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Herd Mentality

Featured Photo from Herd Mentality

Local artist honors Florida’s cattle culture as part of a unique exhibit 500 years in the making

When it comes to her artwork, Susan Sturm Menand really knows how to take the bull by the horns.
Susan, who describes herself as a painter-turned-sculptor-turned-storyteller, was chosen to be part of a public art project that pays homage to Florida and its 500-year-old cattle industry. Spanish explorer Ponce de León is credited with bringing the first cattle – seven, to be exact – to the state in 1521. 

Susan and six other Florida artists were each selected to paint a life-sized fiberglass cracker bull, to represent those seven head of cattle. The three-year project is being spearheaded by the Florida Cow Culture Preservation Committee, which was founded in 1995.

The art project, known as the Ponce de León 1521 Herd of 7, is one part of the committee’s upcoming Quincentennial Celebration of Florida’s cattle industry. The major commemoration will culminate with an old-fashioned cattle drive across the state in December 2021.

Susan was intrigued when she first got wind of the project, in large part because of her mother, who was a teacher and early-American history buff.

“My ears pricked up because my mother had a love of the frontier and Westerns,” says Susan, an Apopka resident who moved to Florida from the Northeast about seven years ago. “I wanted to do it as a tribute to her and that whole generation and also as a tribute to my adoptive state of Florida. I kept praying that if I didn’t get selected, that the artists who were chosen would do it justice. I didn’t want somebody to put graffiti on the bull.”

The title for Susan’s piece – A Bull Named Everglades – popped into her head even before she had settled on a specific artistic concept. Ultimately, she decided to paint two different scenes, both set in the Florida Everglades, on the steer. On the left side of the sculpture, a bull munching on vegetation pauses to gaze directly at the viewer. On the right side, a cattle rancher rounds up a few stragglers at sunrise.

The entries were judged by The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, which opened in St. Petersburg in 2018. When Susan learned last year that her art submission had been selected for the project, she was thrilled.

“I still get choked up about it,” she says. “It’s humbling. You’re representing not only the current cattle industry, but also all the blood, sweat, and tears that people have put in from the beginning. It’s hard work, and it’s honest work. I think you need to respect it.”

When the unadorned sculpture was delivered to Susan’s garage in a genuine cattle trailer, she immediately set out to bring her artistic vision – and Everglades himself – to life. The steer sculpture is about eight feet long, four feet wide, and seven feet tall, and Susan spent about six weeks prepping and painting her newfound friend.

“It was a lot of bull to paint,” Susan quips.

She bonded with Everglades – to the amusement of others – by talking to him and patting his nose.

Before the sculpture arrived, it had been sitting unprotected in a pasture, where the elements left the bull’s fiberglass coat looking a bit weathered. So, Susan meticulously repaired every crack before beginning to implement her own designs.

An award-winning artist who often works with recycled materials, Susan was recently elected president of the Florida Sculptors Guild. Her pieces have been displayed at numerous local venues including the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens in Winter Park, the Historic Sanford Welcome Center, the Casselberry Art House, and art festivals in Sanford and Altamonte Springs.

The magnificent Herd of 7 was unveiled to the public in late October at an outdoor event in Kissimmee. The bull sculptures are currently with their corporate sponsors, but later this year, the bulls will be rounded up for a statewide tour that’s designed to educate communities about their historical significance. And in December 2021, in conjunction with the big cattle drive, most of the sculptural steers will be corralled once again and sold at auction.

Everglades, however, won’t go to auction. That’s because his sponsor, the owner of Traders Hill Farm in Hilliard, Florida, was so smitten with Susan’s creation that he didn’t want to part with the sculpture. Owner Dick Blaudow paid the top sponsorship fee so he wouldn’t have to relinquish the steer.

For her part, Susan is happy that Everglades has found a forever home with an owner who values him. And, she is proud that her creation will help educate the public about Florida’s 500-year-old industry and its important role in America’s                   cattle production.

“I hope I honored and respected the community with my work,” Susan says. “I love my bull. His story needs to be told.”

To learn more about the Herd of 7, visit GreatFloridaCattleDrive.org.

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