At 34 years old, the Funland Mermaid in Rehoboth Beach was starting to show her age.
Sitting on her rock perch in the center of the boat ride since 1979, the mermaid’s hair had begun falling out. Her scaly tail was pockmarked and fading. Her color was turning pale. Funland personnel manager Christopher Darr said Funland was considering replacing the mermaid because she wasn't aging gracefully.
“She was literally on her last legs as far as ‘Is it worth even doing something?’” Darr said.
But whereDarr saw a bedraggled mess, longtime Rehoboth visitor and Easton, Md.-based decorative painter Maggii Sarfaty saw an opportunity to restore a piece of her childhood.
“I rode on this ride when I was a preteen. All of my kids have ridden on this ride. Everybody in my family has been on this ride.," Sarfaty said.
"I used to stare at the mermaid and go, ‘She’s getting a little worse every year,’" she said. Then she thought if only she had a little time, she could give the mermaid a facelift.
Originally from Baltimore, Sarfaty has been coming to Rehoboth with her family since she was a child. Her grandmother lived in Queenstown, Md., so she’s long had a connection to the Eastern Shore, and Sarfaty has always preferred Rehoboth to Ocean City.
“It’s quieter. It’s quainter. The quality of the shops and stores – it’s just a better experience than Ocean City,” she said.
After agreeing to do the work for free, Sarfaty took the mermaid back to her Easton studio and spent four months on the restoration. She said the mermaid’s canvas hair had dry-rotted and was full of mildew, or as Sarfaty put it, she left the mermaid’s keratin sea kelp hair treatment in a little too long.
The face had also deteriorated over the years. “Her last face was really just sort of white with black Sharpie for eyes,” said Sarfaty, a graduate of Baltimore’s Maryland Institute and College of Art.
Darr said James Melonic, a New Jersey-based theme park artist who also worked on the park’s Haunted Mansion, originally created the mermaid. Darr said other than covering her up in the offseason, the mermaid has always stayed on her perch.
He said Sarfaty offered to do the restoration because she loved Funland and Rehoboth Beach.
Sarfaty knew she had a lot of work ahead of her, starting with the mermaid’s hair, which had to be removed.
“She looked really bad for a while; she looked like a cancer patient,” Sarfaty said.
The mermaid has a fiberglass head and torso, while the arms were cast. Sarfaty used oil paints that will last longer. Sarfaty was able to highlight the mermaid’s scales which had become obscured after years of repainting.
Sarfaty also added touches of her own, decorating the mermaid's perch with shells.
Sarfaty said she’s been an artist all her life, starting to paint when she was a child. She has been painting professionally for 25 years, working as a decorative painter. Much of her work takes place in houses, painting or finishing cabinetry, carpeting or wood. The mermaid wasn’t the first restoration work she’s ever done; Sarfaty said she has repainted carousel horses that clients have found and asked her to touch up.
Married with three children, two are adults while her youngest is 17, Sarfaty said she comes to Rehoboth twice a month, and that her kids all grew up at Funland. In appreciation of her work, Funland decided to finally give the mermaid a proper name: Maggii.
For the artist, the pleasure was all hers.
“This was one of those fun projects for down time,” Sarfaty said. “I’m just happy. Everybody in my family has said they can’t wait to see her.”