From a forgotten space emerges a special sculpture garden on the campus of Douglas Anderson
Over two years in the making, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts (DA) dedicated its new Augusta Savage Sculpture Garden at a ribbon-cutting and reception on November 30, 2017. DA printmaking and two-dimensional art teacher Barry Wilson has spearheaded the project, from guiding its design and finding donors to heading up the volunteer landscaping team, and putting in countless hours of clean-up. Fellow DA teacher and gallery director Ken Hatcher also assisted greatly in the funding efforts, advising, and designing of the space, along with DA sculpture students and their three-dimensional art teacher Khanh Tran. Tran and his students put in lots of sweat equity and studio time, participating in an invaluable lesson in all the facets of art and its site-specific installation.
The visual arts wing of DA looks out upon an existing patio, which, like all interior and exterior spaces at the school, features works of art. This patio, installed in the late ’90s, is delineated on one side by a breezeway between classrooms. On the other side of the breezeway sits the space now renovated into the new sculpture garden — an irregular-shaped space that had slowly become enclosed during multiple stages of DA’s construction and growth. With breezeways on opposite sides, the oldest building on DA’s campus looms high over one remaining side, and brick walls covered with electrical equipment and mechanical enclosures make up the other side. “It’s a very industrial space,” laughs Wilson.
“With our limited resources, we tried to utilize what was already
here,” he says. A straight cement sidewalk that ran through the center of the space was partially dismantled, with square sections removed and recast in a stepped design that creates a more winding path, leading one around spaces intended for sculpture. These spaces now have raised concrete platforms acting as foundations for large-scale art pieces. And sprinkled around the garden are as many as twenty smaller pedestal forms, upon which sit rotating artworks by both students and professional artists. Around all of the sculptural pieces is simple landscaping of rock beds, juniper and cedar. The rocks were already there, but had to be painstakingly sifted out of the dirt, having settled into it over the course of many years.
There is one large sculpture, permanent to the space, by a 2003 DA graduate and working artist, Jennifer Rubin Garey. Titled Proof in Barbie’s DNA, the piece is two large stainless steel legs,
proportioned like the famous doll’s, and Tran’s students helped with its installation. They also cast some of the pedestals in the garden, a project that took an entire class two full days of work with wooden forms and poured concrete. “They enjoyed it,” Tran says. ”They got out of the classroom and got to be part of this space.”
At the opposite end of the garden, two class projects are displayed, inspired by visiting artist Brett Waller, who came to the school to work with the 3D art students. Tran says a group of seven students created the large wire mesh submarine form. Another group created a sculptural sundial — a very site-specific piece that casts shadows along the arc of the sidewalk’s path, so students can walk through the shadows and tell the time by the sun’s angle.
These projects will be the first of an artwork rotation that Wilson envisions changing every two years. Wanting a mix of art, he and Tran have also reached out to local universities for potential pieces for the garden, and are taking an “If you build it they will come” approach to garnering interest from professional, regional artists. “We hope we have created a space where artists and sculptors will come and want to have their work displayed here,” says Wilson.
Much of the funding for the project has come in the form of individual donations, and the support is not only for DA, but also for this project’s more specific mission. Wilson says many of them responded with special passion when he decided on the garden’s name — The Augusta Savage Sculpture Garden.
Sculptor, educator and civil rights activist Augusta Savage (1892–1962) is an eminent figure in art history, specifically African-American, with many ties to Jacksonville. Born in Green Cove Springs, Savage’s story is one of success and struggle, but ultimately she was one of the leading artists and educators of the Harlem Renaissance in the ’20s and ’30s. Citing North Florida’s clay as her first beloved art medium, she moved to Jacksonville at age sixteen in her first attempt at a career as an artist. While here, she sculpted portrait busts of prominent African Americans, including James Weldon Johnson.
“The story goes that, in 1921, Savage left Jacksonville for New York with five dollars in her pocket,” says Wilson, and from there she went on to attend Cooper Union School of Art, a school that Wilson says DA has sent some seventeen students to, most of limited means themselves.