To get a better understanding of any city, meet its local artists who display the area’s rich history and character. Each month, DESTINATION TAMPA BAY introduces readers to these talented and creative representatives in its monthly artist spotlight. This month, meet a skilled artisan of 3D sculpture who continues to leave his thumbprint across the Bay area, as well as other parts of Florida and the rest of the country. The spotlight shines on Mark Aeling.
Roam the streets of downtown St. Pete, Clearwater, and Tampa, and the growing presence of public art sculptures meets the eye and graces the landscape to add color, character, and uniqueness. Many distinctive pieces are the brainchild of Mark Aeling. The talented sculptor, who earned fine arts degrees at Colorado State University and Washington College, first launched MGA Sculpture Studio in St. Louis, Missouri in 1995 where he honed his craft with a focus on mold making, castable mediums, welded structures, architectural ornament, and representational sculpture. After garnering much attention and accumulating accolades over the years in the St. Louis community, he relocated the studio in 2005 to St. Petersburg, where he and his family continue to call home. (LEFT-MARK AELING, SCULPTOR)
Since that move, Aeling has built a solid portfolio of work and garnered recognition from his peers. In 2012, he was the only American whose work was chosen to show at the Stone Sculpture Triennial in Takamatsu, Japan. He has also been the recipient of a $5,000 grant from Creative Pinellas as well as the MUSE Award for Artist of the Year from the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, an award recognizing excellence in the visual arts.
Through his studio, Aeling has produced dozens of incredible sculpture pieces that can be seen throughout the Bay area as well as other numerous pieces across the state and rest of the country. From the St. Petersburg Pier and city Police Station to The Florida Aquarium walls and downtown Tampa high-rise landscapes, Aeling’s work can be seen across a variety of local sites and the stories behind the sculptures explain the skilled artist’s approach to his craft.
Here are a small group of his more familiar pieces in the area and the stories behind them.
The Edwards Group commissioned this installation of six life-sized bronze dolphins in 2013 to complement the iconic Sundial sculpture by Rene Lagler in Downtown St. Pete. Lagler had created a mosaic lagoon of 288,00 one-inch porcelain tiles featuring a fountain and the towering Sundial. MGA Sculpture Studio designed the family of playful dolphins to accompany Lagler’s beautiful oasis to greet pedestrians on their way to or from their shopping destinations. SUNDIAL DOLPHINS (ST. PETERSBURG-RIGHT)
In 2015, the Florida Aquarium commissioned the design, build, and installation of a 70’ Donor Wall in its main lobby entrance. Aeling collaborated with painter and electrical engineer Carrie Jadus of Carrie Jadus Fine Art to create an aluminum and acrylic relief sculpture featuring a programmable color-changing LED lighting system and using the building’s unique curved wall to mimic the rolling ocean waves as a series of ripple patterns. “By emphasizing forms found in nature and repeated by a variety of species across the planet, the viewer becomes connected to these ‘Ripples of Life’ on many levels, adding to the depth of the experience,” says Aeling. RIPPLES OF LIFE (THE FLORIDA AQUARIUM, TAMPA-LEFT)
In 2016, Ocean Properties commissioned a new art installation for its new Clearwater Beach hotel, Opal Sands Resort. What resulted was a shimmering, elegant 35-foot-long aluminum and glass sculpture suspended over the hotels main escalator. The installation was a collaboration with painter Christopher Still, recently featured here in our monthly artist spotlight. (Click here to read more about Still.) Still articulated a vision of making the escalator ride a transcendent experience for hotel guests like rising from beneath the ocean waves. Employing Still’s expertise with color, Aeling sculpted a chain of rings to hold multi-colored glass to help create this dancing light effect to represent the sun’s playful light reflecting off the gulf waters. (ASCENT (OPAL SANDS RESORT, CLEARWATER-RIGHT)
Crescent Communities sought two sculptures in 2018 for their new property Novel Riverwalk Apartments along the Tampa Riverwalk in Downtown Tampa. Aeling looked for a way to tie the sculptures to the landscape, in particular its location along the river’s edge. Charley was designed to pay tribute to yacht builder and Tampa native Charley Morgan, who has designed more than 10,000 sailing vessels during his lifetime. The almost 30-foot-high sculpture is inspired by the design of Heritage, a 1970 Americas Cup entry by Morgan. One can see Morgan’s vessels often sailing or docked along the nearby Hillsborough River.
