PITTSBURGH — The first U.S. version of the 40-foot-tall rubber duckie that’s made a splash in harbors from Hong Kong to Sao Paulo since 2007 will appear in Pittsburgh today.
Each city builds its own duck from the plans of Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, and the whole project includes massive pontoons, crews to inflate and deflate the duck, and in this case, alerting organizations such as the Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Hofman has said the duck has “healing properties” because it knows no frontiers, doesn’t discriminate and doesn’t have a political connotation.
Mariners were alerted to the duck’s impending presence, Coast Guard Lt. JG Devin Adams said, because the shipping channel of the Ohio River is one of the nation’s busiest commercial waterways, including huge barges carrying coal and other materials.
“Our job at that point is to alert the maritime community ... that there’s going to be a duck there,” Adams said, stifling a chuckle.
The duck’s arrival today will kick off the monthlong Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, which features theater, dance, music and visual arts from around the world.
The duck will be moored downtown until late Oct-ober.
The project began when Paul Organisak of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust saw pictures of other duck events and sought Hofman’s approval for the first U.S. duckie.
But even after agreement was reached, Organisak was in for some surprises about its creation.
“I just thought you blow up the duck and put it in the water,” he said, but in fact there’s been a secret months-long construction process, including 14,000-pound pontoons.
As word of the duck’s arrival spread, boaters asked if they could be in a procession as it travels to its downtown mooring, Organisak said.
The answer was no.
“We really want a buffer around the duck,” Organisak said, and the artist doesn’t allow corporate sponsors.
Such issues led to one spat.
Joe Wos, the founder of the downtown cartoon museum ToonSeum, celebrated the duck’s pending arrival by creating a T-shirt with a duck image and the words “Quack N’At,” a play on the popular Pittsburgh slang for “and that.”
Wos received a cease-and-desist order from the Cultural Trust.
“It definitely surprised me quite a bit. It was shocking,” Wos said. “Rubber ducks have been around for almost 100 years.”
Wos says he refused to “quack down” and has kept selling the shirts, which also relate to a pop-up rubber duck exhibit at the ToonSeum.
The Cultural Trust is also selling official duck T-shirts, as well as magnets, buttons and baseball hats.
Wos said he has no hard feelings. “It’s a big yellow rubber duck. You’ve got to have a sense of humor about a thing like this, or you’re missing the point.”