Art plays a role in making air travel through Jacksonville an enjoyable experience

August 4, 201
By Charlie Patton

When the Jacksonville Aviation Authority unveiled Amy Cheng’s mural “Celestial Playground” in early July, it brought to 14 the number of pieces in the Jacksonville International Airport’s permanent art collection.

That collection, along with the presence of two galleries and eight cases which exhibit art on loan, has attracted some favorable attention to the JIA in recent years.

In 2011, the London Observer called the JIA one of the four best airports in the world in which to be stranded, joining London’s Heathrow Airport, Seoul Airport in South Korea and Amsterdam’s Airport Schiphol on the list.

And in 2012, CNN host Erin Burnett, after being stranded in the JIA, said on air that JIA is “what I think might be America’s best airport.”

While Burnett raved about several factors including the friendliness of the staff, the art was one of the factors she mentioned.

Having art in an airport has become increasingly important, said David Engdahl, a Jacksonville sculptor and retired Haskell Co. executive.

“Just to be competitive as an airport you have to have it,” Engdahl said. “The impression a lot people get of a city is from what the airport looks like. … Art enhances what is otherwise a pretty utilitarian space.”

In a story in 2011, the New York Times noted a growing trend among airports to use art “to provide education and entertainment in an environment typically dismissed as an anxiety-inducing no man’s land.”

Engdahl, whose 2004 installation “Migration of the Paper Airplanes,” hangs over the moving sidewalks on the third floor of the short term parking garage, was something of an unappreciated pioneer in the movement to put art into airports.

In 1978, after receiving a National Endowment for the Arts grant, Engdahl approached the airport management and offered to produce a couple of aviation-themed sculptures.

In 1980, two wooden sculptures, “Ascent” and “Descent,” went up over the escalators between the two floors of the airport. There they remained on permanent loan until 1989, when Engdahl received a letter informing him that the airport was undergoing a renovation and there was no longer a place for “Ascent” and “Descent.”

Engdahl found a new space for “Ascent” and “Descent,” which now hang over the escalators in the student center of the South Campus of what is now Florida State College at Jacksonville.


In mid-’90s, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority determined it was time to get art back into the airport and appointed a Jacksonville International Airport Art Commission to find appropriate pieces.

The commission includes 12 members, two honorary members and two non-voting members who are JAA employees, said Jeanne Ward, who has been with the commission since 1995 and is currently its chairman.

The JAA determines where it would like to see art placed in the airport, usually an area that has undergone renovation, and sets a price range, Ward said. The Arts Commission then solicits proposals and picks a project which would fit the space. Cheng’s proposal for “Celestial Playground” was one of 93 the Arts Commision received. Once the commission makes a selection, the JAA board has final approval.

Having Michael Stewart, the JAA’s director of external affairs, and Bob Molle, the JAA’s director of planning and engineering, at commission meetings is useful since they can identify practical issues that might make a particular piece of art inappropriate for a particular space, Ward said.

“We have to look at it operationally,” Ward said “We look for what looks good but also what functions in the space.”

The first pieces of permanent art the commission selected were Don Martin’s “Habitation 1 & 2,” a mural depicting transportation in Northeast Florida through the centuries, which were installed in the baggage claim area in 1997. In 2005, “Habitation 1 & 2” moved up a floor to the ticketing area and a third panel, “Habitation III” was added.

That move made way for Peter Hite’s “The River,” installed in the baggage claim area in 2006. It depicts six rivers, the Nile, Amazon, Ganges, St. Johns, Mississippi and Yangtze, and covers 500 feet. It was made using 300,000 postage stamps.

The first piece of art someone arriving at the airport by car encounters is Javier Marin’s “Hoy es Hoy” (2006). The $150,000 sculpture, located on the left as cars approach the airport, is a large bust that stands in front of two black granite walls over which water continuously flows.

It’s the only true sculpture in the airport’s collection, Ward said. The artist, who is Mexican, meant the bust to depict a woman of multiple ethnicities, she said.

But it is frequently mistaken for “the goddess of the wind” or for Medusa, a woman out of Greek mythology who had snakes for hair, Ward noted.

Arriving at the airport, most departing passengers first encounter Tim Prentice’s “Silver Rain,” which hangs over the escalators and stairs leading from the airport’s first floor to its second floor. It’s 20 feet high and 15 feet wide, a kinetic aluminum installation with 420 individual elements organized into seven groups.


Continuing toward the central pre-security courtyard, a departing passenger passes four connector bridge cases, which house rotating art exhibits. The cases are currently exhibiting work by Jeffrey Edelson, who creates small sculptures out of found materials.

Above the connector bridge near the central courtyard, the passenger passes under Airworks Studios’ “Sky Bridges,” a $200,000 fiberglass and polycarbonate installation that arrived in 2011.

There are two major pieces in the central courtyard, Cheng’s “Celestial Playground” and Jim Draper’s 2004 work “Healing Palms,” which is on the glass that separates the courtyard from the security area.

Beyond the security checkpoint, there are five pieces of permanent art in concourses A and C and four cases that hold rotating exhibits. The work of Jacksonville artist Claire Kendrick is currently in the post-security cases.

Four of the permanent pieces of art, all done in 2008, decorate the entrances to four restrooms. The other piece of permanent art is actually two pieces located at opposite ends of the airport, one on the window at the end of concourse A and one on the window at the end of concourse C. Gordon Huether’s “Gotta Go,” installed in 2008, depicts two passengers, one male and one female, who seem in determined motion, rushing, no doubt, to catch a flight. Both are seen only from the neck down.

The JIA’s two galleries, both located in the central courtyard, actually flank Cheng’s “Celestial Playground,” which, in part decorates the entrances to the men’s and women’s restrooms.

What was once a game room is now the Sky Gallery. It is currently housing an exhibit on “Historic Riverside Avondale.”

The larger gallery is the Haskell Gallery, built in the mid-1990s and renovated in 2001. It currently is exhibiting work by Jacksonville artists Gordon Meggison and Virginia Cantore.

Art that is exhibited in the Haskell Gallery and the eight cases is usually, but not always, for sale, said Allie Gloe, Art Commission coordinator. Some artists post prices, others prefer not to, she said. She added that she is always looking for artists who would like to display their work at the JIA. For more information about the program, go to Gloe can be contacted at



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