Underwater Museum of Art
A partnership between Visit South Walton, the Cultural Arts Alliance and the South Walton Artificial Reef Association
I Found It! by Ingram Ober and Marisol Rendon
Located less than a mile from the sugar-white sand of Grayton Beach State Park lies North America’s first permanent underwater sculpture park, The Underwater Museum of Art (UMA).
The museum, which came to life through a partnership between the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA), the South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA) and Visit South Walton, combines art, education and ecosystems – three passions of the South Walton community – in a truly unique way, creating a source of biological replenishment and protective marine habitats where one does not exist.
Divers who wish to visit the site can take a dive boat .7 miles off the coast of Grayton Beach State Park. The coordinates for the center sculpture (SWARA Skull) are Latitude N30 18 45.262 Longitude W086 09 33.722.
Want to book an excursion? Let the team at Dive 30A help you explore this unique sculpture park. Their shop is located in the heart of Grayton Beach, which means you are just a short jaunt from the beach. CLICK HERE to book your trip.
In addition to providing a site for SCUBA diving that will be unique to the world, the sculptures are designed and selected with their suitability as marine habitat in mind, so even in the absence of SCUBA divers, the Underwater Museum of Art is certain to have many visitors, including schools of baitfish, grouper, sea turtles and dolphins!
Annually, the CAA and SWARA will select a variety of works – from both local, regional and national artists – for deployment as part of the Underwater Museum of Art. Those who explore the museum will find sculptures ranging from an 8-foot tall deer and a giant pineapple to a massive skull and an octopus.
To date, the CAA and SWARA have completed three sculpture deployments. The inaugural UMA deployment, which took place in 2018, saw seven sculptures added to the museum, including works by former South Walton Artists of the Year Justin Gaffrey and Allison Wickey.
A total of seven sculptures have been selected for inclusion in the 2021 Underwater Museum of Art Deployment. Learn more about the artists and their sculptures below.
BEE GRAYT is inspired by artist Katie Witherspoon’s best friend who is a 3rd generation beekeeper based in Santa Rosa Beach, FL. Through her love of apiary knowledge, Katie also became more and more interested in the role that bees actually have in our ecological cycle. The artist owns an online plant shop called ‘Lil Plant Shop’ and has a love and passion for all things nature. The idea for BEE GRAYT came to her while deep in thought walking the beaches of SoWal. She became obsessed with the image in her mind and had to let the vision escape so it can become a reality for others to enjoy. She has a story to create and tell through a sculpture designed to bring education and knowledge to one of the earth’s most important pollinators and potentially endangered animals, the Bee. With the loss of bees comes the loss of many plants. “Bee Grayt” is comprised of seventeen hexagons making the symbol of a honeycomb. The honeycomb is symbolic for strength, community, and peace. Her hope is that this modern image will remind us to stay connected, and keep thirsting for knowledge and understanding of how to keep these complex and intricate relationships sustainable between humans and animals.
BUILDING BLOCKS is the realization of a concept artist Zachary Long had about a year ago. He wanted to build a metal sculpture that would become the building blocks for new life to take place. He imagined a beautiful stainless structure that was bold, strong, and growing yet delicately balanced and struggling to cling to life. Zachary could see many changing angles and spaces allowing colorful sea life to be displayed and housed against the large blocks (which seem very small on an oceanic scale). These delicately balanced blocks are a reminder that life is fragile but that with some attention and time some of the most fragile and important organisms on our planet can thrive. To create any reason whatsoever to get people to care, become interested, and invested in our incredibly diverse and amazing underwater neighbors. This piece of art will be coming from Oklahoma City in the middle of our country. Even those who do not have an ocean in their backyard can make changes and spread awareness. Zachary hopes the selection of this piece will bring up discussions in middle America where people feel more disconnected from the problems facing our oceans. He wants to show others you can be part of a solution if you get creative with what you have, no matter where you live.
