UF removes unauthorized art, throws it away


Jon Anderson, a Vietnam veteran, former sixth-grade teacher, and volunteer at the Florida Museum of Natural History, has decorated the trails in the Bartram-Carr Woods Conservation Area with his bamboo installations, shown Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 2:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 2:39 p.m.

For more than a year, Jon Anderson turned a wooded conservation area on the University of Florida campus into his own personal art project.

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Jon Anderson, a Vietnam veteran, former sixth-grade teacher, and volunteer at the Florida Museum of Natural History, has decorated the trails in the Bartram-Carr Woods Conservation Area with his bamboo installations, shown Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer

The colorful bamboo artwork he put in the Bartram-Carr Woods, off Newell Drive between Shands at UF and campus, became a mysterious conversation piece for people using paths through there.

But it all ended Tuesday when UF removed most of the art and threw it away because of his lack of permission for it.

"I was pretty shocked," said Anderson, a 66-year-old Florida Museum of Natural History volunteer, former sixth-grade teacher and Vietnam War veteran.

"It seemed that so many people got so much enjoyment from it, which is one of the reasons I did it," he added. "I just wish they had gone a little slower with taking it down."

UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said a member of the campus grounds crew stumbled upon the art on a recent walk through the woods. After colleges and departments were contacted in an effort to locate the owner, she said, it was removed because the art didn't go through the proper university committees for approval. It then apparently was thrown away.

"Their goal was to actually figure out the person whose projects these were," Sikes said.

It didn't take long for a Sun photographer and reporter who documented the art before its removal to find people who knew about the artist. Anderson's work made him into a campus legend with those who regularly use the woods as a shortcut or to sneak a cigarette.

"It's sort of like you've stepped in a different kind of place, a different consciousness," Anderson said of his use of art to transform the woods.

Anderson said he started making art after Parkinson's disease ended his pastime of running in ultra-marathons that lasted 50 miles or more. A veteran of the Vietnam War, he said he believes the disease is linked to the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Much of the art in the woods was large bamboo gates with pieces of painted bamboo hanging between them that resembled giant wind chimes. Anderson had the same name for each of the pieces: "Bamboo Hanging from Bamboo."

"It's like George Foreman named all his boys George Foreman," he explained.

Anderson also created three "dining areas," his name for bamboo-decorated clearings with tables in the woods. As a nod to his time as a science teacher, pieces of bamboo hanging in one area featured the names of the 20 frog species in Alachua County.

Anderson used to teach at the school now known as High Springs Community School. In another giveaway to his teaching background, he put a note in the woods encouraging people to leave their own art and placed gold stars on the work he liked.

A native of Brooklyn who grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Anderson was a Veterans Affairs rehabilitation counselor before becoming a teacher. He now volunteers at the museum in a variety of roles. He made news in recent years for an as-yet unsuccessful initiative to get Florida to recognize the barking tree frog as the official state amphibian.

Andy Lievertz, who works in information technology at the museum, said Anderson makes working there more interesting with efforts such as contests he holds. Lievertz took a walk through the woods Monday before the art was removed.

"You don't notice the new things right away, and then all of a sudden you're immersed," he said.

One smoker there Monday was perplexed by the art, thinking it was rain collection devices that were part of the research done in the woods. But biology professor Marta Wayne, walking through the woods to get coffee, said it was "wonderful" that the art was there.

"It enhances the experience of walking down here. It makes it much richer," she said.

Sikes said Anderson will be allowed to remove the remaining art and must go through the proper committees if he wants to put out any more.

Anderson faced a similar situation when he first made bamboo art and placed it throughout the city of Gainesville, only to have it stolen. He said he can re-create the art thanks to donations of bamboo from people who appreciate his work.

"If you really get into bamboo, the bamboo comes to you," he said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/nathancrabbe.

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