Exacting Nature at the Jacksonville International Airport

Cindy Wilson, "Heron Over Paines Prairie 2015," 19" x 29" batik on cotton.

EVENT: Nature’s Precision
DATE: January 1 to March 30
VENUE: Jacksonville International Airport
MORE INFORMATION: www.jiaarts.org

You checked your luggage and printed the boarding passes. The liquids in your purse are less than three fluid ounces, and your carry-on is the perfect size for the overhead bin. To top it all off, you even wore your TSA-approved socks, the ones covered in a pizza pattern that make the officer with the scanning wand smile every time.

But any knowledgeable traveler should add one more thing to this list—leave time to enjoy the abundance of art on display at the Jacksonville International Airport.

For over 20 years, the JIA Arts Commission has provided travelers with rotating art exhibitions throughout the airport. The commission strives to “soothe and inspire” airport visitors in addition to representing Northeast Florida regional artists.

Jacksonville gallery veteran Jen Murray is the arts commission coordinator at the Jacksonville International Airport. She says her personal mission with the airport’s art program is to educate travelers on Northeast Florida’s culture in addition to creating a positive, uplifting atmosphere for travelers.

The commission presents a fresh body of original work on a quarterly basis, beginning January 1 of each year. The first exhibit of 2017, Nature’s Precision, features a variety of Northeast Florida visual artists who take mixed approaches to the show’s theme. Through the commission’s quarterly shows, Murray strives to “introduce visitors to the heart and soul of this community.”

Haskell Gallery, located pre-security at the Jacksonville International Airport. Photo credit: Laird Myer, courtesy of the JIA Arts Commission.
Haskell Gallery, located pre-security at the Jacksonville International Airport. Photo credit: Laird Myer, courtesy of the JIA Arts Commission.

Of the Nature’s Precision artists, Murray states that each “has a genius way of portraying our natural resources and the landscape of Northeast Florida.” The Haskell Gallery’s newest exhibit, located pre-security, showcases original works by Sydney McKenna, Anna Miller, and Mary St. Germain. As a group, these three artists cover a similar landscape with varying processes and aesthetics.

“All three artists in the gallery paint in oils and acrylics,” says Murray. “They’re using the same media, but the approach is so unique—essentially, they’re covering the same subject matter. It’s a very exciting contrast-and-compare.” Miller’s abstract Refractions play with light and color in a kaleidoscopic fashion. St. Germain’s work is more zoomed-in, directly representing surrounding outdoor beauty. McKenna presents the natural world with a hyperrealistic eye, tying the “precision” aspect of the exhibit together.

“I seem to be a little obsessed with accuracy of detail in my paintings of nature,” says Sydney McKenna, whose oil paintings of setting sunlight merging with clouds mirror the Florida skies. “I admire abstracts and looser work done by others, but always seem to turn to detail in my own work.”

Jacksonville International Airport, JAI, Sydney McKenna, "Rapture in the Postmodern Era," 60" x 27" oil on canvas.
Sydney McKenna, “Rapture in the Postmodern Era,” 60″ x 27″ oil on canvas.

McKenna states that her realistic paintings are heavily inspired by the ways scientific phenomena display mutual connections. “In particular, I am fascinated with how our humid atmosphere affects our daily lives and interacts with our flora and fauna,” she says. “Water vapor is a middle zone—not quite liquid, not quite gas, it moves through the air, allowing for a surprising amount of microbial transportation. I am intrigued by how the many transformations of water tie us together.” Viewers can take notice of the interconnectedness between water and land in McKenna’s collection for Nature’s Precision, particularly in paintings like “Tributary #2.”

Mary St. Germain, "Sweet Dreams #4—We Are More Alike," 60" x 48" oil on canvas.
Mary St. Germain, “Sweet Dreams #4—We Are More Alike,” 60″ x 48″ oil on canvas.

“In these paintings, I am using the flowers as both muse and metaphor.”

