Hopping up for charity

January 10, 2003 12:00 am

By SUNNY LOCKWOOD

In the weeks ahead, Diane Gray hopes to kiss a lot of frogs, one of which could become a prince — or a lumberjack, or a cowboy or Elvis.

The 60-pound fiberglass hoppers are the stars of a fund-raising project being launched today.

Gray, executive director of Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce, and Penny West, executive director of Calaveras County Arts Council, have started a community art project to rival the Painted Cows of Chicago and the Painted Ponies of Albuquerque.

It's called the Painted Frogs of Calaveras, starring the amphibian made famous by Mark Twain.

The 4-by-4-foot frogs molded in Chicago are, in effect, blank canvasses for imaginative artists.

"We hope that at least 30 businesses or organizations will sponsor frogs," Gray said.

A sponsor pays $1,500 to $2,000 for the blank frog and $500 for an artist to transform it into a work of art.

"I'm hoping that each one will be beautiful," said West, "some of them playful, others just expressing the imagination of the artist."

Designs expressing cultural and historical as well as clever and whimsical themes are welcomed, according to application forms for the project.

So far, artists have submitted designs for a cowboy frog, a rock 'n' roll frog, a contractor frog complete with nails in his mouth and a pencil behind his ear and others.

The prototype frog, to be unveiled tonight at the Chamber of Commerce dinner, sports a redwood forest, a field of grazing cows and other views of Calaveras County. It was painted by Mountain Ranch artist Kate Culver and is on display at the Chamber office on Main Street in Angels Camp.

Gray's vision for the Painted Frogs of Calaveras project includes significant publicity for each frog, sponsor and artist. She plans to publicize the project far and wide, print a map for tourists and locals who wish to check out each colorful croaker and hold unveilings as sponsors install their painted frogs.