photo: Grant Ward

Art in the Park – Hemming Park, That Is

WaterSpirit Rises, Part IV

Hemming Park exploded on a Saturday in early May with colorful art and cultural activities sponsored by Community First Credit Union. Events sparked creativity and participation by children and adults during a free day of fun with some of the best of the city’s cultural organizations. People of all ages came by car, bus, bicycle, skyway, river taxi and on foot. A jam-packed day of exciting events were mirrored at MOSH, where the Clean Air Festival at Friendship Fountain took place and around the bend of the river even more events and activities at Riverside Arts Market.

photo: Grant Ward
photo: Grant Ward

A key live performance and participatory event featured a 35’ WaterSpirit puppet by environmental artist Sarah Crooks Flaire as the giant puppet began a search for her lost Pearl of RED Pearl River and challenged participants and onlookers to think about the artery of life that runs through Jacksonville, the St. Johns River.

Crooks-Flaire’s WaterSpirit sparked the hearts and minds of the audience as it meandered downtown swirling in and around structures with its skin of recycled plastic water bottles and other plastic materials. It was designed as a reminding of the fragility of our ecosystems and our personal duty to rid our river of these throw-away items that clog tributaries, dislodge in our streams and cause havoc for humans and other living things.

Kim Ramsey became the spirit of life and Karlos Vladimir drummed the message home to awaiting ears.

photo: Grant Ward
photo: Grant Ward

Over 600 plastic water bottles were woven into the colossal WaterSpirit of which represented one of a series of events sponsored by a Spark Grant from the Cultural Council and Florida Blue and awarded to Crooks-Flaire. The artist’s year-long project erupted through the Main Library’s door, onto the street, then it danced to and through Hemming Park.

The first puppeteer started a series of shouts:

Matt Buttrill – “I speak for the WaterSpirit.”

Olivier Flaire – “I speak for the waters of the Springs.”

12-year-old Alli Russell -“I speak for Rainbows.”

Nine-year-old Ellie Degeneffe – “I speak for the wisdom of the Small.”

Black belt Kung Fu master and actor Chris Mitchell Olson – “I speak for being Enough.”

“Enough”, that is, as a reminder of the careless consumption of humans denigrating the relationship between the river and the lives that run in it, around it, through it and on top of it. Others in the cast of characters included Kevin Alford, David Gile, Keeley Russell, Luka Grace Degeneffe, Eliza Faith Degeneffe and Jolie Olson.

“I speak for all the endangered animals who can’t adapt fast enough to all the pollution and access to clean water,” shouted artist Crooks-Flaire, as she took off her Wood Stork mask designed with even more empty, plastic water bottles. Then, the head of the WaterSpirit rolled over, and 13-year-old puppeteer Emma Flair shouted, “Where is my lost Pearl?

Giant paper mache oysters created by La Villa School for the Arts students emerged. The artist moved flowing blue and gold fabric out of the mouth of one oyster as if it was alive and regurgitating something poisonous. Then, seaweed came out of another oyster and dead fish from another, all reminding the onlookers of the reality of the job of the oyster is to cleanse the habitat. Then, as if a miracle happened, the lost Pearl was found in the smallest of the Small oyster by seven-year-old Soren Degeneffe.

The public art presentation was yet another reminder of how important the health of our river is to the balance of life and to the humans and wildlife that surround its beauty. It is through Crooks-Flaire’s engagement of the public that a new dawn continues to rise in support of public art in Jacksonville.




About Joanelle Mulrain