Sculptor Jenny Hager's 15-foot "Rat Queen" impressed onlookers at One Spark.
Temporarily housed in the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville during the April festival, the royal rodent was the second in Hager's planned series of 12 Chinese zodiac animal sculptures.
"When all 12 animals are complete, the idea is to have an art parade with them, hopefully in Jacksonville," Hager said. "I would like to invite other musicians and artists to participate in the event, make a big spectacle and bring some creative energy Downtown again, like One Spark."
Hager, an associate professor of sculpture and digital media at the University of North Florida, would like to exhibit the animals in Jacksonville and across the country as stand-alone sculptures but knows it will be a challenge due to the scale — each piece is expected to stand 15 to 20 feet tall.
The project began with the 20-foot-tall "Trojan Horse" designed by Hager and printmaker Emily Arthur. The piece is covered in shingles featuring a printed design based on a braiding of Hager's and Arthur's hair. Flags spring from the horse's back with images that reflect personal icons meaningful to each artist. The sculpture was created for a performance parade in New Orleans for St. Patrick's Day in 2012. The horse was also shown in Corpus Christi, Texas, for the Oso Bay Festival in April 2012.
While brainstorming ideas to show at One Spark, Hager remembered a vivid dream.
"The rat sculpture was inspired by a dream I had, where rats are hanging by their teeth from the bottom of my nightgown," she said. "I didn't want to translate the dream literally but decided to use elements from the dream while incorporating my other work, particularly the Rust and Satin Series, using some cast-iron elements and fabric, but also meshing the masculine and feminine, turning her into a ‘Rat Queen' instead of a ‘Rat King.' "
More than three miles of rubber tubing is stitched onto the sculpture's frame — a task that took more than 250 hours, even with the help of Hager's friends, neighbors and family. Each sculpture has taken three to four months to complete and can be moved around and relocated easily, since they're all mobile and on wheels. Each animal's frame is constructed from pencil rod. Future pieces will have surface textures appropriate to each particular animal.
Hager said One Spark was a great experience, even though she raised only $436, because it meant participating in an event that brought so much energy to Downtown Jacksonville. It was also an opportunity for her work to be seen by a lot of people.
A 9-foot-tall ducky produced by UNF students in her Enlivened Spaces class might have drawn the most attention of any one piece at One Spark. "Sgt. Quackers" — a Styrofoam and fiberglass duck — floated in the Hemming Plaza fountain.
Hager has already begun production on her third animal in the series — the ox — at a workshop in Frankfort, Ky. She completed the ox's frame and she's now working with high school students at Josephine Sculpture Park to finish the body texture and decorative details. Hager's family lives in the area, and she has always wanted to do something at the park since it opened two years ago.
"Being a sculptor is physically demanding, and so the ox is a nice metaphor in that way, it being known as a beast of burden, so to speak," she said.
Hager will leave the ox sculpture in Kentucky for the park and surrounding area of Frankfort to use as a parade animal.
The fourth animal will be a tiger. The Jacksonville Zoo is celebrating its 100th anniversary next year and will be bringing back tigers for the first time since 1995. The zoo is creating a Tiger Trail that will wind through other animal exhibits.
"Jenny is part of a loosely organized group of sculptors [Northeast Florida Sculptors, NEFLS] that we have just established a relationship with which we hope will become an enduring partnership," said Bob Chabot, director of horticulture and education. "They will be contributing to our ZooLights holiday event this December. We also suggested they help us celebrate our 100th anniversary next year by contributing some works or perhaps a group project."
Hager said she hopes to include her tiger as part of the celebration.
"I feel pretty confident I will work on the tiger for the zoo's 100th anniversary, since the NEFLS group has partnered up with them recently," Hager said. "We've come up with great ideas for collaboration. I will be working on an official proposal for them soon."