by Tim Gilmore, 9/24/2016
Jeff Edelson brings together disparate and incongruous objects to see what beautiful accidents he can make emerge. In his studio, you’ll find bronze breasts, a scale model of the Sears Tower, chicken wire, and old glass. He loves to pick his way through scrapyards.
Edelson’s latest artwork may be his biggest yet. It juxtaposes a former industrial detergent plant, the infamously polluted McCoys Creek, and fine art. He calls it Mixon Studios.
Mixon Studios takes its name from Mixon Town, which Google Maps calls this Industrial Gothic district north of Riverside and Interstate-10, though the City of Jacksonville collectively calls several neighborhoods including Mixon Town, Honeymoon, and Lewisville “North Riverside.”
Edelson knows North Riverside. He was one of the first artists to have a studio at the CoRK Arts District, the congeries of old warehouses and industrial spaces that now houses around 70 artists at the corner of Rosselle and King Streets.
With CoRK gaining name recognition across the region, Edelson wandered other forlorn streets and districts, stumbling on Excel Chemical Co., just as it lost its last customer, and purchased its 1972 building at 2385 Corbett Street.
The truest state of art today may be the arrangement and beautification of forlorn and discarded objects. To live in a time of mass production is to inhabit a world of mass disposal. Jacksonville artists like Crystal Floyd, Jim Smith, and Jeff Edelson use lost-and-found objects as diversely as Impressionists used oil paints.
Salvage becomes the first step toward creativity. No wonder then that Edelson speaks as passionately about cleaning up McCoys Creek as he does about making art. Mixon Studios has worked with Rising Tides, a “young professional” group affiliated with the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and Groundwork Jacksonville, which seeks to revitalize and reconnect the “emerald necklace” of Hogans and McCoys Creeks and the St. Johns River.
“In our last McCoys Creek cleanup,” Edelson says, “we pulled out 30-something tires.” He calls what’s happening on the banks of McCoys Creek in Mixon Town “a confluence of city healing.”
“Cleaning up McCoys Creek and remediating this old chemical plant as a place where art happens,” Edelson says, “Who could have known these things would come together?”
Mixon Studios comprises three separate buildings, a breezeway, and an open space where a future sculpture garden is planned.
The largest building, where industrial-strength floor waxes and degreasers once were processed, houses 10,000 square feet of open space. Here, HAS Art Solutions, which specializes in corporate and residential art procurement and custom framing, has moved from Philips Highway to be Mixon Studios’ anchor tenant.
Rusted chemical vats pock the empty angles between buildings beside a new wood-planked walkway. And there’s a large orange globe, a faded buoy as best anyone can tell.
In a nearby 5,000 square foot building, 15 artists will soon claim their own studios. Edelson’s already here. So is Nate Price, marketing director for the architectural salvage wonderland Eco Relics, right around the corner on Stockton Street, and director of creative content for Mixon Studios.
What could make more sense than a partnership between Mixon Studios and Eco Relics? Indeed Eco Relics is one of Edelson’s favorite places to find materials.
Looking out over a grassy embankment beside the creek, Hayden Sams, director of operations for HAS Art Solutions, speaks excitedly of the future sculpture garden envisioned here.
When his company and Mixon Studios start accepting sculptures for the space early next year, this former wasteland corner will become the first sculpture garden in the city.
“The sculpture garden will be its own place between the studios and the creek,” Sams says, “but it will also be accessible and open. If writers want to come and sit down at picnic tables in the garden and work, they can do that.”
Finally, there’s the 1,000 square foot “Coquina Building,” which Mixon Studios hopes to rent to a single entity or a cohort. Its own reclamation might as well be a poem. The 1950s’ building would survive a tornado. It withstood years of Florida’s virulent vegetation.
The former utility building was nearly covered in weeds and lianas when Jeff Edelson first saw it. Not only did he reclaim the building from Florida’s own natural attempts to reclaim it, he found the exterior limestone structure sound, removed a drop ceiling inside to reveal original wooden beams, and let the building’s original tin roof shine again in the sun.
Edelson and Price believe Mixon Town will soon be “the new hot place.” CoRK maintains its strength, but it’s no longer the frontier. Mixon Town brutalized McCoys Creek for a century with everything from untreated sewage to masses of chicken feathers from a poultry plant. Years before the Civil War, the area was the site of a large plantation called Rural Home. Now Mixon Town’s ready for its next chapter.
It’s happening quickly. Besides Mixon Studios and Eco Relics, Peterbrooke Chocolatier and Engine 15 Brewing Company are opening facilities in the area. Mixon Town is extending Jacksonville’s “Cultural Core” as its own example of “upcycling,” “found art,” and, in Edelson’s words, “city healing.” It’s the place to be (and to become).