Deep in Mandarin three years ago on April Fool’s Day, the first cement frog appeared on a stump near the Mandarin Museum Historical Society (MMHS). From then on, the frogs began to appear in random places around Mandarin; found on stumps, street corners, and anywhere they could rest easily. Slowly, the community began to notice these eight pound frogs whose origins remained a mystery.
Overtime the man behind the multi-colored frogs dispersed throughout the Mandarin roads made himself known, in turn changing the MMHS and Mandarin Community for the better.
At first, the painting of the frogs themselves remained simple: green and yellow. But as the frogs became more popular, they were slowly painted more extravagantly. Eventually, this method and pattern of painting became known as the “artist series” style.
For two years, The Frog Man’s identity remained a mystery. The question of who he was remained on many in the community. Overtime as his work and contributions became too large to ignore, he was forced to show his identity by fellow community members. Donald Bowden, a resident of Mandarin and decedent of a family line local to the area since the 1700s, works each Saturday at MMHS.
“None of this was ever intended to become what it has. It all started as an April Fool’s joke. I put on frog on a stump, went back a few days later and the city had removed it. They considered it historically inappropriate for the park,” said Bowden. “I’ve always loved doing things like this. Fixing things here and there. But these frogs turned into something different.”
Soon after this, the frogs gained popularity, catching local attention. After leaving 10 of these painted frogs in the museum gift shop, they were purchased within a week, starting a new tradition within the Mandarin community.
“One day I saw one of the frogs on the road had been taken. A week later it was back with a note under it saying how much they loved the frogs. Later I was called by the Times Union who wanted to do an interview on me. This little thing was gaining attention,” said Bowden. “I’ve made and painted around 5,000 frogs.”
After the initial controversy over the frogs and their place in Mandarin, they now give back to the community in an unforeseen way. These frogs offer a way for the community to gather and create their own unique footprint during the monthly frog paintings that take place. The Mandarin Museum has made thousands of dollars off of the frogs, which in turn will go to expansions to enhance the history of the community in return. Every month, families and children can go to the museum to paint frogs. These frogs work to bring the community together through a unique artistic way.
“Everybody loves the frogs,” said Bowden. “This gave me more drive to make more and more. Kids on the buses and people in the garden club loved looking at them. It’s my way to give back to the community.”