Manatee Dance is a bronze sculpture depicting five graceful manatees and was created by Tallahassee artist Hugh Nicholson. It was the first major artwork to be commissioned by the Florida Governor's Mansion Foundation. The sculpture was dedicated on June 22, 1990 by Governor and Mrs. Bob Martinez. Both the governor and first lady were former school teachers and ardent supporters of Florida wildlife who encouraged this commission in order to draw attention to the plight of Florida's beloved manatees.
In tribute to Florida's official state marine mammal, Manatee Dance is a seven-foot high interpretation of a family of manatees frolicking together in their natural habitat. Manatees are large, gentle animals that live in herds. Young manatee calves stay with their mothers for two years. Their lifespan can be as long as 60 years and they often grow to be 14-feet long and can weigh up to 2,000 pounds.
Even though manatees live in both fresh and salt-water areas of Florida, their numbers are rapidly dwindling. They are frequently the victims of motorboat propellers, and have been listed as an endangered species. On April 4, 2005, Lee County, Florida [Pine Island-Estero Bay Manatee Refuge] was designated by the United States Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife Service as a manatee refuge. Watercraft operating in the refuge must not exceed a 25 mph speed limit in order to protect these gentle creatures.
"I want to represent these creatures in their best and most noble forms…", stated the artist. " I want to convey a sense of worth in each animal sculpted. I try to do this [so that the] possibility for extinction causes the viewer to feel a personal sense of loss."
Nicholson is a Tallahassee artist who has received statewide recognition for his sculptures of Florida wildlife. His work is characterized by its precise detail and anatomical accuracy, especially evident in the distinct curves and soft appearance of the manatees' skin. Upon careful consultation with the first lady, Nicholson decided to create a work that would have special appeal to younger mansion visitors. At a child's eye level, the members of the manatee family engage the viewer and extend their flippers playfully, thereby suggesting the friendly nature of the large mammal.
In 2003, Nicholson received a second commission to memorialize Florida's marine life. Set within a water fountain on the western steps of the Florida state capitol complex, Nicholson's created a monumental public artwork entitled Stormsong featuring a dozen, graceful dolphins, jumping as freely as if the viewer had come upon them in their natural habitat.