I just love this place,” said artist Jeff Guzlas of the 15-acres of natural old Florida land and small RV park he bought 15 years ago.
Located between a golf course community and thousands of acres of nature preserves, his park is located close to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park and the Gulf of Mexico.
A builder by trade from northern Illinois, Guzlas bought the property in 2004 and never wants to leave.
“I love it so much, I went and bought another 40 acres next to it,” he said.
Explaining that he has a high respect for the environment and Florida’s wetlands, Guzlas planted hundreds more trees, introduced more fish like Bass and Bream into the waters and avoids the use of fertilizers or any products that can leech into his lakes.
“I hope this piece of old Florida will become my legacy,” he smiled.
But this is no ordinary RV park. Scattered throughout this “laid-back” camping spot are whimsical sculptures of dinosaurs, mermaid babies and a giant seahorse called “Big Blue,” mostly created by Guzlas from his very vivid imagination.
A sculptor, with a Fine Arts degree, Guzlas works in a variety of mediums.
“I make them of clay, foam, fiberglass, concrete, brass, copper, steel, odds and ends — anything,” he said. “I’m always looking for “stuff” at auctions or yard sales that I can be creative with. Art comes from within the individual.”
Guzlas, 6 foot 4 inches tall and brimming with an affable personality said his “sculptures are not meant to be intellectual or intimidating merely the basic concept that they be enjoyed by everyone here, residents and visitors alike — there’s no deeper meaning to them,” he said.
Guzlas sculptures, like Vicky the mermaid and several mermaid babies, can be found nestling in unexpected parts of the park.
In addition to the light-heartedness of each sculptural piece, Guzlas can tell stories behind each creation and each piece has a name like the huge seahorse he calls “Big Blue.”
“Although whimsical, my sculptures are meant to be a lighthearted look at life.,” he said.
A small park with approximately 46 sites, it has an almost village atmosphere quality. Guzlas said the park operates like a mini-democracy and everyone works to preserve nature.
“This is where you’re not just a number,” said Guzlas. “Here, your opinion counts. It’s like a gated community for the common man.”
“I first looked at the park and then went to see others but I kept coming back to this place,” said Guzlas. “It beckoned to me and inspired me to inject my artistic flair to the surroundings.”
“If a tree is too close to a rig, then the rig moves, not the tree,” he said. “We reclaim rainwater too, anything to reduce our carbon footprint.”
Guzlas also built a communal greenhouse and has chickens whose eggs are shared with all the residents.
The park is indeed like a small kingdom. It even has its own castle. Built by Guzlas, the “castle” is in fact a hurricane shelter.
“It looked like a concrete bunker so my artistic blood started to pump so to make it more attractive, I added turrets and a keep that we can use for storage,” he said. “America needs more castles and what’s better than at an RV park.”
The castle has 34 windows in total, the uppermost tier of them are of true leaded glass made by a stained glass artist commissioned by Guzlas. The stained glass artist just happens to be a resident at the park, along with an architect, an engineer and many other professionals.
Close by the castle, a large Buddha statue sits peacefully amid a bamboo garden. The Buddha, found in a yard sale by Guzlas, was strategically placed facing East “to encourage tenants to sit in the garden and think about all around them in new and different ways.″
“Unfortunately, Buddha is an unfinished project because he got damaged and doesn’t have any hands,” said Guzlas. “So I’m currently making molds to cast new hands for him.”
Guzlas says his building career has helped him tremendously in visualizing and constructing large sculptures.
At the entrance to his park and at the tip of the large lake, sits a tall lighthouse that lights up every evening. The main body of the lighthouse, made from a scrap piece of metal weighing several thousand pounds, was left behind when a pipeline was being laid from here to Tampa.
“I thought to myself, we have this lovely body of water here and a lighthouse would look majestic,” he said. “I used all manner of stainless steel and copper scraps and concrete forms to weld the structure. “And I hand-bent the top of the lighthouse where the light shines over the lake.” he said.
“Big Blue” the giant seahorse used to sit center of the lake but now adorns the entrance to the park. Magnificent in size, “Big Blue” is definitely the favorite of residents at the park.
“I chose a seahorse because seahorses are gentle and timid so I hope “Big Blue” helps to remind us of the beauty of such a beautiful sea creature.” he said.
Jim Mincey, a resident at Cody’s RV Park, and former art schoolteacher, said he has known Guzlas for about 7 years.
“Jeff needs to do more artwork but he’s really busy running the business,” he said. “He’s so kind-hearted and he’s the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back.”
Mincey, a clay artist, used their abilities and art together during the creation of “Big Blue.”
“We would get ready to glue foam and join the head and the tail together and then discover the head was too big or vice versa,” he laughed. “And then we decided to insert a spigot in “Big Blue’s” snout so she could also be a water feature.”
“Yes, “Big Blue was definitely a labour of love,” said Guzlas fonly.
Guzlas does not accept private commissions or gallery exhibits. His focus is on art that can be shared by everyone.
My work is meant to be fun and whimsical,” Guzlas said. “So if you like the unusual and have a sense of humor, then my artwork is for you.”
Jeff Guzlas can be reached at 352.596.6010.