The Greenville Zoo is made up of only man-made animals. They are scattered all over the town of Greenville, North Carolina. The sculptures, placed strategically, increase the mystique of the town. The animals are the work of Jonathan Bowling. He is a Kentucky-born artist who found a home on Dickinson Avenue in Greenville. He grew his childhood love of art and sculpting into an MFA degree that led to his life’s work.
His sculptures are made of repurposed steel. Bowling says using repurposed steel allows him to work on a large scale. Large art is appropriate for public displays. Some off the local businesses that display his work are;
· Guglhupf Bakery in Durham
· The Chowan Arts Council in Edenton
He has displayed a lot of his work in Eastern United States. This has allowed him to receive many lease agreements and sales. Many of these are from private collectors and municipalities.
He also has a variety of his work displayed in what is known as the Greenville Zoo. This is the sculpture park surrounding his studio on Dickinson Avenue. The studio allows visitors daily, but you are advised to call before going there. Usually, when he is away from his studio, he can be found in the Uptown District. His dog, Macy, is often seen with him.
Jonathan Bowling was born and raised on a small cattle farm in Kentucky. His home is near the Appalachian Mountains and Bluegrass Hills. Growing up, he played games like many of his peers. Some of the early games that contributed to his later interest in art include;
· Building fieldstone castles
· A bridle of hay twine
· A driftwood armada
At school, Bowling was lucky enough to get a teacher who understood his need for art. Together, they worked with plaster and clay. Bowling learned to make his own cameras and develop the film. He would copy images from magazine covers. He has told of a bird he copied from a Ranger Rick magazine.
His father joined the Medical Corps when he was a teenager. This forced Bowling’s family to move to Belgium. While there, he got to spend a lot of time in Belgium museums. He was able to visit most of the museums in Western Europe during his time there. Belgium museums had free access and it allowed him to gain some real interest in art. He would spend a lot of time up close with many incredible paintings. Art was still not a big part of his future plans at the time.
It All Started with a Fish...
Jonathan came back from Belgium and first went to the University of Kentucky in 1996. He got his BFA in sculpture and a BA in Art History. In 1999, he went to college in Greenville. He got his Masters’ Degree in sculpture at the East Carolina University in Greenville. Bowling made his home and has not left Greenville after that.
When he went to college, he focused on three-dimensional art. Art stopped being something he only did for fun. Before graduating, he made the fish. They became a turning point for his art. The idea was to take them to the beach. The fish would be affordable enough for normal people to afford. They could also fit in the trunk to be carried home and hung on walls.
The fish sculptures were a big hit in Greenville. They were made of repurposed metal. Jonathan used kitchen utensils, car parts, and railroad spikes to create them. He prefers to use accessible material for his art. After the fish, he made other sculptures while in Greenville. He creates animals, mythical creatures, and recognizable objects. His sculptures can go up to ten feet high. Some of this artwork include;
These sculptures are all over vacant lots and street corners in Greenville. He has turned the town into the Greenville Zoo. Businesses and homes all over the region support him by placing his work on their property.
Turning Salvaged Steel into Art
Bowling started making money from his work. This was after getting involved with creating sculptures from repurposed steel,
He is involved in numerous activities that help him earn money. These include;
1. Commissions from interested clients. When a client requires a specific piece of art created, they commission him. He then creates the art in his style, but according to the client’s specifications.
2. Exhibitions: Bowling has shown his work in various exhibitions. One of his most famous ones is “Family”. It is of three horses, different in size and style. Family was shown at the 2021 Public Art Exhibition.
3. Art Sales
4. Repurposed Steel Sculptures
The "Family" Sculpture
This is probably one of Jonathan Bowling’s best works. It includes three horses made of mainly steel. Other materials used are wood and brass. The exhibit won the Public Art Exhibition in 2011. The event was held at Honey Horn.
The work is located at Chaplin Linear Park. His vision for it is that each horse is an abstract sculpture. The three then come together to create an armature of the “family”. The pieces are made to endure natural elements. They can be placed outside in a public area. They do not need any maintenance, which makes them the perfect outdoor décor.
To create the mane and tail, Jonathan Bowling used a forge. They allowed the horses to get organic curves in these areas. The curved mane and tail give contrast to the body’s construction. He uses mostly materials from the turn of the century. Jonathan Bowling says his material choice depicts the horses in their agrarian form.
Jonathan Bowling is an artist ahead of his time. By creating the Greenville Zoo, he ensured his work is shown to people, even if they do not buy it. He is an artist who creates because he loves his work. An artist who has found his purpose.