Artist Mary St. Germain arrives at the gallery’s Nature’s Precision theme with her focus on the ways which nature affects human emotions. “The flowers floating among the clouds seduce us in the same manner that the clouds floating in the sky, forming animals and other delights, seduced us as children,” says St. Germain. In her painting “Sweet Dreams #4—We Are More Alike,” St. Germain’s detached arrangement of flowers dances across a storm-laden sky, juxtaposing these various layers of playfulness in nature. “In these paintings, I am using the flowers as both muse and metaphor. Even with storm clouds brewing all around us, we can still connect to those childlike experiences that remain and resonate within.”

Anna Miller, "Refractions 001," 30" x 24" oil on canvas.
Anna Miller, “Refractions 001,” 30″ x 24″ oil on canvas.

Of her Refractions series, artist Anna Miller states the impetus of this group of paintings as her worsening vision, which affected her early life. “Most often I end up not wearing my glasses and seeing the world differently from the position of a nearsighted person,” says Miller. “It’s a view of the world without details… with interesting patterns of light and shadows, fragmented and incomplete patterns.”

Such an observation through her blurred vision led Miller to begin her collection of refractions in her photographs of nature and paintings. She began to notice variations of light fragments in different parts of nature, responding by photographing and painting them in her abstract style. Miller utilizes her worsening vision to her advantage, using it as an opportunity to take notice to nature’s playful shapes and colors.

“I explore instances of refracted light passing through objects, changing angles, creating multiple views and repetitions of itself,” says Miller. “Light takes on many variations that each becomes it own unique entity. In my paintings, I contemplate the limitless refractions of light passing through our surroundings, and I attempt to celebrate the process of refraction.”

Cindy Wilson’s work in the Connector Bridge cases

Prior to entering the gallery, passengers at the Jacksonville International Airport are greeted by Cindy Wilson’s work in the main entrance’s Connector Bridge cases. For this exhibition, Wilson has contributed a series of handmade batiks, a textile art form created using melted wax, dyes, and rinsing processes. To produce the batiks, Wilson incorporates natural resources, such as beeswax and indigenous dyes. Such an organic production displays the processes and products of the native Northeast Florida terrain.

Photographs from Ted Johnson’s latest Hanna Park book project and “Colors Splashing” series

The essential theme continues throughout the airport. Post-security flyers can locate display cases on each concourse. The first quarterly exhibit of 2017 features concourse case displays by regional photographer Ted Johnson. The case at Concourse A includes nature photographs from Johnson’s latest book project on Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. Concourse C features work from his Colors Splashing series, composed of abstract photographs of post-hurricane water formations. Murray is thrilled to include Johnson’s photographs as part of the quarter’s show, recalling his work as “tender, sweet, and often humorous.”

Jacksonville International Airport is also home to a diverse permanent collection of art. A baggage claim favorite is Texas artist Peter Hite’s The River, a series of aluminum flat sculptures covered in international postage stamps. The series depicts rivers around the globe, including the St. Johns.

“JIA’s commitment to being a best-practice purveyor of the aesthetic and tenor of our community has been visible to the local community.”

The commission’s most recent quarterly show included a Haskell Gallery exhibit, On Land and Water: Places for Thought & Solitude, from monotype artist and University of North Florida painting professor Louise Freshman Brown. The show also featured display case works by fellow UNF art legend Paul Ladnier (The Cuba Project) and Jacksonville sculptural vignette artist Crystal Floyd (Tokens of Affection).

Murray is pleased with the feedback the Arts Commission has received on a larger scale. In 2015, the Jacksonville International Airport received the ACI’s Airport Service Quality Award, naming it one of the top airports in the North American region. She believes the airport was awarded in part due to the art collections, which “conveys the uniqueness of the community through the arts inside our airport. We were really proud of that.”

The Arts Commission, comprised largely of volunteers, strives to create a positive atmosphere in addition to educating travelers on the uniqueness of the community.

“JIA’s commitment to being a best-practice purveyor of the aesthetic and tenor of our community has been visible to the local community,” says Murray. Through exhibitions like Nature’s Precision, travelers can learn more about the region’s landscape through the eyes of its very own artists.

Nature’s Precision runs through March 30. For more information, visit www.jiaarts.org and like the JIA Arts Commission on Facebook for updates on the airport’s quarterly exhibitions.

About Hurley Winkler