Written in Bronze

A Bronze Statue Commemorating Dr. Eugenie Clark Is Planned for Sarasota

It's the first of what Sarasota's Public Art Committee hopes will be many similar statues honoring trailblazing local women.

By Kim Doleatto February 8, 2024

Dr. Eugenie Clark

Underrepresentation is nothing new to women. Even in 2024, less than a third of leadership positions are held by women, according to research from LinkedIn, and the recognition of women's achievements throughout history has long been lacking. Underrepresentation persists in shaping which stories get told, and whose faces and names are commemorated. In fact, less than 3 percent of bronze statues worldwide represent women—and in the U.S., it’s less than 5 percent, according to international artist duo Gillie and Marc.

And in case you're wondering, no, “statues of mermaids don’t count,” says Mary Davis Wallace, public art manager and senior planner for the City of Sarasota, who said she did indeed have to explain that to someone who asked.

However, thanks to yesterday's City of Sarasota Public Art Committee (PAC) meeting, that disparity of women leaders being commemorated in works of public art will be reckoned with locally. It's all due to a new initiative that wants to see bronze statues of local pioneering women placed in the city.

"This is an opportunity for Sarasota to blaze a trail in how public art praises women," Wallace says. "Bronze sculptures are so often generals and powerful men who forged cities. This gives women a space at the table through lifelong recognition. There's a lot to be said for 3D sculpture. It's tangible and she can be seen as the living person she was."

First up? Dr. Eugenie Clark. The PAC voted unanimously yesterday that Sarasota's beloved "Shark Lady" should be the first in the series. A pioneering scientist who founded Mote Marine Laboratory, Clark was an ichthyologist with special knowledge of sharks and tropical sandfish, a courageous diver and an explorer who continued to work underwater until the year before her death. She was also an educator and the author of three books—including the best-selling Lady with a Spear—and more than 175 articles, including popular stories in National Geographic magazine. She passed away in 2015 at 92 years old.

Dr. Eugenie Clark

“She was so instrumental in putting Sarasota on the map for marine research, especially when women weren’t part of that," says Wallace. "She’s a literal force of nature and a strong pick for our inaugural woman.” 

The names of other inspirational Sarasota women, like Emma E. Booker, Marie Selby and Bertha Palmer, were also floated at the meeting and may become part of what the PAC hopes will become an ongoing series of bronze statues.

As for where Clark’s likeness will live, that’s still to be determined. New PAC chair and award-winning local architect Jonathan Parks pondered potentially placing the statues together if they became a series, like an outdoor gallery. Others suggested placing Clark's statue near her beloved Mote Marine Laboratory on City Island, where a portion of the aquarium's research hub will remain once its new location near I-75 is up and running. Location details will emerge in the next few meetings, Wallace says.

Regardless, major checkmarks for placement will include easy access to all and a quiet space for contemplation. Wallace also adds that having the statue closer to the ground—not too high up on a pedestal, for instance—would make it more relatable and accessible.

The initiative kicks off a new collaboration with renowned, award-winning artists and sculptors Gillie and Marc, who praise impactful women through their international public art movement for gender equality called Statues for Equality. Believing art is a powerful platform for change, the Australia-based couple reached out to the PAC roughly a year and a half ago. They have a long list of accolades, with work in galleries and public sites in more than 250 cities worldwide, touching on other issues like conservation and wildlife, too. The Last Three, for example, represents the last three Northern white rhinoceroses in the world and was originally installed in New York City. 

The Last Three, depicting the last three Northern white rhinoceros in the world, was originally installed in New York City.

A collection of 10 bronze sculptures of women by Gillie and Marc, 2019, including Oprah Winfrey, Nicole Kidman, Jane Goodall, Gabby Douglas, Janet Mock, Cate Blanchett and more.


Working from photographs that have yet to be selected, Gillie and Marc will spearhead the design and creation of Clark’s statue and are matching half of the funds for the $98,000 project. (The public art fund has already been approved for $150,000.)

Wallace anticipates that it will take roughly a year before the statue is ready to be placed and become part of the city of Sarasota’s public art collection. She also estimates a review every two years or so thereafter to consider who to commemorate next. The ultimate vision for the chosen women is to create an educational package in different mediums in addition to the statue, with background information about them on the PAC's website, possible photo exhibitions and more.

“There’s no shortage of women to highlight,” Wallace says. "I hope the initiative becomes something we're known for.”

City of Sarasota Public Art Committee meetings are open to the public, and welcome comment. Click here for meeting dates.

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