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Art on Campus

Students rolling a huge duck created by UNF art and design students.

It’s not hard to imagine why many view the University of North Florida as a work of art. An environmentally beautiful campus nestled within a 1,381 acre natural preserve, the University is as picturesque as a Monet and as colorful as a Pollock.


The campus’ own inherent beauty has been enhanced even further in recent years by the University’s commitment to the acquisition and installation of works of art from celebrated artists, as well as pieces created by students and faculty. UNF boasts a thriving permanent collection, two different art galleries featuring rotating assortments of varied works and a wide array of statues, sculptures and installations that liven up the campus environment. Additionally, there is a committed group of faculty and students who have contributed greatly to the University’s position as one of the most artistically diverse institutions in the State University System.


Take a look at UNF’s dynamic assortment of artistic offerings.  


Bike racks, campus sculptures and ZOOLights

The "Empowered" bike rackFrom giant ducks to artistic bike racks, sculpture students at UNF have been pushing the envelope when it comes to campus art installations.


Spearheaded by the husband and wife team of Lance Vickery and Jenny Hager-Vickery, the UNF sculpture professors have inspired their students to let their minds run free with all of the creative possibilities available right on campus. The most recent additions are a quartet of bike racks with their own unique motifs: blades of grass, bamboo poles, an electrical cord and a fish. Wandy Griggs’  “Cutting Edge” has the appearance of abstract blades of painted a bright, lime green. She said her work on the project took her all the way from the creative stage to the installation process and has been truly informative as she prepares to delve into the professional art world.


“We did everything — from coming up with the initial idea, creating the maquettes, designing the work and handling the construction,” Griggs said. “It’s a good feeling to be a student and have your artwork being installed on campus and be of use for years to come.”


Another popular addition to campus is 10 feet tall, bright yellow and likes to drift through his day. Sgt. Quackers, a massive floating fiberglass and Styrofoam duck sculpture created by students from Hager-Vickery’s Enlivened Spaces class, can often be found sunning himself in the pond between the Library and the Coggin College of Business. The fowl campus guest first made an appearance April 1, and he’s been spotted across the city — most notably in Hemming Plaza during the most recent One Spark crowdfunding festival in Downtown Jacksonville.


The art students who crafted the duck — Mark Ewing, Erica Mendoza, Nick Dunlop, Katrina Hess and Maggie Bevis — were inspired to create Sgt. Quackers after a series of student pitch meetings for projects that could be produced collaboratively. Ewing said he expected that his idea for a big, yellow duck would raise some eyebrows, but it soon became clear that UNF’s natural environment was the right home for Sgt. Quackers.  


The ZOOLights sculpture ream“We’ve gotten so much awesome feedback about him,” Ewing said. “He’s become really popular on campus really quickly. And we’ve gotten a lot of requests to bring him other places around the city.”


Sgt. Quackers also took a brief holiday vacation to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens for the annual ZOOLights event. Works from UNF art faculty and students were featured throughout December as more than 50,000 visitors experienced this year’s festivities. They were greeted by large, student-designed, wire-frame sculptures of varying shapes laden with lights and strung up throughout the Zoo. Other students built sculptures designed to correspond to particular exhibits — such as a light-up rat installation that was placed in front of the Zoo’s capybara exhibit and an illuminated tiger by senior Kyle Newsome that was installed near the brand-new tiger exhibit. 


“It was great to have this opportunity from the perspective of a student who is trying to get his work out there as much as possible,” Newsome said. “A lot of people saw what I can do, and I have some more examples of my work that I can use to land other opportunities.” 


A sculpture outside the Student UnionThe University also boasts a large outdoor collection of sculptures. One of the largest and newest is John Henry’s  “Axiom,” a 35-foot high and 20-foot wide sculpture that weighs 18 tons and is made of steel and painted in safety red enamel. It sits on the roundabout near Lot 18. It was donated to the UNF by alumnus and Foundation Board Member Dr. Shyam Paryani, Dr. Walter Scott and Cleve Scarbrough in honor of the University’s 40th anniversary.


Murals and mosaics

The Osprey MosaicUNF Art and Design Associate Professor Nofa Dixon has done much over the years to beautify existing parts of campus with the help of her students. Dixon and dozens of students who enrolled in her special topics class over the years have designed four tiled murals located across campus and four ornately designed mosaics on structural columns located in the Alumni Square courtyard between Frederick H. Schultz Hall and Founders Hall. Dixon said the inspiration for her campus beautification projects came from her regular walks around campus — she couldn't help but notice blank, concrete surfaces that could be embellished with a little artistic flare.


