If you think that art is something reserved for museums and stuffy galleries, think again.
If you think that art is something reserved for museums and stuffy galleries, think again. Here in Northwest Florida, where residents spend as much time outdoors as possible, sculptures are a part of the landscape.
You just have to know where to look.
As the home of Northwest Florida State College, it’s not surprising that outdoor sculptures abound here. The granddaddy of them all, however, is the famous “Seven Dancers” in the courtyard of the Mattie Kelly Arts Center at 100 E. College Blvd.
Artist: Esther Wertheimer
Size: 9 feet tall
Description: According to the NWF Stat website, the sculpture depicts seven dancers — three men, three women and a child — who hold hands to form a circle as they dance, floating above a gently overflowing pool of water. The circle they form is a symbol of never-ending camaraderie and a new hope for peace and harmony.
“Internationally famous sculptor Esther Wertheimer worked in the small Italian community of Pietrasanta for 18 months to produce this inspiring sculpture,” the website states. “It has become an icon of the ArtsCenter complex."
The late Mattie May Kelly was the grande dame of all things artistic on the Emerald Coast. These days, the foundation named in her honor keeps her spirit alive at the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation Cultural Arts Village at 4323 Commons Drive W.
Fittingly, the entrance to the arts village is marked by an enormous sculpture known as “Welcoming Arms.”
Artist: Frank Ledbetter
Medium: Stainless steel and aluminum
Size: 20 feet tall
Description: The abstract work contains hundreds of puzzle-like pieces that create a curved structure encapsulating a globe. The aluminum surface glistens when sunlight or artificial light strikes it.
“The statue serves as a great landmark,” said Marcia Hull, the executive director of the foundation. “We’ve heard from many of our performing artists who say that they can see it from the stage, and that it provides a very commanding entrance to the village.”
FORT WALTON BEACH
When the Downtown Fort Walton Beach Association disbanded a few years ago, the organization had about $68,000 in its coffers. After much deliberation, the board decided to use the money to purchase 13 works of art to put on display throughout the city.
Among the many sculptures purchased by the group is “The Fireboys Team,” which is in front of the Fort Walton Beach Fire Department at 5 Hollywood Blvd. NE.
Artist: Jim Davidson
Size: About 10 feet high.
Description: A group of boys dressed in firefighter gear climb upon a ladder as they attempt to raise an American flag.
“The guys at the Fire Department really jumped on the idea of putting the statue in front of their building,” said Jeff Peters, Fort Walton Beach's recreation and cultural services director. “They built a little brick area around it.”
Nothing evokes the spirit of the Emerald Coast like sea turtles, which may explain why the three big, colorful turtles on display in the Gulf Place community on County Road 30A in South Walton County are so popular with tourists and locals alike. Donated by the developers of the Grand Boulevard shopping center, it took four men and a flat bed truck to move them to their new home.
Artists: Billie Gaffrey (who painted “Miss Lucy”), Juan Francisco Adaro, (who painted “Manuelita”), and David J. Hansel (who painted “Horace”).
Medium: Solid concrete and paint
Size: About 4 feet high
Description: Each turtle reflects its artist’s sensibilities. “Miss Lucy” features twirls and lines while “Manuelita” has different images painted on different sections of her shell. “Horace” is the most realistic looking of the three.
“Even before they were painted, they were loved by the Gulf Place residents,” Gulf Place Community Association Manager Erin Chekaoui said. “Everyone knew this art installation was something special.”
“The Whiz Kid,” one of the first pieces of public art in the Hub City, was purchased in honor of Flo and Ted Lembeck, two of the biggest supporters of the city’s Friends of the Robert L. F. Sikes Libary. Located in front of the library’s entrance at 1445 Commerce Drive, the statue was vandalized in 2015 but was repaired by Baker area welder Aaron Charron.
Size: 4 feet high
Description: A boy wearing a mortar board and wielding a magnifying glass sits atop a globe while holding a book.
“We have a lot of people who take photos of their children in front of the statue when they first get their library card,” said Youth Services Librarian Heather Nitzel. “It’s a symbol of reading being an adventure.”
SANTA ROSA COUNTY
Since April 2016, “Myrtle the Turtle” has welcomed travelers to the Florida Welcome Center on Interstate 10 near Milton. The colorful turtle is currently undergoing a facelift to reflect the county’s new branding efforts. Her sister, Calypso, is on display inside the Santa Rosa County Visitor’s Information Center at 8543 Navarre Parkway in Navarre.
Artist: Alicia Hansen
Medium: Fiberglass with steel reinforced body.
Size: 5 feet high, 3 feet wide
Description: Myrtle’s colorful shell will be painted with Santa Rosa County’s new slogan, “Florida’s Most Relaxing Place.”
“Once her rebranding is complete, Myrtle will return to grace a spot in North Santa Rosa County,” said Brandi Whitehurst, the county’s public information officer.
Tucked away in the piney forest of north Walton County, Shoal Sanctuary is a 50-acre private nature preserve and agri-tourism site. The site is also home to dozens of sculptures created by Robert Larson, a world-renown artist and professor who co-owns the sanctuary with his wife, Chris Larson.
Among the many and varied works of art that can be found along the sculpture trail is an interesting work that Larson calls “Aerobismo.” For more information on how to visit Shoal Sanctuary, visit www.shoalsanctuary.com.
Artist: Robert Larson
Medium: Welded aluminum
Installed: Circa 2005
Size: 55 inches tall, 16 feet long
Description: This animated depiction of a stylized stegosaurus shines brightly when the sun hits it.
“The name ‘Aerobismo’ is the Esperanto word for ‘arise,’ ” Larson said. “I wanted this work to symbolize that concept of rising from the earth.”