May 31, 2017

Chesapeake student selected to paint mermaid for new Waterside District in Norfolk

View article online

The mermaid that will grace the new Waterside District in Norfolk swam there all the way from Chesapeake.

That’s because the honor of painting her went to 14-year-old Sydney Diaz, a freshman at Great Bridge High School who also attends the Governor’s School for the Arts.

A contest to paint the mermaid initially appealed to Sydney as a way to expand her artistic credentials. But it soon became much more.

“I decided to try it out because I needed more for my end-of-the-year portfolio review,” Sydney said. “So I did a template of the mermaid outline on a piece of paper and designed what I wanted and submitted it.”

She thought that would be the end of it.

But the design was chosen as one of the four final picks after it went before a panel of judges, which included Glenn Sutch, Waterside District president.

“There were so many good designs – at least 30 to 40 of them – and we honestly had trouble choosing the top four,” Sutch said. “But I was blown away by Sydney’s design.”

The design included a rendition of colorful waves, lights and colors representing water and movement that Sydney felt best portray the Mermaid City.

“I wanted to do waves but different than the traditional painted wave,” she said. “I did whirls and had to figure out a way to paint them.”

Webster’s dictionary defines “whirl” as “to move or go in a circle or curve especially with force or speed.” When Sydney’s design went up for public vote on social media along with the other finalists, others also liked her dynamic concept, and she won.

It was Liana Graham, chairman of the Governor’s School’s visual arts department, who broke the good news to the high school freshman.

“She had an expression of humble surprise,” Graham said. “She has an incredible work ethic, and this was such a great way for her to experience and contribute to the commercial world.”

Sydney said she was shocked to have won the contest, which included a generous $2,500 scholarship.

“At first, I didn’t believe it; it just didn’t sink in,” she said.

But what did sink in was the amount of work that waited to be done as she finally came face-to-face with the 10-foot tall fiberglass water nymph.

“She put in over 40 hours painting after school and on weekends,” Graham said. “She used acrylic paint and varnish since it will be outside.

“And you’re talking about layers and layers of paint that added depth and gave a sense of dimension.”

Sydney worked away in the storage room of Origin, the Governor’s School’s art gallery located in Norfolk’s MacArthur Center. She admitted to a little frustration in the beginning.

“I’d never painted anything that big, and I worried about applying the design to a three-dimensional object that had a lot of curves,” Sydney said. “I had to get the whirls and curves just right, and I had to find the right colors.”

“I mixed my own and had to do a lot of that at first,” she added. “My teacher helped me with that.”

And on the homefront, her mother, Nga Diaz, and father, Jamie Diaz, cheered her on.

“We’re a military family, and we didn’t know how big this was to the community,” Nga Diaz said. “We were so excited because it’s going to be on public display. It’s going to be there forever.”

Although the unveiling of the Sydney’s mermaid occurred at the Waterside District ribbon cutting held May 11, it isn’t on display just yet. Sutch said the best site for the mermaid is still being determined and will be announced to the public soon.

“We love the fact that the public is looking for good art and that we could be a part of that,” Graham said. “Sydney’s proposal was so well executed, and she really stepped up.”

For more information check or
Join the Newsletter

Sign up to receive the latest updates and news from The Cordish Companies.