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THE FOUNTAIN : In Santa Barbara by the Sea, Even Symbolic Dolphins Can Cause a Lot of Trouble

March 16, 1986|MICHAEL FESSIER JR. | Michael Fessier Jr.'s "In Search of the Chicken Cackler and Other Unlikely Missions" (Capra Press) is due out this fall.

Three bronze dolphins, two adults and a baby, were cast by Bottoms, Piero Mussi and Joanne Duby at the Artworks Foundry in Berkeley; together they weigh 900 pounds. They were trucked to Santa Barbara to sit for a year, patiently as always, in front of the Natural History Museum. They had for company the skeleton of their massive cousin, the blue whale.

In January, 1985, Emily DeWare, a rich widow from Texas living in Montecito, contributed $80,000 to build the fountain itself. (The dolphins had cost only $25,000.) She said later, "The dolphins are friends of mine. I love them. They come by my house all the time at the beach."

On July 6, the anthropologist Travis Hudson committed suicide. He was 44. Jan Timbrook, a co-worker of his, doubts that his suicide had anything to do with his denial of the Rainbow Bridge legend. Theresa Vance--the spiritual adviser to Bud Bottoms and the dolphin cause--was out on Santa Cruz Island the day Hudson died, however, and she says she received a psychic message: "Travis had been tampering with something he shouldn't have."

On July 10, three years late and before 500 people, the dolphin fountain was unveiled on its site just behind the parking kiosk. Madeline Hall, a Chumash descendant, ceremonially placed on the front of the fountain a plaque that depicted dolphins circling the earth protectively. It was taken from an Indian cave painting near San Luis Obispo. Experts differ about whether the dolphins in the painting are really dolphins. Some say they may be swordfish.

The dolphins themselves had evolved over the years. Bottoms had worked for four unpaid years, but he would do very well for himself selling miniatures of the larger version. He had listened to "the people" as well as "the experts" as much as he could. And the dolphin nuclear family, a bouquet of dolphins connected by the same internal steel peg, had become very much a community creation, an authentic group statement of shared beliefs: a totem.

We wish to be free, announced the ocean-roving dolphins. But, insisted those in charge, not too free.

Originally there had been plans for the water to spew out from under the dolphins' dorsal fins and through their blowholes in a fan-like effect, but the Architectural Review Board had said no to this.

It said passers-by might get wet.

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