Artists and educators Lance Vickery and Jenny Hager inspire aspiring artist and the community in general with their prolific public art

Jay Mafela

Part of what makes Jacksonville so great is all the kinds of art one can find just by walking around. Some of the most memorable examples are giant sculptures by Lance Vickery and Jenny Hager. They have over 80 pieces of art in places from the Cummer Museum to the Jacksonville Zoo to Downtown.

The two work as art professors at the University of North Florida. Hager is a professor of sculpture, while Vickery is an assistant professor in the same program. In addition to art  courses, Hager teaches a business in art class where young artists learn about insurance, finance and how to legally protect themselves and their work.

“I mean, no one taught me any of those things like in a class or anything, so I thought ‘I’ve learned a lot along the way I’m gonna package it all and try to give it to students so that they can have these skills when they leave and try to make money as artists,” said Hager.

Both Vickery and Hager started out painting, not sculpting. Vickery attended Florida State University where he met a professor who encouraged him to try sculpting. After graduating with a bachelor of fine arts, specializing in sculpture and figure drawing, he continued his studies at the University of Kentucky where he earned his master of fine arts degree. Hager attended UK as undergraduate, originally majoring in painting but later trading in her paintbrush for metalwork after seeing how open-ended sculpture was as a medium. She later earned her master of fine arts degree in art studio (sculpture and digital media) from San Jose State University in California.

“I liked that [sculpture] was very community-oriented,” said Hager. “I like that it took a whole team of people to pour iron and, like, I love that stuff… I guess I didn’t know that it existed until I took [a class] and then I got sucked in.”

Their big move to the public art scene began in 2006, as they looked around Jacksonville and were shocked to find public art was almost non-existent. To that end, they founded Havic Studios.

Their first public art project in Jacksonville was as a 20-foot-tall steel statue of a giraffe for the Jacksonville Zoo. Since then, they have created a wide variety of pieces including “Flow,” a water molecule-themed piece for Advanced Environmental Laboratories; “Progression,” located at the Jessie Ball duPont Center; and various themed bike racks and benches in the downtown area.

“Traditionally, you could spend like a couple hundred dollars to have something like a very large sculpture,” said Vickery. “… trying to do that in [other media] is kind of expensive. Even stretching a canvas and trying to paint; that is difficult. So the ability to manipulate entire spaces with steel and forms and things like that really struck a chord with me.”

One of Hager and Vickery’s biggest goals is to help students and other artists get their work noticed and add to the city landscape. As a result, they helped create UNF’s Seaside Sculpture Park, an outdoor art exhibit in Jacksonville Beach. Hager and her students contributed 30 pieces of work to it, including Olivia Warro’s “Jumbo Shrimp,” honoring Jacksonville’s minor league baseball team and the annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival in Fernandina Beach.

In 2015, they founded Sculpture Walk, a series of outdoor art pieces located throughout the Urban Core with installations in Downtown, including the Jax Chamber, and Springfield.

Havic Studios does not limit itself to Jacksonville, however. The duo has worked on sculptures in Alabama, Texas and California, to name a few. The city of Shelbyville, Kentucky, for example, has several of their pieces such as the “Little Gymnast” and “American Saddlebred.” Their art even reaches across international borders with pieces in a number European countries such as Italy and Wales. 

Currently, they have big projects planned for a German potato festival, where they will submit an absurdist-style potato sculpture along with other pieces submitted by students and colleagues. Hager even painted a space potato, honoring how the spud was the first vegetable to reach the cosmos.