“I first reached out to Charley thinking he might have some good reference information about hull design for racing yachts,” says Aeling. “Through the course of our conversations, as he told me about ‘Heritage,’ I realized Charley was a bigger part of this…’Charley’ is a tribute to this amazing man who was born and raised here in the Bay area and is world renowned for his life work.” CHARLEY/RIVER SHADOW (CRESCENT COMMUNITIES, TAMPA-LEFT)
Crescent Communities also wanted to brighten up the apartment complex’s parking structure. Aeling created River Shadow to capture the various shapes, angles, and reflections of the rolling waters as they rise and fall over the land’s surface. He designed it with over 200 powder-coated aluminum elements inspired by fish fins and illuminated the 90-foot wide and 45-foot-high sculpture with LED lighting. (RIGHT- RIVER SHADOW AT NOVEL RIVERWALK)
GLADIOLUS/SHIELDED (ST. PETERSBURG POLICE DEPT., ST. PETE)
In 2018, the St. Petersburg Police Department commissioned a two-piece sculpture to celebrate its new headquarters. Aeling’s MGA Sculpture Studio won the art project which was completed the next year. It featured one outside public art and one indoors. Outside, those visiting the newly built headquarters would meet up with Gladiolus, a 22-foot-high stainless steel gladiolus flower, symbolic of something both beautiful and yet strong. Aeling chose the flower for its sturdy petals to represent the police department’s core values and its mirrored sphere of the interior to allow visitors to see themselves reflected as the community the department is committed to protect. (GLADIOLUS AT THE ST. PETERSBURG POLICE DEPARTMENT-above)
SHIELDED AT THE ST. PETERSBURG
The second commissioned sculpture Shielded is a 30-foot aluminum eagle’s wing that hangs from the atrium inside the lobby of the police headquarters to welcome visitors and serves symbolically as a protector over anyone who may enter and need the police department’s help. It consists of 236 individual feathers and weighs over 2,000 pounds. “The idea is that the police department protects and nurtures the community so that it can ultimately lead to the growth and prosperity of that community,” says Aeling about the piece. (Second Sculpture -below)
Both sculptures were designed while the department was under construction, so it required much communication and cooperation with various architects, builders, engineers, and construction team members throughout the process to have all in place in time for the headquarters’ grand opening.
FIRST FLIGHT (ST PETERSBURG PIER, ST. PETE)
The Flight 2014 Foundation commissioned a sculpture to pay homage to the first commercial flight in the world that took place along the St. Petersburg shore in 1914. In 2020, Aeling and MGA Sculpture Studio unveiled its life-sized replica of the Benoist airboat guided by pilot Tony Jannus joined by former St. Pete Mayor Abe Phiel to mark this momentous occasion on the first flight of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. Weighing in at over 16,000 pounds, the full-scale, stainless-steel replica of the seaplane is installed at the base of the St. Petersburg Pier and stands 28’ H x 27’ L x 46’ W.
Aeling Sculptural Designs Are All Over Florida and More!
Aeling has provided unique sculptural designs in other parts of Florida. These include Rays of Light, a light and sculpture installation in Ft. Lauderdale’s Port Everglades and Nurture, a sculpture for the City of Altamonte Springs’ Cranes Roost Park.
NURTURE AT CRANES ROOST PARK
ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, FLMGA Sculpture Studio has also designed, fabricated, and installed work across the country in a wide range of settings. Some recent examples include Acumen, a sculpture at a Police Regional Training Institute in Fort Collins, Colorado; Pony Express, a sculpture at Legends Plaza, an outdoor shopping center in Sparks, Nevada near Reno; and Splash, a sculpture at Westwood Aquatic Center, a design that attempts to unite both its tennis center and water recreation areas at the Norman, Oklahoma sports complex. (BELOW)
ACUMEN IN FORT COLLINS, CO; PONY EXPRESS IN SPARKS, NV; SPLASH IN NORMAN, OK
But Aeling has demonstrated across decades that being an artist is not just about the work – it is about community. He has been active in the local arts community for over 20 years, serving as President of the Warehouse Arts District Association (WADA) and continues to act as an advocate and leader for both new and veteran artists in the area to communicate the cultural needs of artists and their potential audience.
One of Aeling and WADA’s biggest endeavors has been the development of The ArtsXchange. It began as a capital fundraising effort to purchase 50,000 square feet of warehouse space and renovate to provide affordable working studios, galleries, and classrooms for local artists to both develop and display their work. Since the project’s onset, WADA and the arts community celebrated the completion of the first phase of development in fall of 2017 with over 16,000 square feet of the warehouses renovated into 28 sustainable, air-conditioned art studios, a 1,600 square foot gallery and a 1,000 square foot second floor classroom/gallery.
MARK AELING (AT CENTER) CELEBRATES PHASE 1 OPENING OF ARTS XCHANGE
Aeling became President of WADA in October 2012. The organization is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit arts organization based in St. Pete that is dedicated to supporting and growing business opportunities for local artists, creating a vibrant and dynamic art community in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg, and providing a voice and interface between the art community and the City of St. Petersburg. WADA also focuses on educating the public about the arts in the St. Petersburg Warehouse Arts District. (LEFT-AELING WORKS ON ACCENT FOR OPAL SANDS)
The second phase of The ArtsXchange focuses on transforming 2,400 square feet into a professional dance studio and three multi-use classrooms for art and movement needs, as well as the development of educational programming to support the local arts community. Artists across a variety of mediums have made The ArtsXchange its residence – from skilled artisans in oil and acrylics, fiber art, watercolors and mixed media to metalsmiths and jewelry makers.
As sculptor Aeling continues to demonstrate from each new piece developed, the community is as much a part of his artwork as the source who commissioned it. “When you look at the piece, you see yourself reflected in that sphere, and that sphere represents community,” said Aeling when discussing his City of St. Petersburg Police Station installation, Gladiolus.
To learn more about Mark Aeling and his work, visit the MGA Sculpture Studio LLC website by clicking here. Readers also can follow the artist at his studio’s social media accounts including Facebook and Instagram.
Artist Spotlight by Chris Kuhn written exclusively for Destination Tampa Bay™. Photos courtesy of Mark Aeling-all right reserved.