DAWN DANCERS designer Shohini Gosh is a Denver-based artist originally from New Delhi, India. “Dawn Dancers” is a sculpture of two seahorses doing a dance. Seahorses are a flagship species, charismatic symbols of the coral reefs, estuaries and seaweed coastlines. The presence of Seahorses indicates the health of a reef system. Dawn Dancers is a silhouette of two seahorses doing the hypnotically romantic mating dance, looking to creating a home at the Walton beach reef forever. My stenciled silhouette sculpture allows the underwater tides and sea life to move through the design and gives ample space for the corals and seagrass to grow on it without hiding the shape. This design will evolve into a fascinating sculpture of seahorses with a living and growing surface of coral on them.
ECO-BUG by Florida-based artist Priscilla D’Brito allows her to introduce the “Eco-Bug,” the beginning of a new series of aquatic insects that will venture the underwater world. UMA would be the first to have the “Eco-Bug” as this concept design will be spread throughout the world. The “Eco-Bug” can be accompanied by creative exotic plant sculptures as they journey the bottom of the ocean creating colonies. These insects will be magnified and accentuated to overtake the underwater world as it will contribute to be the home to diverse marine life. Their many limbs and robust segmented bodies will provide a sturdy base for proper installation and for the extensive function to foster marine life and coral growth throughout their bodies.
FROM THE DEPTHS by artist Kirk Seese evokes a childhood wonder about the mythical creatures that live in the depths of the sea. The concrete sculpture portrays a large stylized fish, something you might see as an illustration on a map to warn sailors about the treacherous waters ahead. With its mouth open, it offers a wide cave for smaller fish to hide in and has a 36″ diameter turtle escape hole towards the back. The artist poses these questions…will it seem too lifelike for the real fish to trust it? Will they swim in its mouth once they realize it’s not a threat? Will the sight of it scare the medium and large fish away, leaving the smaller ones in its mouth protected? Only time will tell.
Artist Jonathan Burger will construct an eight-foot-tall mask form looking upwards towards the light filtering down through the water as the form for his sculpture, HOPE. The piece will only depict the front of the face, with a rough edge along the sides, leading down into a round neck form. Inspired by the broken forms of Greek and Roman sculptures, and by the work of Igor Mitoraj, the concept for this work deals with climate change, rising sea levels and the need for humanity to work together to solve these issues. As climate change affects our planet and causes sea levels to rise, many people who have previously lived on dry land above the water will find themselves flooded, much like the face of the sculpture. But this outcome is not entirely ensured, and can be slowed and hopefully prevented by the actions of our governments, corporations, and personal behaviors. The face looks up towards the light of the sun filtering down through the water in a symbol of this hope, that will we realize the scope of our actions and work to prevent such outcomes.
Husband and wife team, design duo, and dive buddies Ingram Ober and Marisol Rendón will co-create THREE WISHES. When we dive we are experiencing magic, the magic of being weightless, of traveling in a foreign environment, of shedding all but the most essential of concerns. For us, every beam of light, every stone, animals large and small seem imbibed with magic and we are lucky to experience it. “Three Wishes” is about that magic and the search for it. Bringing together the desert-like environment at the UMA site, a sublime sense of wonder derived from a change of perspective and scale, and the underlying search for magic and treasure wrapped up in each foray under the waves, we propose the construction of a giant scale genie’s lamp. Geometrically constructed from stainless steel rod in a 3D wire form format the surface of the lamp will be clean concrete. The imposing form of this lamp will strike a strong silhouette, at once at home within the shifting sands of Grayton Beach seafloor and strangely out of place surrounded by ocean life. The surface of the lamp will feature high relief geometric textures and indentions adding surface area and “nooks” for sea creatures to reside, the natural overhang of the lamp’s form provides structure and shelter for marine life. This artwork is not however intended simply for marine life to interact with, it comes to life with the addition of a foreign element, divers and the air we carry with us. Low on the belly of the lamp will be a few small ports below which a diver, posing for a picture pretending to rub the lamp, can purge air from their octopus regulator, and that air will enter the lamp and be carried to the spout of the lamp where it emerges like a genie to grant us wishes and fill our lives with magic.
CLICK HERE to see a collection of images showcasing the new sculptures resting on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.
The Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA) and South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA) selected 12 sculptures to be included as part of the Underwater Museum of Arts (UMA) second deployment. The Summer 2019 installation included the following sculptures:
BUTTERY, will be a twelve-foot replica of one of Alys Beach's iconic butteries, which flank the town’s Hwy. 30A entrances, anchoring the beautiful town while welcoming its visitors. The butteries also house sixteen different murals depicting the history and heritage of the local area. Buttery will be fabricated by the Alys Beach construction team and sponsored by The Alys Foundation. *Still to be deployed
TO REPLENISH WITH WATER is a design by Brazilian artist and marine researcher Beatriz Chachamovits. This sculptural piece approaches the theme of ocean degradation through the concept of coral bleaching. Like most of the artist’s interactive pieces, To Replenish with Water deals with the ephemeral state of the work and its forever changing quality, much like the ocean itself. Reversing the fate of this bleached piece to, in time, a ravishing coral colony is a powerful message in the battle against climate change. (Photo credit: Troy Ruprecht, We Create Lift)
WAVE! is a creation courtesy of American artist Benjamin Mefford. Benjamin is an interdisciplinary artist with a focus on sculpture. The sculpture, a larger-than-life hand, will be constructed to facilitate coral growth utilizing Kansas fencepost limestone columns to create the bulk of the sculpture. These repurposed columns are relics from early settlers who split each block using rudimentary techniques.
George Sabra’s EL PLASTICO replicates a plastic bottle on a massive scale constructed of environmentally cast concrete. This representation of something that generally harms marine life can instead play a direct role in helping it flourish. Sabra offers, “As an environmental artist I create artwork that brings to light again and again the impact our current consumption is having on our environment.
SAGUARO by Arizona-based artist Ghazal Ghazi is an 8-foot tall stainless steel sculpture of a cactus designed to promote thriving marine life. The saguaro cactus is a unique, famous, and distinct cactus that only grows in the Sonoran Desert. The artist believes having a sculpture of a saguaro cactus on the bottom of the ocean floor will offer a unique juxtaposition carrying multiple layers of interpretation. (Photo credit: Troy Ruprecht, We Create Lift)
DEPTH OF DECISION by Boston-based artist Gianna Stewart is a gesture for the ocean, a sunken series of decisions. Nuances to the cast concrete doors will be visible during its preview on land, and various openings in its structure and doors will serve as artificial reef for marine life. (Photo credit: Troy Ruprecht, We Create Lift)
Husband and wife team, design duo, and dive buddies Ingram Ober and Marisol Rendon will co-create I FOUND IT! The sculpture will consist of elements relating to a lost pirate treasure. The central element will be a 6-7’ tall diamond ring consisting of a cast concrete band and a jewel fabricated with a stainless steel rod structure covered on the inside with expanded metal lath and covered in “Clean Concrete” to create a hollow volumetric diamond. (Photo credit: Troy Ruprecht, We Create Lift)
LET’S NOT BLOW THIS is a creation by American designer Kevin Reilly. This piece represents the earth as a fragile dandelion. The hand represents man’s potential to restore and protect our environment. It is meant, now more than ever, as a hopeful call to do all that we can to preserve our natural world. (Photo credit: Troy Ruprecht, We Create Lift)
LOVE THYSELF is a collaborative project between Artist/Designer Maxine Orange, Concept Designer Maurice Hunter, and Concrete Work Fabricator Rick Goetchius with mold creation from Digital Atelier LLC. The group shares that “Being part of the UMA experience will be a great opportunity for us to express our passion for utilizing art to communicate meaningful ideas with the potential to make a social impact.” The theme is rooted in the concept of SELF-LOVE. (Photo credit: Troy Ruprecht, We Create Lift)
Florida-based artist Rachel Herring will construct an underwater FLAMINGLE. “Flamingos symbolize fun, relaxation, and socializing-- perfect description for this creation,” Rachel shares. She further notes, “The sculpture upholds my whimsical and playful art theme, and the shape of the columns along with the outlines of the flamingos will remain recognizable as growth occurs on the sculpture.” Rachel is also the creator of the 2018 UMA sculpture, The Grayt Pineapple. (Photo credit: Troy Ruprecht, We Create Lift)