“You ask people to be a little bit silly right now, and they will – we need things that are silly,” says artist, activist, and Wickford resident Nancy Rafi. The brainchild behind the first Official Mermen of Wickford Calendar, published in 2018 in tandem with the New England Quahog Festival to raise funds to renovate the North Kingstown Town Beach playground, Rafi is “getting the band back together” to produce a new 12-month keepsake. The 2021 Mermaids + Mermen of Rhode Island Calendar will benefit the Biomes Marine Biology Center in North Kingstown, the state’s largest aquarium and New England’s only private marine education facility.
“It’s independently owned and run by one guy, Mark [Hall], and right now it’s closed but he still has 2,000 marine animals he needs to take care of every day, and that can be pretty expensive,” explains Rafi, adding that 100 percent of the proceeds will go to Biomes. Blown away (and grateful) by the response of the first calendar, Rafi has already reconnected with returning photographer David Lee Black and print company Pawtucket Printmakers, identified shooting locations, collected costumes and props, and, arguably most importantantly, secured the merfolk. “It’s a really nice, wide spectrum of people: professional ballet dancers, restaurant owners, artists, doctors… pretty much all walks of life,” says Rafi. “I can’t believe they said yes!”
Jessie Jewels, a Warwick-based multimedia artist, jumped at the chance to participate. “I’m such a mermaid at heart,” she laughs, but she’s also drawn to the purpose of the calendar. “Biomes helps educate children about the importance of marine conservation,” she explains. Much of her artwork is inspired by the sea. “This brings together the community in such a fun way.” Jewels describes her mother as a “seashell sculptor” so she turned to her to create a seashell crown for the shoot, while Jewels made the seashell bra top and is eagerly anticipating which month she’ll be representing.
Rafi says she and Black will be shooting over the next few months in cities and towns across Rhode Island, including Bristol, as shown above. “We have 12 months to fill, so we’ll include some fun landmarks,” she promises. The calendar should be available for purchase at local shops and boutiques by the beginning of September, though she admits no one can predict what the COVID-19 pandemic will leave in its wake for retailers. In the meantime, when it “drops,” the calendar will be available at RIMermaids.com.