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Polk County Students Create Art Inspired By Sacrifice

Take the single word – sacrifice – and turn it into a three-dimensional sculpture that represents veterans, military service members and first responders like police and firefighters.

It’s a tall order. But a challenge that more than 50 Polk County high school art students took on for this year’s Platform Art competition. 

This is the second year of the three-year Platform Art project. The prize, besides bragging rights, is having the top sculpture each year, produced and permanently placed in the Lakeland's Veterans’ Memorial Park.

A poem titled “Honor” inspired last year’s first place sculpture. This year the winning artist, Cierra Grenier, 18, drew inspiration from the New Testament.

“I thought it (sacrifice) would relate to it, John 15:13,” Grenier said.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend,” according to the New Living Translation Bible.

But Grenier pointed out that sacrifice includes more than losing one’s life.

“My grandpa, he was in the Navy. He sacrificed his time to be there and not with his family,” Grenier said.

Turning an abstract word into a three-dimensional art piece with universal appeal is not easy work. But Grenier had a clear concept – a seated human figure that is leaning forward holding a folded American flag.

She floated her idea by her art teacher at Lake Region High School in Eagle Lake. Angel Fout had recently attended a funeral where an American flag was presented to the family.

“They even opened the flag and it really tears you up,” Fout said. “I was just bawling. And when she came to me with that idea, I was like, ‘That Cierra, I can tell you, is really going to hit home for a lot of people.’” 

Her concept - crafted in cardstock - was the clear winner among the competition judges, according to professional artist Tom Monaco who also served on the selection committee.

“Cierra’s sculpture - it was just universal in its appeal,” Monaco said. “The purity of her vision is one of the things that was really striking about the sculpture.”

Monaco is collaborating with the young artist to turn her concept into cold hard steel.

Using a chop saw, oxy-acetylene torch, hammers and MIG welder, the artist duo began shaping steel into Grenier’s vision of sacrifice at Monaco’s Fourth Wall Studio in north Lakeland.

“It’s ribbons of steel. Yeah, it’s very cool. It’s like these very elegant, very sinuous ribbons of metal that create a silhouette and then the folded flag is actually going to be made of stainless steel,” Monaco said. “So, the rest of the sculpture will be dark, might even be patina, but the flag itself will eternally be bright and clean and so, it adds another layer of symbolism.”

The artwork already symbolizes a community collaboration of teenagers, teachers, art lovers and city officials – all with the goal of recognizing the sacrifice of veterans, military, police and firefighters.

The “Sacrifice” sculpture unveiling is scheduled Sept. 4, 2015, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at CPS Investment Advisors, 205 E. Orange St., Lakeland, Fla.

Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.