Steve Barney, president of The Arts, Hancock County, explores the creative economy of the Waveland Lighthouse with this unique community sculpture project.
- story and photos by Steve Barney
A few local residents criticize the design and worry about it attracting transients who can charge their phones, take a shower and hang out in the shade. Naysayers predicted elevation and insurance requirements would make future Coleman Avenue development untenable.
But no matter how you feel about the structure, the lighthouse has quickly become an iconic symbol of post-Katrina Waveland.
Through the efforts of internationally renowned artists Erica Larkin Gaudet and Mitchell Gaudet and the City of Waveland, the mayor’s vision is indeed coming to fruition.
Erica has had her metal sculpting studio up and running for over a year now in the previous Waveland Business Center building, now operating as Studio Waveland + Gallery - a state-of-the-art, 3,000-square-foot gallery and exhibition space.
In the past year, Studio Waveland has produced eight exhibitions featuring local, national and world-class artists. These contemporary art shows bring hundreds of fine art aficionados from the local area, New Orleans, the North Shore and across the Gulf Coast.
The building’s financial control was recently turned over from the federal government to the City of Waveland. Now the Gaudets are working towards the development and construction of Mitchell’s glass casting studio (Studio Inferno) by installing his giant glass furnaces in the facility. This move, which represents a $250,000 capital investment, will establish one of the most important glass and metalworking facilities in the region.
This spring, Kiln artist Mary Nelson was making a ceramic sculpture of a lighthouse she visited in North Carolina. At the time of the Waveland ribbon cutting, the idea came up….“Why don’t we make a sculpture of the Waveland Lighthouse?” Not daunted by the challenge, Nelson enthusiastically began design and fabrication.
Once she began working on the project, Nelson quickly realized the complexity and magnitude of iconifying this 60-foot-tall, multi-level complex structure in clay. Built on piers with staircases, railings and elevator shaft, she wanted no detail was left out – including Mayor Mike waving from the balcony - trading in his signature red tie for a blue tie to match the lighthouse roof.
Nelson, a Mississippi coast resident since childhood, works for the Port of Gulfport. She explains, “My love of art comes from learning to accept I don't have to be perfect and that I am my biggest critic.
"This lighthouse sculpture project has given me new confidence as an artist, as I’m learning to let go. Even if it doesn't go as planned, oftentimes the result is better than the original idea.”
Mary enlisted her mom, Teri, to help with the project. Mary and Teri came to ceramics at the Bay St. Louis Creative Arts Center through a connection with Linnae Scheel, who had been teaching art classes and workshops from the barn behind Dempsey’s Restaurant in Kiln.
Everyone in the Tuesday night class pitched in to help complete the sculpture in time for Destination Waveland’s Fourth of July party. During the celebration, visitors marveled at the sculpture and got a chance for a unique selfie with the lighthouse in front of the lighthouse.
On August 6, the Nelsons, representing the BSL Creative Arts Center and The Arts, Hancock County, will formally present the sculpture to the City of Waveland.
Mayor Mike Smith says, “I think it’s amazing, the time and detail… It looks exactly like the real thing.” He added, “It shows how iconic this structure is to the City of Waveland.”
The city plans to build a museum-quality display case and viewing area within City Hall, where the sculpture is anticipated to become a tourist attraction on its own.
The sculpture is already being booked for traveling exhibitions, including the Gulf Coast Model Railroad Museum, Mississippi Welcome Center and other locations, in an effort to promote Destination Waveland and The Arts, Hancock County.
The Waveland Lighthouse meme is extending to the digital world as well.
A prototype is being developed by Katrina Niolet and Miguel Davalos II of You're Perfect Studio, Mississippi's first digital arts co-op.
According to Katrina, “Using video game technology, the lighthouse is being modeled in a photorealistic, interactive 3D environment.”
She adds, “We’re excited to bring this iconic landmark to life in the virtual world!"