Mary Ratcliff was thrilled when she saw the giant orange orb
glow atop her sculpture in the Jacksonville Beach seaside park. The solar
panels she designed to light the globe were the first she’s incorporated into a
sculpture, and while she was pleased to view her finished artwork against the
night sky, she was even more relieved that it actually worked!
Ratcliff’s sculpture is just one of five created by
University of North Florida sculpture students being displayed for a year as
part of the Seaside Sculpture Park in Jacksonville Beach.
Sparks were flying at the park’s unconventional ribbon
cutting ceremony in June where one of the artists, Gillian Harper, sliced
through a metal ribbon, using what is often a large-scale sculptor’s tool of
choice — a blowtorch.
The creative opening clearly reflected the creative
partnership that made the park possible — a collaboration between the
University’s Student Affairs Community Council, Department of Art and Design,
MountainStar Capital and the Lazzara Family Foundation. Use of the land for the
year, as well as irrigation, lighting and funding for materials, was donated by
MountainStar, with $500 scholarships for each artist provided by the Lazzara
According to Dr. Debra Murphy, chair of the department of
art and design, the sculptors were selected in a highly competitive process.
Eleven students each produced a maquette — a small scale model of the proposed
sculpture — and discussed their work, construction techniques and safety issues
before a committee that included UNF art professors, a representative from the
Student Affairs Community Council, local artists, a Jacksonville Beach City
Council member and a member of the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville.
In the end, five projects were selected. In addition to
Ratcliff’s “Symbiosis,” other sculptures featured include Harper’s “Ongoing
Life,” “Still Swimming” by Emily Pinnell, “Wild Bird” by Diana Shepherd and
“Ode to Franklin County” by David Peters.
Selected sculptors each received $2,000 for their project —
half for materials and half for painting, surface treatment and prepping the
sculptures for display.
While “hands-on experience” may seem like a given for those
studying sculpture, the caliber of projects that undergraduate art students get
to participate in at UNF is far beyond the norm.
“This type of opportunity is a rarity in most undergraduate
programs where such projects would be reserved for advanced graduate students,”
Ratcliff, a senior who has already created a bike rack
sculpture on campus, as well as a sculpture for the library, agrees and said it
was this kind of experience that attracted her to the program.
“Creating the site-specific artwork for this project was
exciting,” Ratcliff said. “I really liked the idea of customizing my design for
the beach location. It’s great experience and prepares you for the real world
where you may be hired to create something for a specific purpose in a specific
According to Jenny Hager, associate professor of sculpture,
the student sculptors were responsible for just about every aspect of the
project from sourcing materials to working with vendors to the logistics of
“This gives them an edge because, as undergraduates, they
have just completed a project on par with a professional public sculptor,”
Hager said, adding that displaying their art in a place where the public can
enjoy it is also an incredible opportunity. “It’s icing on the cake,” she
Hager and her husband, Lance Vickery, an adjunct sculpture
professor at UNF who also worked with students on the project, are particularly
excited because they live in Jacksonville Beach. Hager assisted them through
the proposal process, while Vickery worked with students as they built and installed
their massive sculptures – one is estimated to weigh more than 1,200 pounds.
When it was time for installation, Sims Crane and Neiman and Company provided
gratis crane services to move the giant pieces.
“The scale of this project posed difficult and unique
obstacles, but we have phenomenal students who always rise to this type of
challenge,” said Vickery.
The park, located at 480 1st Street South in Jacksonville
Beach, was carefully planned out, with landscape design by Rhonda Gracie, a
horticulturist with UNF’s physical facilities department. The finished project
was a beautifully designed, unique park that fits perfectly at the beach.
Dr. Mauricio Gonzalez, vice president of student and
international affairs, said the project was a great example of how one family
can make a huge difference in a community. “We are so appreciative of the
Lazzara’s vision and understanding of the value of public art, as well as the
desire to showcase works of talented UNF students to the beaches community,”
The Lazzara Family Foundation has been a staunch supporter
of the arts at UNF for years including support for the Lazzara Performance
Hall, which is named for the family. UNF President John A. Delaney said
providing opportunities for the sculpture students is just another example of
their generosity. “Because of their passion and enthusiasm for the arts, the
Lazzara family has provided a forum not only for our talented students to
display their creative artwork, but also a beautiful space at the beach where
the public can be inspired,” President Delaney said.
Chris Lazzara, CEO of MountainStar Capital, also serves as
the chair of the community awareness and outreach committee of the Student
Affairs Community Council. “The hard work and dedication of these sculpture
students is inspiring to us,” Lazzara said commenting that the finished park is
a perfect public-private partnership to help art students share their talents.
“Our hope is that it will encourage similar gifts from private individuals and
companies and spawn new public art in Jacksonville Beach and beyond.”
For the students, having their artwork out for people to
enjoy is what sculpting is all about.
“We are so fortunate
to have such strong support from local businesses and the community,” Ratcliff
said. “Not only do we have amazing opportunities to create art, we also get
great feedback from people in the community who seem to really appreciate what
There is no doubt that the mission to create public art and
the community’s support motivated the students throughout the arduous and often
“These sculptures are the products of their commitment and
unrelenting efforts,” Vickery said. “I’m in awe of each of them.”