More than a dozen students painstakingly installed four detailed mosaics on four 24-foot columns around Alumni Square during the course of three semesters. The First Coast inspired the subject matter for the mosaics, which included Jacksonville’s skyline, a beach, a swamp and a hurricane,


The nest mosaicNext up was an even more interesting artistic challenge — creating a trio of wall murals illustrating the life cycle of a wild osprey, from birth to nest building to flight. The first wall, depicting an osprey nest with three eggs, was designed and created in 2011 at Dixon’s home studio in Avondale. There wasn't enough studio space on campus to house the more than 300 tiles needed for installation, so she stored them herself.


Dixon and an academically diverse group of students met several times each week to paint, glaze, fire and cut the individual tiles needed to construct the large nest mosaic designed especially for the wall of the English Hall, directly across from Outtakes. The other two mosaics were installed in 2013 on the second floor of Founders Hall and at the Osprey Commons.


Dixon’s student Jlll Olmo worked on the construction and installation of the third mural. She said the process was a helpful exercise in learning the intricacies of large-scale art projects.


The Student Wellness Complex mosaic“This was such a huge undertaking that really opened up our eyes about how meticulous we need to be as artists,” Olmo said. “We had to catalogue each piece and put it where it needed to go. One wrong piece and everything was out of order. With 300 pieces, that’s a challenge, and we learned how to be precise and focused in our approach.”


Dixon and her class installed one more mural in 2013 — this time at the request of the staff of the new Student Wellness Center. The interior of the building has been enlivened with a vibrant 30-foot-wide, 15-foot-high mural of the Florida sky, the largest on-campus mural installed by Dixon and her students.


“These projects have really helped these students take ownership of their work and positively impact the campus at the same time,” Dixon said. “Even once they graduate, their work will live on. That’s a great feeling as an artist.”


Permanent Collection

The Campus GalleryThe University's permanent art collection has grown to 475 works since 1988, said Amara McMann, coordinator of UNF's art galleries. The first addition, Linda Howard's untitled sculpture that resembles strands of DNA rendered in brushed aluminum, was installed near the stairwell of the John E. Matthews Jr. Computer Science Building that year, signaling the beginning of UNF's wide-ranging acquisition of different pieces. During that span of time, multiple University supporters, community members and organizations have helped grow this stunning collection.


The University of North Florida Gallery of Art, which was founded in 1981, is the focal point for the display of these pieces. Located in the heart of campus next to the Peace Plaza in Founders Hall, the UNF Gallery exhibits student and faculty work on a rotating basis and catalogues and exhibits works from the University’s permanent collection.


McMann said a gift from Wells Fargo in 2009 has been one of the largest contributions to the University’s art catalogue. The company donated 340 pieces of art valued at $156,000. The Art and Design faculty have also used the pieces as teaching tools. The works range from contemporary pieces to portraits from the 1600s and include a diverse array of sculptures, prints, graphic design works and paintings.


The globe statue near the Social Sciences Building"The donation of these works really opened things up for us," McMann said. "We can pick and chose what we want to display. We have so much to showcase, and the gallery only features 40 to 50 pieces on a rotating basis, that we started adding pieces everywhere around campus — indoor and outdoor. The campus’ demand for art has really grown organically over the years."


To meet the request for art in different locations, McMann initiated an art on campus loan program, which contributed different pieces from the permanent collection for inclusion in conference rooms, interior public spaces, offices and hallways. The program was initiated in September, and already 75 different pieces have been made available for installation in different places across campus.


“It’s not just about having a gallery,” she said. “This loan program allows us to get the word out about UNF’s permanent collection and strengthens the awareness that UNF is ahead-of-the-curve when it comes to art on campus.”


Other pieces have been displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in downtown Jacksonville, a cultural resource of UNF.


A recent project Atrium exhibition at MOCAMOCA Jacksonville was acquired by and became a cultural resource of UNF in 2009, extending the University’s presence in the Northeast Florida arts community into the heart of downtown Jacksonville. The union of MOCA Jacksonville and UNF has allowed the Museum to follow through on its mission to educate the regional community about the cultural and intellectual history of contemporary art. It has become a fertile display ground for mid-career and emerging artists through its acclaimed Project Atrium series, the highlight of which is the Museum’s 40-foot high Haskell Gallery. Project Atrium gives these hand-selected artists access to the space to install their own site-specific and site-sensitive installations. The unique project caught the attention of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts last year, leading to a $75,000 grant from the foundation for the next two years to support the series. It was the only museum in the southeast to receive such a grant.

In addition to Project Atrium, the Museum has featured public programs and works by multiple UNF faculty members and students. The UNF Gallery located at MOCA is curated by the Museum’s staff in collaboration with the University’s Department of Art and Design faculty and has exhibited a diverse cross-section of national and international contemporary artists while providing educational programming, lectures, workshops and conferences for the entire Northeast Florida region.

