left on the moon] on Apollo 16."
Lentz used scenes from NASA's Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs to adorn the base. (C. Lentz)
Given its size ("The Phanatic has a 46-inch wing span!"), Lentz painted the statue in a tool shed in his backyard.
"We were hit with a huge snow storm and two days later, a second one," Lentz wrote as the project got underway. "Clearly I have [had] some obstacles."
Weather did not however, scrub Lentz's statue launch. His Phanatic, along with the other 19, were unveiled before an audience of thousands at the Please Touch Museum on Monday.
"Fans who already love the Phillie Phanatic will see him in a brand new way," said Frank Luzi, the museum's public relations director, at the event.
In addition to Lentz's astronaut, others of the statues were themed as "Phrankenstein," "Ben Phranklin" and the "Mad Hatter."
Lentz was glad to use his statue to share his passion for space exploration, especially with the next generation.
"The Phillies chose visiting children to help each artist unveil each statue and then the photo frenzy started. In the midst of all this I was still talking space history to as many visitors as I could reach. I passed out about 100 space cards to the children who came by," said Lentz.
Lentz sharing his Phanatic with a young Phillies fan. (C. Lentz)
The statues remained on public display at the museum on Tuesday, before being moved to their destinations at local attractions throughout Philadelphia, including the Franklin Institute and the Comcast Center.
"On Wednesday, my statue will be moved to the Main Branch of the Philadelphia Library where it will remain until August," commented Lentz.
After the 2010 baseball season, the Phanatic statues will be auctioned off by the Phillies, with net proceeds going to Phillies Charities.
The "Phanatic Around Town" marks the first time a Major League mascot has been used for a public arts project.
To learn more about the "Phanatic Around Town" program, see the Philadelphia Phillies' official website.