By Ryan Miller
The Norfolk mermaid is officially known as a symbol and mascot for the city’s affluent maritime history and culture, with more mermaid sightings per capita than any other place in the world.
After searching all over Norfolk for a miniature version of the proud city symbol without any luck, Elaine Luria and her husband, Robert Blondin, created their own version, beginning with a block of clay. From there the two took their idea to the City of Norfolk and director of communications with 10 painted samples of mermaids and had them officially licensed for sale. Ten weeks later they established their local business and art studio, Mermaid Factory, with no idea just how popular it would be.
Whether it’s for individuals, Girl Scouts, birthday parties or bridal showers, more than 50,000 Norfolk mermaids (and Virginia Beach dolphins) have now been painted at the two respective Mermaid Factory locations. Visitors often spend a couple hours painting the Factory’s most popular product, the 12-inch mermaid, with a handful of embellishments including 15 colors of glitter, rhinestones, shells, skirts and more. Guests can either stay and paint while sipping on two glasses of wine for $25 or take the mermaids home to paint.
Photo by Jim Pile
“We want every household in Norfolk to have a mermaid on their mantle,” exclaims Luria. “Even though we’ve had a lot of people paint and we have lots of tourists, I want people visiting the area to be able to take home a piece of Hampton Roads.” Patrons with little artistic experience need not worry. “People come in all of the time and say, ‘I’ve never painted anything in my life,’ but I tell them don’t worry about it,” Luria says. “A little glitter will fix everything.”
By partnering with the City of Norfolk, a portion of proceeds from each mermaid sold benefits the youth and arts throughout the area, including ForKids, St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children, the Public Library Foundation and the Chrysler Museum.
Mermaid Factory is located at 919A W 21st St., Norfolk and 510 Laskin Road, Virginia Beach. Learn more at MermaidFactory.com.