The view from the wheelhouse of Little Toot. (Caloosa Belle/Geoffrey Ionescu)
After living and working as an artist in the hustle and bustle of New York for 20 years, Christopher Robin Obetz decided it was time to slow things down. And he found the perfect companion to accompany him on his new adventure in LaBelle. “My parents are getting older and I wanted to create a special way for us to spend time together,” Chris explains, “I got the idea of buying a tugboat because its sturdy and solid and it only goes slow, and that is what I needed most at the time. I went on Craigslist and saw that someone was selling a 26 foot tugboat in LaBelle. Mind you, at the time I had absolutely zero nautical abilities whatsoever.” “But life is an adventure! So I ended up in LaBelle, at a house with a red barn on the Caloosahatchee River. The carpenter that was selling the boat stored it in the red barn, and as soon as he opened the barn doors, I was staring at the words ‘Little Toot’ on the bow of the little tug boat, and it was love at first sight!” Obetz says. The author of Little Toot, Hardie Gramatky, was a senior animator at Walt Disney Studios for six years before writing the Little Toot stories. According to Chris it was destined to be, two Disney Characters meeting; Christopher Robin and Little Toot. “I create mixed media assemblage,” Chris goes on, “ and the ongoing theme in my artwork –which is pervasive in my whole life – is forgotten beauty found, which directly relates to me finding Little Toot and how I see the world.” “In a way, Little Toot saved my life as much as I saved his,” Chris explains, “my artwork has always been based on creating beauty out of what is lost and forgotten. Little Toot was abandoned in the barn, and I at the time had some personal issues in my life, so we saved each other.” “He slowed me down to ‘six knots’ to get a better appreciation of life. Because instead of going from A to Z as fast as possible Little Toot forced me to go only six knots, and the slower you go the more you appreciate the beauty in the world around you.” “With the help of Little Toot, I started the Little Toot Foundation, which gives me the chance to follow my own dreams in helping other people reach theirs. The Little Toot Foundation strives to be the wheelhouse from which children, their families and friends can learn to become their own story tellers and artists. Together with the Freedom Waters Foundation we take kids with serious illness, disabilities and other special needs out on the water with Little Toot, which makes them and their families, at least for a few hours, forget about their issues. Although we can’t cure their illness, I can help put a smile on their face for a day, and that is what this is all about for me,” Chris says with a smile on his face.
Captain Christopher Robin reading the original Little Toot on the banks of the Caloosahatchee at Barron Library. (Caloosa Belle/Geoffrey Ionescu)
“Right before Irma hit last year Little Toot and I were almost ready to go on the water together,” Chris says. “This was last September and I was ready to start Tooting, then Irma came. Little Toot stayed behind in the repair dock to sit out Irma in Alva.” “The second day after Irma came right through Alva, I went back to check on Little Toot. I couldn’t even get down to the marina with my car, so I had to walk through the waist-deep water to get there. I wasn’t even thinking about the dangerous electrical wires and snakes that could be in the water, I just wanted to get to Little Toot.” “I turn the corner and the first thing I see is Little Toot smiling at me with his big bow. The whole barn roof was ripped off, except for the piece of roof right above Little Toot. Little Toot survived Irma to help others,” Chris says. The next step for Chris is writing the official sequels to the Little Toot children’s books: “I will be writing the stories and my photography will be the basis for the illustrator to draw the scenes for the children’s books, which I am very excited about! Hardie Gramatky’s daughter – who I am very close friends with – gave me permission to write the official sequel to the Little Toot books and start the Little Toot Foundation. I simply want Little Toot to bring smiles and joy to all he meets. Through his wheelhouse lives will change and dreams will come true.” Together with the LaBelle Downtown Revitalization Corporation captain Christopher Robin named November 16 the official Little Toot Day in LaBelle. Everyone is invited on November 16 at the docks at the Barron Library in Downtown LaBelle to welcome Little Toot and meet captain Christopher Robin. LaBelle Elementary second and fourth grade kids are outdoing themselves by creating a special welcome for Little Toot and Mayor David Lyons will officially proclaim Little Toot Day at 10 a.m. See you November 16 on Little Toot Day!