Stu Carlson – Staff Writer of High Country Spotlight/Shopper Jul 18, 2023
Folks attending the 4th of July Cherry Days parade in Paonia this year were introduced to Bubbles, a 40-foot-long rainbow trout that was the brainchild of locals Paul Kimpling and Kristen O’Brien. The idea was conceived during the last Cherry Days parade, and construction of the epic undertaking began just after the new year. Bubbles, intended to inspire the community, made a big splash – one that Paul and Kristen hope to see the ripples of for the foreseeable future.
It began with a simple enough thought while Kristen and Paul were watching the parade in 2022. Paul turned to Kristen and plainly stated, “I want to make a rainbow trout.” Three months later, when the touring performance art group, Bread and Puppets, presented their brand of pageantry in the park with their larger-than-life puppets, Paul was inspired to construct the fish as a puppet and fashion it like a Chinese dragon.
In an interview on KVNF’s Local Motion, conducted by Lisa Young, Paul expressed that he saw the value of art communicating ideas that are hard to articulate during the Bread and Puppets show and decided that this would be a fun way of inspiring and uplifting people. The idea was simple, as Kristen explains – the rainbow trout has great significance in Colorado, and the symbolic relation of rainbows to the LGBTQ Pride movement is a good fit.
The hard part was the construction itself. Paul decided to adopt a common theme that resonates with many in Paonia – recycling – and set to work collecting colorful aluminum cans for the project. As the movement grew and volunteers through connections with The Learning Council came to lend a hand, Bubbles grew as well. The original scaled model expanded from 30 to 40 feet as the logistics of building and operating the fish came into focus. More than 4,000 cans were collected, sorted, washed, cut and flattened before they were attached in the correct spot to represent the colorful scales of a rainbow trout.
Bubbles, powered by seven people and accompanied by a mob of dancers, swam down Grand Avenue as real-life bubbles were emitted from the fish, giving the illusion of an underwater journey upstream toward the town park. The attention to detail was not lost on the crowd of onlookers, as even the mouth of the fish opened and closed. When the awards were handed out in the park for best parade entries, Bubbles, unsurprisingly, took Best Group Entry and Best Overall.