Friday, March 09, 2001

Next grand design: Jellyfish

TV, movie vet helps Covington Latin fund-raiser

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        HIGHLAND HEIGHTS — Jellyfish have never had it so good as when they're in Sherry Tippey's hands.

        Neither have sheepdogs or man-eating plants, for that matter. Ms. Tippey, 56, created Barclay, Sesame Street's orange and white Shetland Sheepdog, and designed Seymour, the carnivorous Venus flytrap in the movie Little Shop of Horrors. Her latest challenge: turning gooey, gray jellyfish into graceful, gorgeous creatures for a Covington Latin School fund-raiser this weekend.

[photo] Sherry Tippey of Highland Heights, a veteran of TV and movie productions, places lights inside a jellyfish sculpture she is creating for a fund-raising event at Covington Latin School.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        “The Grand Event” lasts from 6 p.m. Saturday to 1 a.m. Sunday at Thomas More College's Connor Convocation Center. It is one of Covington Latin's major fund-raising events, and this year's theme is “Under the Sea.”

        In creating the jellyfish, Ms. Tippey decided their image needed a marine makeover.

        “Even though they don't have any brain, they act as if they do,” said Ms. Tippey, of Highland Heights. “They have such beautiful movements.”

        And the eight jellyfish never looked better.

        Ms. Tippey has spanned the color spectrum: one pink, one blue, one purple, one yellow, one a combination white and aqua, and three iridescent.

        “They are gelatinous, often transparent, and have trailing bits and stingers,” Ms. Tippey said. “I used as many transparent materials as I could — cellophane, plastic tubing, bubble pack, plastic bags and shower caps. For the trailing bits I added yarn, curling ribbon and iridescent strips.”

        Besides the jellyfish, there will be a 72-foot bed of kelp, coral, sponges, shells, plants, an anchor and a life preserver. It all will hang from a virtual wall made of plastic pipe.

        Ms. Tippey didn't do everything. Covington Latin students painted the coral and jellyfish, and parents who are graphic designers made the coral.

        “There must be 150, 200 jellyfish, yellow, orange, turquoise,” said Cinda Rudolph, Covington Latin's development director. “It's just amazing.”

        The jellyfish design is the latest example of Ms. Tippey's creativity, which has resulted in, among other things, an Emmy nomination for costume design in the television special Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas.

        Not bad for a native of Levittown, N.Y., America's first subdivision, who later went to Vassar College in New York. She said it was the desire to combine multiple art forms that attracted her to this project.

        “It was combining the story and the visuals, sound, music and visuals, so it wasn't just story, it wasn't just art.”

        From 1977-85, Ms. Tippey worked with the late Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets and Sesame Street characters. She did everything from research and design before movies and TV shows were produced to publicity and promotion afterward.

        “Jim Henson was very inventive, very imaginative, gentle, funny, a good friend,” Ms. Tippey said. “I went to his memorial; it was a celebration of life, which is what he was about.”

        After working for Mr. Henson, it was on to Warner Brothers — where Ms. Tippey directed the team that built and operated Seymour.

        “The head was the size of a VW Beetle,” Ms. Tippey said.

        Ms. Rudolph didn't know about Ms. Tippey's resume until this year. Terry Brink, the manager at Covent Garden, a Mount Washington floral shop, said Ms. Tippey normally doesn't trumpet her accomplishments.

        “She's quiet, but when she says she can do something, she does it,” Mr. Brink said.

        Ms. Tippey and her husband John, a writer, producer and director from London, moved from England to Northern Kentucky in 1989. They work at Horizon Productions, a Mount Washington production company owned by her brother, Robert Amott. Ms. Tippey also is developing software for a series of educational materials that teach emerging sounds and language for preschool through third-grade children.

        And they don't plan on leaving, especially since their 13-year-old son Jake is a sophomore at Covington Latin.

        “It's a whole change of lifestyle,” Ms. Tippey said. “It's creative. It's different from making plants.”

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