Gandhi and MLK
The Gandhi statueUNF’s artistic spirit has also helped to promote the philosophies of some of history’s most heralded humanitarians through the installation of two bronze statues in Peace Plaza, the tranquil pathway between Founders Hall and J.J. Daniel Hall.

Bronze statues of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. stand at either end of the plaza, offering the campus community an opportunity to remember the teachings of these civil rights titans.

The Gandhi Memorial Society donated Gandhi’s likeness to the University in 2006. The 8-foot-tall, 1,500-pound bronze statue was created by famed Indian sculptor Jasu Shilpi. Following in the footsteps of his philosophical mentor, a similar statue of Martin Luther King Jr., also crafted by Shilpi, was installed in 2012 mere feet from Gandhi. The Gandhi statue was the first sculpture of the famed humanitarian to be featured on a Florida university campus.

The MLK statueDr. Oupa Seane, director of UNF’s Intercultural Center for PEACE, said the planning for the statues was initiated by Dr. Mauricio Gonzalez, vice president for Student and International Affairs. He said the hope was to promote a spirit of peace and goodwill right in the center of campus.

“That’s the spirit and character that we as a campus community wish to impart to our students and everyone else who becomes a part of our family,” Seane said. The location has since become a place for meditation and reflection on campus.

Art in the Library

The Library's book sculptureIn addition to the University’s permanent collection, the Thomas G. Carpenter Library has amassed an assortment of works worthy of prominent display. The Art in the Library exhibition has grown quickly into a cultural force, featuring almost 150 different pieces from scores of artists based in and around Northeast Florida.

Shirley Hallblade retired in July, but her time as dean of the Library allowed her to oversee much of the exhibition’s growth. She said the collection was created to spotlight some of the best works by noted Northeast Florida artists and is a collaboration between UNF’s Visual Arts Department and the Thomas G. Carpenter Library Dean’s Leadership Council, as facilitated by 2009 UNF alumni Jennifer Jones, the former president of R. Roberts Gallery. When the collection debuted June 2013, many students and Library visitors were intrigued by the fact that the art was installed on nearly every open wall surface instead of being tucked away in a lightly trafficked gallery in the back of the building.

“We made the decision to put the art up throughout the Library to boost its visibility,” Hallblade said. “The University hasn’t acquired these pieces for them to be tucked away and forgotten about. They should be displayed and appreciated by the campus community.”

Lufrano Intercultural Gallery
The Lufrano GalleryThe Lufrano GalleryThe Lufrano Gallery opened in 2009 in the second floor of the Student Union building thanks to a generous gift from Drs. Anne and Robert Lufrano. The Gallery includes a dedicated space for traveling art shows and fulfills the University’s mission of offering high caliber art exhibits and educational programs for students, faculty, and staff through the presentation of works that represent the institution’s values. The most recent exhibition was Richard Lundgren's “Disappearing Landscapes,” a one-man show that focuses on the loss of our natural landscape through 20 recent works by the artist. UNF’s Department of Art and Design Chair Dr. Debra Murphy has curated many previous Lufrano exhibitions, and she said the works chosen for the space are often topical in nature and designed to push past the status quo.

“The Gallery’s mission is to address social issues and enlighten those who see these works,” Murphy. “Everything that we’ve displayed is both an artistic and education contribution to the campus.”

Art in Buildings
Many of the buildings on campus also contain special pieces to help beautify the spaces and bring art to the students, faculty and staff where they study, work and live.

The blown glass art in the Biological Sciences BuidlingSt. Augustine sculptor and glass blower Thomas Long has had “Wellspring,” 87 pieces of hand-blown glass spanning more than 100 feet of the Biological Sciences Building. “A wellspring, it’s where ideas take place and are shared,” he said. “It’s like a river. That’s what causes the ideas to move forward, join together and come apart into new ideas or currents. I was excited for the opportunity to propose this element in a large-scale sculpture in such a fantastic building. I hope that it brings inspiration to the students, faculty and visitors to the UNF campus.”

Judy Eisen and her late husband Saul have donated more than 15 prints and paintings to the Department of Art and Design to be used for educational purposes. They wanted students to be able to see truly good artwork up close and analyze the techniques and compositions used in different styles and periods.

Paul Karabinis, assistant professor of photography and art history, said the prints and paintings are a significant boost to the mission of the program.

The Lufrano Gallery“The Eisens have been great supporters of our program, and their generous gift has been of immediate value to art students,” he said.

Jack Allen, a UNF Foundation Board member and longtime UNF supporter, donated a 48- by 72-inch piece titled “Jazz II” to the University in 2009 that he painted using brilliant colors and geometric shapes. “My paintings usually visually embody how I want to see the world forever,” he said. “They are vast in size, vibrant in color and vicarious in interpretation.” The painting is housed in the Student Union West.

All the art on campus, like Allen’s piece, represents some part of the University, its people or its history.