It caused a stir in Jacksonville Beach last Wednesday afternoon.

“Hey! Where’s skeleton man going?! That was my buddy!  I’ma miss that guy!,” said a bike rider cruising by on first street.

Later, an older woman stopped her car in the middle of the road, walked over to the park and asked what was being done to UNF’s Seaside Sculpture Park on First Street and Fifth Avenue South.

When she heard about the new sculpture installments, she sighed with relief.

“Are you finally getting rid of the skeleton? I hated that thing, who made that?” she asked.

Crouching Skeletal Figure.
Photo by Daniela Toporek

UNF sculpture student, Matt Standford quietly raised his hand.

Stanford is here to take his “Crouching Skeletal Figure” back to the UNF campus and help install the two new sculptures created by students, Olivia Warro and Jennifer Peek.

Warro and Peek were selected out of all the students in their sculpture class to create a large-scale sculpture for Seaside Sculpture Park, located on the corner of Fifth Avenue South and First Street in Jax Beach.

“They’ve been students in our program for a couple years now,” said Jenny Hager, sculpting professor and director of the UNF department of Arts and Design.

“This is the first ever large-scale piece that Olivia has built,” Hager said. “I’m gonna brag on her a little bit because she was really nervous about presenting to the committee and she was really shy. She did a really great job and obviously, she got selected.”

When I arrived at the park, I introduced myself to the group and Warro, 22, seemed anything but shy.

“Did you try to contact me about the sculpture piece? Jenn told me you may have tried, but I don’t think I saw anything,” she said.  After we spoke, she grabbed the drill and went straight to work on the installation.

“I built a 10-foot tall steel shrimp,” Warro said with a smile. “There’s just a lot of culture around shrimp around here, so I thought that would be cool to incorporate that into the community. I thought, ‘there’s a shrimp festival and the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp now, too.'”

Warro first fell in love with sculpting in high school when she took a 3-D art class and was introduced to clay.

Olivia Warro working on her “Jumbo Shrimp” sculpture.
Photo by Daniela Toporek

“It just has a dimension to it that paint doesn’t have. In college, I decided that I wanted to pursue that. I put together the presentation and presented in front of a committee and they accepted my proposal and I got funded,” Warro explained.”I never expected to work with metal, but here I am. It’s very empowering to build something bigger than yourself.”

Olivia Warro is just as bold as her work.

“They compete to get this opportunity,” Hager explained, “so they make models or moquettes and they present them to a committee. They do a four-minute professional presentation. And they get selected–or not selected. If they do get selected, they spend the following semester actually building their sculpture and creating it.”

“This is a fantastic addition to my portfolio. It will make me a strong competitor when applying to graduate programs,” said UNF junior, 34, Jennifer Peek.

Peek’s sculpture project, “Pop Jellies,” is inspired by both Jacksonville Beach and the art of displaying movement.

Jennifer Peek installing her sculpture, “Pop Jellies.”
Photo by Daniela Toporek

“It’s all about capturing and creating a sense of movement in a stationary display,” Peek said. “This piece was inspired by jellyfish and how they move together. The bright colors and high-contrast, white accents were influenced by the pop art movement. The beach seemed like a perfect location to display my ‘Pop Jellies.'”

Made from steel, peeks installation was carefully molded and welded together to depict the graceful movement of jellyfish tentacles.

Peek made the jellyfish tops from fiberglass with the help of Gordon Nelson from Hairy Glass, Inc., a local fiberglass company that specializes in selling race car parts.

“Gordon is wonderful,” Peek said. “He’s given advice to several sculpture students as well as some engineering students who worked on racing cars.”

This isn’t Peek’s first go at having her work displayed in public. Last year, she was selected to create a piece for Klutho Park in Springfield for “A National Call to Artists,” an announcement for artists all over the country trying to get their work commissioned or displayed.

While on break, Peek quickly hydrated herself and pushed through the next steps of her installation.  

“I’m very excited to have two large public works here in Jacksonville,” Peek said – and her work ethic proves it.

“This is our third install,” said Jenney Hager.

UNF students Jennifer Peek (red top, left) and Olivia Warro (black top, right) helping install each other’s sculpture.
Photo by Daniela Toporek

“This opportunity is really good for the students because they do get practice in a real-world kind of experience. This is how I would present my work trying to get a grant or trying to apply for a special sculpture exhibition. A lot of parts of the process are very similar, so this gives them a nice, professional opportunity.”

Professor Jenny Hager has her own public installment of a 20-foot giraffe at the Jacksonville Zoo. She’s participated in dozens of exhibitions and performances, both stateside and internationally.

The park was initially funded through a partnership between the University of North Florida, Chris Lazzara of MountainStar Capital and the city of Jacksonville Beach. New sculptures every few months to showcase the students’ most recent work.

The sculptures being replaced have been moved to the UNF campus where they’ll eventually find a permanent location.

The fourth installment is already in the works for fall.