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Shaping her destiny

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Shelby County native Jenny Hager-Vickery is making her dreams come true as a successful sculptor in Florida.

By Lisa King

Sculptor Jenny Hager-Vickery is proud of her latest creation.

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At 20 feet tall, Gypsy the Giraffe, a life-sized sculpture she created for the Jacksonville Zoo, is the largest she has ever done.

“My husband actually worked on it with me as well; it was a daunting task – the largest I had made up to now was fifteen feet tall,” she said. “I call her Gyspy – that's her pet name – I name things with alliteration, so she got a ‘G’ name.”

Though she has been a successful artist for many years, her parents, who still live on Main Street in Shelbyville, can still recall the day Hager-Vickery dropped a bombshell on them after graduating from Shelby County High School in 1994.

“We joke about it now, but when she said she wanted to go to art school, I remember going, ‘Oh, God!” said her mother, Kathy Hager. “I mean, I teach nursing, and I can’t tell you how many ex-artists there are that go back to school so they can earn a living.”

Added Denny Hager: “When she first started, we didn’t know where she would go with it, or how things would go for her, so we were concerned, because you always worry about your children, and whether they’re going to be successful or not.

“It feels good to know that she is successful in the career she had her heart set on. She’s done quite well.”

 

Body of work

Far from not having enough work to keep her busy, Hager-Vickery has her hands full – literally – with every kind of project you can think of, from constructing giant figures for floats to life-sized animal sculptures for zoos to a version of herself flying. The latter is a good example of her versatility as it’s digital art, what she calls a video installation.

“I filmed myself doing the breaststroke and edited out the water frame by frame in this video and it looks like I'm flying through empty space,” she said. “It's pretty crazy. It's from a dream I have that I'm flying. It's been on exhibit in New Orleans, Pennsylvania and California. I have images of it on my Website [www.jennykhager.com].”

Hager-Vickery and her husband, Lance Vickery, have been a team since 2006 and have headed up the Art and Design program at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville where they are both professors of sculpture – Vickery is a native of Cocoa Beach. In addition to that, she said, they have just recently started their own sculpting business, HaVic Studios, and already have several projects lined up.

“I do a lot of work in steel, and in video installations and in wood, and sometimes unusual materials like horsehair, so I'm a little bit all over the place, but I mostly work in steel,” she said.

Her giraffe is an example of a steel sculpture.

“I have a full time job as a professor and I built this in addition to that, over a thousand hours of work went into it,” she said. “I hired about ten students to help – it was nice to involve my students in such a large project.”

Unlike much of her work, the giraffe was not her own idea, she said.

“The zoo commissioned me for the piece. They were doing a donor recognition area for the front of the zoo and they asked me if I would build a twenty-foot giraffe for them, and I said yes.”

Her work has been exhibited across the United States and abroad, including Wales and Italy. Her recent Second Line exhibit features large-scale parade animals inspired by the Chinese Zodiac and is accompanied by a personal narrative in the spirit of the New Orleans storytelling tradition.

She is an active member of the Jacksonville art community, and has served on various art committees, and is dedicated to promoting local artists and creative networks in Jacksonville. She has served on the steering committee for the Northeast Florida Sculptors since the group’s inception in 2009.

 

Shelbyville roots

Hager-Vickery was always interested in art, and in her high school days, expressed her creativity through painting.

But that all began to change when her art teacher at Shelby County High School, Jim Terhune, introduced her to a different kind of artwork, she said.

“Mr. Terhune had a float for Shelby homecoming and it was pretty elaborate,” she said. “I had thought of myself as a painter, but that background in float building…”

With that new direction percolating within her, she took a sculpture class in college and knew she was hooked.

“I fell in love, and I didn't go back to painting,” she said.

Terhune, who retired from teaching at SCHS in 2002, but still teaches art part time at St. Rita Catholic School in Louisville, said he always knew Hager-Vickery would go places with her art.

“She did exceptional work in acrylic and transparent watercolors,” he said. “She thoroughly enjoyed art class, she was one heck of an art student. She was very enthusiastic, and she had talent – there was no doubt about it. I wish her well in everything she’s doing.”

Hager-Vickery, who earned her master’s in fine arts in sculpture and digital media from San Jose State University in California, is especially excited about project that could bring her back home.

“It's sort of a sculpture walk on Main Street, I'm really looking forward to it,” she said. “I'm glad that Shelbyville is doing something like that, I think it's really awesome.”

The project is still in the early stages and is being considered by the Shelby Main Street Design Committee.

Eilene Collins, executive director of Shelby Main Street, said that she and some other members of the committee had visited other communities to get some ideas for such an endeavor, including one created by Hager-Vickery.

“There are a number of cities that have sculpture walks that we were impressed by, especially the Josephine Sculpture Park in Frankfort, but at the time I was there, I didn’t know who it was created under,” she said.

“Then, a couple of weeks of ago, I spoke at Kiwanis and someone there told me about Jenny, who grew up here on Main Street, and said she had designed them [sculptures in Frankfort].”

And Frankfort isn’t Hager-Vickery’s only sculpture walk.

“I've done three different sculpture parks,” she said. “I created one in downtown Jacksonville and another at Jacksonville Beach, and I added nine pieces to a sculpture park in Kentucky in Frankfort.”

Hager-Vickery said she and Lance have several projects currently underway.

“We're doing a pig sculpture for a restaurant here in Jacksonville and some stuff for a mountain climbing business,” she said. “We've got several things in the works, we might even be doing a Holocaust Memorial.”

She added that the opportunity to create such diverse artwork is what she enjoys most about her work.

“Every day is different and there are always opportunities to do fun and interesting projects – it's always challenging,” she said.