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The artist's vision of Stay Gold.
The artist's vision of Stay Gold.
Jessy Nite

Jessy Nite's Stay Gold Sculpture Is Headed to Robert Is Here

When Robert Moehling was just 6 years old, back in 1959, he tried to sell his father's batch of cucumbers on the side of the road in Homestead. He was unsuccessful, so he went out again the following day. This time Moehling handwrote in cursive a large sign on hurricane shutters announcing his presence. He sold every last cucumber.

Signs can make a difference, and if you’re a South Florida fruit lover, chances are you already know what Moehling wrote on his; it’s the same bold phrase that pops out in white italics as you drive down SW 344th Street toward SW 192nd Avenue: “Robert Is Here.”

Local contemporary artist Jessy Nite, who was born and raised in New Jersey, also appreciates the importance of signage. She first went to the iconic fruit stand just a few years ago, and the cheeky and quirky signs hanging on the walls immediately enchanted her. Some are printed, some handwritten, each from a different era of the business.

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“It’s such a magical place,” says Nite. “There’s just something that is so familiar about it, no matter where you’re from.”

In partnership with O, Miami Poetry Festival, Nite will soon be adding another sign to the South Dade establishment: a permanent 12-foot-by-40-foot metal sculpture of hollowed letters reading “Stay Gold.” The guava-colored sculpture will face east in the middle of Robert's papaya field, allowing the sun to reflect through it, casting the two words' negative space in shadow across the lush grow grounds.

Nite has been experimenting with the interplay between text and light since she first moved to South Beach in 2007. Her previous “shadow projects” feature metal text fastened to an outdoor wall, like a sundial, allowing the Earth’s rotation around the sun to manipulate the text’s representation on the wall. Stay Gold is the large-scale, open space evolution of this idea.

Stay Gold is all about letting the environment narrate the piece,” says Nite. “I wanted to create something where the voice and the tone of the piece is filled in by the activity that goes on around it, by the waythe nature fills it up, by the different time of year, the different time of day.”

The actual phrase on the sculpture, “Stay gold,” traces back to Robert Frost’s 1923 poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” In the short piece, Frost explores the cyclical transience of nature. Frost, who spent the last 20 winters of his life hibernating in his South Miami cottage he deemed “Pencil Pines,” was no stranger to South Florida’s eternal beauty, even in the middle of January. Since then, the young adult novel The Outsiders and its film adaptation popularized the saying "Stay gold," as a reference to preserving youthful purity. Like the sun that sets and renews itself each day, so can we.

“That poem says so much. It's about life cycles in nature and humans and all of us, and I think that’s why it's such an important first text for one of these pieces, because [they] are about unifying all those elements, the diversity of people, the diversity of the environment, and how it all comes together,” says Nite.

The project has been in the works for over a year, but finally took off last year when it won a Public Space Challenge grant from the Miami Foundation and received generous crowdfunding. Nite knew she wanted to house the sculpture in a public space not already infiltrated by art. O, Miami thought of its previous South Dade collaborators at Robert Is Here, whose creative fruit displays boast an artistic flair and whose history with signage is already ingrained in South Florida lore.

"We talked about how we had artistic things around the store — airplanes, tractors, and even the design of the tropical fruits displays — and it happened organically," says Heather Moehling, communications director at Robert Is Here. "We're a place where people want to enjoy the environment and relate with nature. The idea of the Stay Gold project really captures what we are and what South Dade and our area [are] about, how nature is the art."

The sculpture was designed by Nite and fabricated by Atlanta-based company ALTBLD, whose work is all over the Design District. The group will break ground next week for the installation, and will officially unveil the work on April 3, coinciding with the start of O, Miami's month-long poetry festival.

O, Miami will activate the space and produce free programs for the South Dade community, including poetry workshops and local agriculture and yoga classes. Most notably, they will host picnic events for family members of inmates at the three neighboring detention centers.

“That is the most exciting part about this work,” says Nite. “I want to make things that affect people and that people can do more than just look at, that they can have a real experience with.”

Through O, Miami's relationship with Exchange for Change, a poetry and creative writing workshop in local detention centers, the groups will extend their reach and invite visiting family members to the grow field in hopes of enhancing their experience a little. The fruit stand, which is about two miles down the road from Dade Correctional Institution, is already a landmark for visitors driving long distances to see loved ones.

"When we go to one of the graduations for the program, our first stop after leaving is Robert Is Here to get a shake because you're starving, so we thought it would be a thoughtful gesture," says Melody Santiago, managing director at O, Miami. "It's an opportunity to share and it’s a known fact that when you create public art, the ripple effect that it can create in the community is immense and valuable, so programming like this is fundamental to the longevity and success of this project. The sign is not just a pretty element in the landscape. It's a welcome sight for the community."

Nite is currently working on coloring books about tropical rare fruit featuring original art and typography that will be given out during the events.

“No matter what age you are, no matter where you’re from, you can find something that’s meaningful for you,” says Nite. “That’s what these sculptures are. These pieces are supposed to almost be a frame, a momentary snapshot of what this environment is and who these people are and how they interact with it.”

To help bring Stay Gold to Robert Is Here, visit the Kickstarter.

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