Sculpture from Ian debris all about ‘creating beauty from chaos’

4 – minute read

The creative minds and skilled hands of some Florida Gulf Coast University students and their professor have transformed the detritus of a horrific local natural disaster into a symbol of solidarity, compassion and resilience.


Visitors to Lee County-based nonprofit ECHO Global Farm are now greeted by FGCU students’ handiwork — a 6-foot-tall sculpture of Earth crafted from steel scrap left behind in Hurricane Ian’s 2022 rampage across Southwest Florida.


The artwork was created by Steve Hughart II, an adjunct art professor and laboratory coordinator in the Bower School of Music & the Arts, and students from his fall “Sculpture Techniques” class: Erika Mancera, Nathaniel Bonds, Anthony Alexander, Paul Firmin and Isabella Sawyer. Hughart refers to the custom piece as an exercise in “creating beauty from chaos.”

ECHO Global Farm teaches small-scale, sustainable farming methods to families worldwide, so they can provide for themselves and their communities. Visitors to its North Fort Myers headquarters can take guided tours of the organization’s agriculture technology center and its demonstration garden, where the sculpture was installed in January.


The project sprang from a meeting between ECHO representatives and Jamie Wilson, a visiting professor and service-learning faculty assistant at FGCU. There, the ECHO contingent asked whether FGCU art students would create a sculpture to adorn the nonprofit’s campus. Wilson then reached out to Hughart.

FGCU faculty member Steve Hughart II
Steve Hughart II, an adjunct art professor and laboratory coordinator, refers to the custom piece as an exercise in “creating beauty from chaos.” Photo: Danielle Flood/ECHO.
FGCU students working on sculpture
Students from a “Sculpture Techniques” class worked together. Photo: Steve Hughart II.

“As we were discussing ideas, I said, ‘What if we took debris from Ian and made that into a sculpture — take something that’s been destroyed and make something beautiful that’s going to last?’” Hughart said. “She was instantly excited by that. She suggested that I incorporate it into my class so the kids could also get credits for their student-learning hours.”


ECHO had firm ideas about what the sculpture should represent visually.


“They wanted to emphasize global unity and community,” said Hughart. “Because they’re all about working around the globe and teaching people how to sustain themselves through agriculture, they wanted to really emphasize the fact they’re not just a local organization but global. We took that literally by making a globe.”

Before decisions were made on what to sculpt, the class visited the farm to get a sense of the operation and the surroundings. Next, the students submitted ideas and sketches, which were discussed and voted on in class. The top three concepts were then pitched to ECHO representatives, who picked their favorite and offered suggestions on what to incorporate.


Nathaniel Bonds, who graduated in December, found the excursion to ECHO inspiring.

FGCU students working on sculpture
Nathaniel Bonds cutting scrap metal for sculpture
Nathaniel Bonds cutting scrap metal. Photo: Steve Hughart II.

“I found the whole thing fascinating — their mission, how they were doing it and how they had a setup for how everything worked,” he said.


“I thought the whole thing was just really, really interesting. So when we were told about doing the sculpture, I was excited.”


Hughart said the process mirrored that used for any public artwork, providing the students with invaluable, real-world experience as working artists collaborating with a client.


“They got to present their ideas and get feedback from the client,” Hughart said. “The students experienced the back-and-forth of learning and working with the client and making them happy and also the time-management aspect.”


Over the last five weeks of the semester, the students put their heads together, delegated tasks and became engrossed in what for some was their first foray into metal work. 

They had to hammer and flatten out mangled steel and get used to bending, shaping, welding and using a plasma cutter. All the while, they were employing creative thinking skills and collaborating with each other to make the project a success.


Bonds had done “a little bit” of metalwork in other art classes but had never used recycled materials before.


“They literally just pulled a dumpster onto campus where we were able to root through it and find metal that could work,” he said. “I thought that was fun, and I liked trying to come up with ideas for the sculpture based on what we could see in the dumpster.”


For classmate Mancera, working with metal for the first time was certainly enjoyable — especially the welding. “That’s not something that students really get the chance to do,” she said.


Knowing the sculpture is not only beautiful but also has a symbolic intent is meaningful to the graduating senior. She hopes ECHO visitors and staff are not only reminded of the hardships people overcame after Ian but of the transformative power of art.


“Something that came from nothing can be turned into something beautiful,” she said.

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