Snooty got an early birthday present Thursday.
About 100 invited guests gathered in the lobby of Bishop Planetarium at Bradenton's South Florida Museum for a ceremony to unveil Snooty's official portrait.
"It's an opportunity to immortalize Snooty," said museum CEO Brynne Anne Besio. "We have lots of pictures of him but we've never had a painting until now."
Snooty, of course, is the museum's oldest and most famous resident, the 66-year-old manatee who two years ago became the official mascot of Manatee County.
Museum officials commissioned artist John Allinson to create the portrait. Allinson, a 5-year resident of Anna Maria Island, specializes in painting sea life and was a natural choice for the project, Besio said.
Allinson said he and his wife took photographs of Snooty, which he used to create the painting.
"He loves to pose," Allinson said. "And he likes men more than women."
As the crowd gathered Thursday evening, the portrait of Snooty sat on an easel flanked by portraits of Lillian Huntington Bishop and Edward Everson Bishop, after whom the planetarium is named. A cloth covered the portrait of honor as museum officials gave a few introductory comments.
Marilyn Margold, museum director of living collections -- informally known as "Snooty's mom" -- said museum officials wanted to make sure the portrait did not look like any old manatee.
"What we really wanted was someone who could paint a picture and make it look like Snooty," she said.
After Allinson took his photographs, she said: "A few days later he showed us what he called a sketch. And it WAS Snooty."
Allinson said he recently taught an art class and students 10 to 12 years old were painting birthday cards for Snooty. He'll be 67 on July 21, and he's thought to be the world's oldest manatee.
Allinson said he told students they were making the cards, not just for Snooty, but for all manatees.
"I told them it's about respect for the species," he said. "You have to grow up with a certain amount of respect for every living thing. If I can't do anything else in my life than promote that feeling, that's good enough for me. So I painted Snooty."
The cloth was lifted from the acrylic painting, which measures about 4 feet by 2 1/2 feet. The crowd let out a unanimous "Awww" and then applauded.
The portrait shows Snooty in profile, pulling himself out of the water in his tank, flippers on the edge. He appears to have a bit of a smile on his face.
The portrait will move to the museum's second floor where it will remain as part of an exhibit of Allinson's work until after Snooty's birthday. Then it will move to a permanent place in the museum, which hasn't been determined yet.
The portrait will never be commercialized, museum officials said. It will never be used in ads or posters or any other promotional material.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.