Whether savoring the last of a crawfish boil on a steamy coastal night or putting boots to a new trail in the hills around Gadsden, the natural and cultural diversity of Alabama is something remarkable. In a state where a few-hour drive takes travelers from rounded mountain peaks to pristine white sand beaches, it is no easy feat to capture the spirit of this rare medley in an art collection. Despite a seemingly impossible task, the design team at The Lodge at Gulf State Park successfully assembled a collection that embodies the essence of Alabama. According to Matt Leavell, Director of Design for the Gulf State Park Enhancement Project, his team never took the easy way out, instead choosing only to incorporate “art that represents the people and unique character of Alabama.” With over 70 distinct pieces, this challenge allowed for a wide variety of representation and celebration of the entire state.
When addressing Alabama diversity, the conversation must start with environmental and local associations. Upon entering The Lodge lobby, a fiberglass wall relief entitled, “TurtleTracks,” a piece by April Hopkins and Zach DePolo, warmly greets guests. The piece itself functions as an educational story – impossible to ignore – and encourages guests to learn more of the natural turtle habitats found along the coast. The depiction functions in tandem with the layout of the Lodge itself to blur the lines between the inside and outside worlds (the property even respects nesting and hatchling sea turtles with sea turtle-friendly exterior lighting).
Paired with the beauty of the natural world, the creative team at the Lodge also wanted to place particular focus on the tremendous diversity of artists from around Alabama, beginning with local representation, such as Orange Beach native Nick Cantrell. Cantrell’s work, “Spotted,” uses vibrant, happy watercolors and appeals to the child in all of us. With many guests returning to the Lodge after the original’s destruction in the wake of Hurricane Ivan, Nick’s art invokes feelings of childhood wonder, excitement and happy memories in first-time and returning guests alike.
Apart from the physical diversity that makes up the state of Alabama, the art at the Lodge also places significant importance on the cultural collaboration that defines Alabama. The work of Caroline Ward Sayre, for example, addresses the personality of southern tradition in her woodblock creation, “Alabama Sayings.” In this piece, Sayre utilizes vintage fabric and reused items to conjure an image of deep, personal connection and heritage, adding to the idea of Alabama as a “quilted community,” stitched together with a common language.
This patchwork theme also continues in the work of the SLOSS Metal Arts Collective. The piece, crafted by a team of artists over a period of 4-6 weeks, incorporates elements of inspiration from nature while paying homage to the importance of the iron and steel industry to Alabama.
Whether celebrating the native beauty of the state or paying respect to the hard work, grit, and resilience of past generations, the art at the Lodge is something uniquely Alabamian. The collection is the art of a state, created and accumulated on the local level, and hosted in a revered space that incorporates the natural and manmade worlds. The artwork featured at the Lodge is yet one more reason to visit for a new perspective into what makes Alabama truly beautiful.