Islander Sculpture Students Install Living Sculptures on Campus

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The already scenic campus of the Island University has been enhanced by the installation of 13 “living sculptures” that were designed by students in the spring 2022 Sculpture Fabrication class taught by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Visiting Assistant Professor of Sculpture and Ceramics April Terra Livingston.

All 13 sculptures represent species native to Corpus Christi and range from a giant centipede that is 8 feet long to a banded armadillo that is roughly 4 feet long to the famed and world’s most endangered species of sea turtle: Kemp’s ridley. Over the past three weeks, nine students as well as Livingston herself have created stuffed topiary that consist of lightweight metal frames that are filled with moss, which serves as a growing medium, and live plants to create a freestanding display that doesn’t require a pot.

Livingston said the project, which is a major grade for the students, was made possible by generous donations by Corpus Christi businesses as well as funding support by the Environmental Committee of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

“It first started out with a Gill Garden Center & Landscape Company – they actually bought us a pallet of sphagnum moss, which was worth over $600,” Livingston said. “I also spoke to Turner’s Gardenland, and they donated $300 worth of plants. I also worked with the Environmental Committee on campus which also gave us $2,000 to make all the things we needed for installation. Office Depot provided $100 in signage. We got a lot of support from everybody.”

Livingston said the designs, which have been installed in various locations near the Michael and Karen O’Connor Building, the Mary and Jeff Bell Library, and the Center for the Sciences, will be in place through at least May 7.

“After we are done with this installation, the plants will be donated to the Islander Green Team so that they can be planted on campus,” Livingston said.

One of the students in the fabrication sculpture class is Jessica Palitza ’22, a four-year member of the Islander Green Team and its current president. She has designed a fiery skipper butterfly that is about 4 feet wide.

“It's been interesting – thinking of what animal you wanted to make and then turning it into a wire frame and figuring out which plants can represent this animal,” Palitza said. “I tried to choose a lot of pollinator-friendly plants, so I have lantana, which is friendly for bees and butterflies. I’m hoping that we will be able to see some actual butterflies around it.”

Palitza, an environmental science major, said she opted to enroll in the sculpture fabrication class after meeting Livingston last fall. 

“Professor Livingston contacted me last November about creating more green spaces on campus,” Palitza said. “She really instilled the idea of sculpting with plants. And I happened to have free time in my last semester so I decided to take the class.”

Livingston said she was pleased to have an opportunity to share her expertise in creating living sculptures with TAMU-CC students.

“These students got to learn welding, and they are also learning about native species,” she said. “It’s awesome to make people aware of the nature that surrounds them. I think these are super fun sculptures; it’s a great way to educate and engage our campus community.”