A Love Letter To My Mentors

Read How I Got Into The Arts Here:

Important Things To Know:

I am very fortunate to have found St Pete and a welcoming community of artists that have made all the difference in getting to where I am now. This post is paying respect to them and reflecting on some of those relationships. Let’s take a look at the people I consider my greatest mentors.


ABOUT: Frank is a self-taught steel artist with a studio in the Warehouse Arts District. His work is reflective of his life and the things he feels strongly about, from politics to culture. His work ranges from sculpture to kinetic work to metal fashion and he has been a staple in the local art scene for the last 20 years or so.

RELATION: I spent a year apprenticing for Frank Strunk when he had a studio in Gulfport. Nowadays we’ll meet up about once a month, grab a beer, and talk shit about the art scene here and argue about art vs business. If he’s doing a market, I usually stop by and help him pack up because he’s getting old.

WHY I LIKE FRANK: I like Frank because he is a genuine person and he makes sure his work reflects that. I like seeing how what he makes is a reflection of his current life and feelings. He also is a hard worker, the kind of person that basically lives in his studio, striving to achieve the high from making something no one has ever made before.

MY FAVORITE WORK: I absolutely adore Frank’s kinetic work. Frank is a technician and makes everything, so he also makes the gears and linkages that make his kinetic pieces move, giving them an organic movement. My favorite piece of his combines kinetic movement with lighting, a metal field that has fireflies made from vintage light bulbs that are lit from a kinetic system physically turning on switches. He also has a kinetic raincloud that is stunning.

Frank Strunk’s Instagram

Some smaller Frank Strunk III works. Follow him on Instagram.



ABOUT: Mark is a master-sculptor that now focuses on large scale public art for his business, MGA Sculpture Studio. His inspiration is often drawn from nature and natural processes. He has a certain affinity for birds. MGA has been around some 30 years and in the Warehouse Arts District since 2005.

RELATION: I have been working under Mark and MGA for the last 5 years, from fabricator to now lead designer.

WHY I LIKE MARK: Since working with MGA I’ve had the opportunity to help make large work that I never could have dreamed I’d be a part of. What I appreciate most about Mark is that he is willing to go outside of his comfort zone for a good idea. He has had a practice for so long and has so much experience in making every type of thing, it gives him confidence that he can figure out something he has never made before. It’s this comfort of the unknown and being able to make things work that sparks crazy and big ideas. It makes for a great relationship and I’m fond of our brainstorming sessions.

MY FAVORITE WORK: Mark started a series of 6’ carved lip sculptures before I started working with him that was initially funded through a Creative Pinellas Professional Artist Grant. The lips are of his wife and local artists Carrie Jadus. It is a 10-part series where each sculpture is made with a different material that is a commentary on their relationship. I love this series because each piece is a beautiful work on its own, but as a whole they tell a story. My favorite piece is Butterfly Kiss, made with stainless steel butterflies welded and shapes to the lip mold. It was a very popular piece in the studio before being sold to a hotel in Tampa.

MGA Sculpture Studio’s Website

Mark Aeling’s Lip Series.



ABOUT: Jason is an artist, currently painting but with a deep history of making massive balloon installations.

RELATION: Jason was my assigned mentor for the Creative Pinellas Grant, I had never met the guy before. We have coffee on Friday mornings.

WHY I LIKE JASON: I’d say the conversations Jason and I have are more philosophical than anything, which is not something I get from many people. We don’t talk about engineering and reality and business, we talk the whys of life, the energy that makes things happen, and the fact that you will have exactly what you need when you need it. I definitely think he is the good kind of crazy.

MY FAVORITE WORK: I’ve only seen a handful in person, but man he has done some big work all over the world. There’s a nice shell piece that I have no idea how it was made so let’s go with that.

Jason’s Instagram

Jason Hackenwerth’s Sculpture, “Pisces”.



ABOUT: Jackie is an entrepreneur, artist, maker, teacher, and more; specializing in a little bit of everything from lost-wax silver casting to printmaking to powder coating.

RELATION: She’s my momma. I still make jewelry for her every now and then even though every year I swear to god it’s the last.

WHY I LIKE JACKIE: I like discussing ideas with my mom because she comes from an entrepreneurial angle and has a good feel for commercial viability. Some may think that is a dirty thing to think about in the arts, but the truth is you have to sell something if you want to have a business in the arts, talent alone is not enough. We talk for hours about ideas and concepts and business and she is my go-to person to talk to when I think I have a good idea.

MY FAVORITE WORK: I can’t say because she will forever give me shit about it. So… it’s all good. The business of making jewelry from pet impressions is definitely genius though, definitely saw the market for pet keepsakes a solid 15 years ago.

Jackie’s Instagram

Dog Impression Jewelry.


Without these people, I definitely would not be where I am in life and in making a career being a creator. I can’t thank them enough and appreciate having such an incredible collection of people I can call my mentors but more importantly, my friends. And my momma, of course.


Stay Tuned for My Next Post: 2021, My Insane Year of Art

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