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Thirty-Nine Stars: JU students and faculty bring their art to the community at Jacksonville Zoo

Each holiday season thousands of lights transform the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens into a luminous winter wonderland where zoo guests have the opportunity to view sculptures and performances by local artists.

This year, as part of the Division of Visual Arts’ commitment to professionals-in-training, professors Tiffany Leach and Dana Tupa challenged students to team design and fabricate 39 luminarias for a 30-foot throughway at the zoo.zoolights4

The students responded in a big way.

The division is in its fourth year of collaboration with the event and this year JU’s contribution consists of 30 ceramic luminarias with nine intermixed 18-inch planters made by ceramic students and faculty.

The luminarias are arranged in parallel lines flanking the bamboo tunnel marking the start of the Zoo’s lighted train rout beginning this week.

“At more than 25-feet long, amid walls of lighted bamboo foliage, the luminaria sculpture is the most immersive arrangement we have designed so far when considering the train will pass right through the sculpture,’’ Tupa said.

In another location, the Glass Arts program hopes to have its portable glassblowing studio operating for live glassblowing demonstrations during two weekends of the event. Glass students, faculty and alum, will demonstrate techniques to sculpt molten lava-like glass into all manner of festive objects.

Student Alicia Alexander summed up perfectly what Leach and Tupa hoped students would bring back from the experience.

“Working with Zoolights made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than me,” she said.

Partnerships such as these support students’ endeavors to be professionals in their fields and shows them they are quite capable of bringing their artwork to the community.

“I am always so impressed with how our students excel in the challenges of team building and working with exhibition deadlines and expectations set by the zoo,’’ Professor Leach said. She organized a production style studio set-up where beginning ceramic students worked together to fabricate the 30 star cylinder luminarias.zoolights1

The size of the project made an impression on student Jeremy Eaton.

“Working on this has made me appreciate the timing and organization it takes in working with others on something with so many parts,’’ he said.

Fellow student Meaghan Lohwater agreed.

“The project was really interesting because there are a lot of individuals that worked on it,’’ Lohwater said. “You can definitely tell that each piece is different, but they all function together”.

zoolights2Professor Tupa’s advanced ceramic class designed individual planters as accent luminarias to alternate between groupings of the star cylinders.

Jessica Cartwright, a student in both the beginning and advanced courses, had the good fortune to experience the project from multiple perspectives.

“It was a lot of work and energy that people put in to do this and all the different ideas coming together in the end was well worth it,’’ she said.

Event Dates

  • Dec. 9 -11 & Dec. 16 – Jan. 7 (Closed Christmas Day)
  • Sun. -Thurs.: 6 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
  • Fri. -Sat.: 6-10 p.m.

Note: The Zoo closes at 5 p.m. and will re-open for ZOOLights at 6 p.m.