The crisp European summer morning in 2015 arrived with only a whisper. Tom Kramer and Mary Zahner were touring near the Provence area of southeastern France, with plans to scout a wine tasting bar to sample the region’s Cote de Rhone wines, when the Rosemary Beach couple stopped off in the little town of Gigondas. “To our surprise they were wrapping up an outdoor sculpture exhibition with an auction of about 30 sculptures that had been on display throughout their town.” Both artists themselves, these two creative companions toured the exhibition, winding their way through the inspired artistic creations. “An idea was born,” Tom said, grinning. “It dawned on us that Rosemary Beach would be a perfect venue for an outdoor sculpture exhibition.”
Joni Younkins Herzog began paying closer attention to the angel trumpet flowers in her neighbor’s yard and at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida. “I was smitten with its unique form,” the artist mused. Herzog started recreating small life-sized versions of the flower, made out of old art magazines, then researched its medical and opportunistic properties, becoming enchanted by its natural architecture.
During a meeting in 2014, the Rosemary Beach Townscape Enhancement Committee discussed enhancing the beauty of the world’s second new urbanist town with the use of public art. “We aimed to create something that would add variety and color to complement the architecture. “Although we discussed it a bit, nothing came of it at that time,” said Tom, recalling a conversation with Victoria Lee, who is married to Lawrence Pugh, an agent for George Rodrigue, the New Orleans artist that is well known for creating the Blue Dog paintings. It would be another year, before the spark of their conversation would be ignited in Gigondas, and two more years before the first sculpture, Rodrigue’s Blue Dog sculpture, called Colors of My Mind would arrive in Rosemary for installation.
Home from their European vacation, Tom immediately shared sculpture exhibition idea with Rosemary Beach Town Manager, David Bailey. “He loved the idea and urged me to pursue its development.” Bailey discussed the idea informally with the Property Owner’s Association Board of Directors, who were cautiously supportive. Over the next year and a half, the plan very gradually emerged, despite a few false starts.
“We had identified about 20 locations in Rosemary Beach where we thought sculptures could be well presented” explained Bailey. “Most of these were locations in our large green spaces, within several of our neighborhood parks, and in a few of the smaller green spaces tucked around our community. We also felt that clustering them in the central part of our town would increase the likelihood that residents and guests could easily walk to all the sculptures.”
Meanwhile Herzog, from her studio in Atlanta, was wrestling with steel spider webs to create large installation sculptures for her small intricate bronze Barbie spider series. The end result was a strong but light architectural technique that she later applied to create the large flower and stalk of the angel trumpet. “If you could see beneath the fiberglass you would see the welded steel as an extruded spider web,” the artist explains. “After the metal work was finished I carefully ground down the sharp surfaces and handstitched the cotton to the steel.”
Herzog sealed and strengthened her monolithic flower, named “Iliana” with resin and paint, welded the stalk more connections for strength. Then marine shrink wrap was overlaid, then it was covered with fiberglass, resin and lace. “Iliana not only houses one of the Barbie spiders but also represents the power of plants and feminine wildness as she beckons from a distance and towers overhead,” muses her maker, of her 17-foot tall sculpture located near the Owner’s Pavilion. “The huge flower appears to be leaning over as if to listen to you,” says Bailey.
All told, 35 sculptures were submitted for consideration. Using the expertise of Jennifer Carvalho-Bindi, curator for Sea Contemporary Art Space, 11 sculptures were selected for inclusion in the exhibition. The George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts offered to display Colors of My Mind, which brought the final count to 12 sculptures.
The exhibit opened May 27th and runs through October 7th. Bailey says of the opening ceremonies, “I think that may have to do with the fact that all these wonderful civic spaces and buildings here are more than just pretty places – they are stages where people can interact, where wonderful events can be held. As we moved around the town over the course of a few days, we all walked together and had great conversations getting to know a little more about one another. That simply doesn’t happen when you drive from the lecture hall to the next venue in separate cars. Rosemary Beach’s master plan and our architectural regulations have created a community where these sorts of things can happen every day. The exhibit encourages people to experience the town in all these ways.”
When sculptor David Richardson first had the vision for Sea Beast he did not know that it would one day be on display in Rosemary Beach. He only knew that he had to create it. “I’ve always been fascinated with the Nautilus shell both artistically and architecturally. The shape and flow is flawless in design. Nature forms these shells in the most efficient way possible.” When the Nautilus shell is cut in half, the real beauty is exposed through the repeating chambers. Richardson’ sculpture is installed in Triangle Park. “These chambers are what I wanted to bring to the outside of the shell, so that the viewer could have a visual experience. I wanted to leave the sculpture heavily textured to represent how durable and resilient these little creatures can be. Having been around since prehistoric times shows that the Nautilus can adapt and survive.” Sea Beast is Richardson’s way of paying tribute to such an amazing mollusk through sculpture. “I believe this monumental metal mollusk loves being in Rosemary Beach.”
Iliana by Herzog, Sea Beast by Richardson, and Colors of My Mind by Rodrigue are just three of the twelve outdoor sculptures that will be on exhibit May 26 through October 7, 2017. The present plans are for the committee to mount an outdoor sculpture exhibition every two years. A printed map as well as an audio featuring the artists will allow visitors to enjoy a self-guided tour with their smartphone. The “Otocast” app can downloaded for the audio tour.
“The sculptures have become landmarks of sorts that are part of a treasure hunt,” Bailey says with pride. “Take a different route to the coffee shop every morning – you might find another sculpture on the way. They all are worth visiting more than once.”
The Sculpture Exhibition is funded by donor support. It is free and is open to the public. Catalogs can be obtained from any Rosemary Beach Merchants. For more information, or to learn how to donate, visit Rosemarybeachsculpture.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Joni Younkins-Herzog
Photo Caption: Looking into Iliana, the angel trumpet sculpture by Joni Younkins-Herzog, that stands 17 feet tall.