From his studio in Grayton Beach, artist and sculptor Steve Wagner smiles at the thought of his first public art installation in Arboleda Park at Alys Beach. At home, he sits back in his chair and envisions his mermaid safely nestled amid the crashing waves of yaupon holly in the new park located east of Caliza Pool and north off Nonesuch Way.
“I can just see her on a full moon night,” he said, “surrounded by yaupon holly shrubs that have been shaped to look like waves. I love that the experience will be environmental. It reflects her essence.” The “her” that he is referring to is Alys Beach’s art installation, Leda the Mermaid. At almost 1,800 pounds, Leda will be hard to miss. The stone sculpture is an enlarged version of his original sculpture, which he crafted by hand at his studio in Grayton Beach.
It has been a bit of a process before Leda will find her home in Alys Beach. Originally, Town Founder Jason Comer had approached Steve to create a fountain, but when Steve showed Jason a sculpture he was working on, the idea for an outdoor installation began.
Always inspired by the works of Italian sculptor and painter Modigliani, and unhappy with a sculpture at his home, Steve decided to carve a new face with
stylized eyes from the stone. Scales were added to her hair to evoke a mermaid, and Leda was born. But Alys Beach, being on the forefront of design, didn’t need a small sculpture. Jason and town architects Erik and Marieanne Khoury-Vogt envisioned something more befitting the grand scale of the community. Leda needed to grow. And she needed to grow by four feet.
To accomplish this, Steve worked with Digital Atelier to create a 3-D model of Leda and then had that model enlarged and carved out of a giant block of Styrofoam, coated with vinyl spackle, and then refined. This pattern version of Leda was used to craft a precise mold from which the sculpture was cast, which was placed into what Steve affectionately refers to as a giant steam oven. “She was steamed under pressure,” he said, “and came out at 7000 psi. She came out perfect.”
“Steve’s sculptures have always been compelling to us as abstracted figural pieces,” Erik explained. “They are obviously inspired by the work of Modigliani but with a more humanized, softer interpretation of the human face. The perfectly white finish of the piece matches our sand and is a wonderful (though by no means mandatory) complement to the architecture of Alys.
“In addition, we love how Steve has tied the piece to Alys Beach and the park by naming her Leda, a contraction of the park name, and referencing the presence of the Gulf by way of her scalloped mermaid’s hair and the shaping of the ‘wave’ yaupon hedge out of which she emerges.” Arboleda, which means “grove of trees” in Spanish, was inspired by the mixture of formal and informal plantings that comprise the park. Leda is coming this October!
Artist Steve Wagner ran a successful graphic design company in Atlanta, Georgia, before moving to the beach. The beauty of 30A inspired him to
return to his fine arts roots. A series of landscapes, painted plein air, was recently featured in the Cultural Arts Association Design Showcase Home.
A collection of nudes is currently being shown at the World Six Gallery, and his sculptures are sold in galleries in St. Barts.