For Gina Erardi, it's about creation and expression.
Armed with tools ranging from a paintbrush to a chisel, Gina Erardi (‘20) strives to always make the best art she can, ensuring it can be enjoyed by potentially anyone who walks by. Since she was young, Erardi was enthralled with creating art—first drawing sketches of statuettes at her babysitter’s home when she was 5 years old.
“Art can be a catalyst for community, for dialogue and for progress,” she says. “It can help us form a deeper understanding of each other, of our neighbors and where we find ourselves in this crazy world.”
The Crescent Springs, Kentucky, native decided to attend Northern Kentucky University after hearing about its Fine Arts program and seeing Professor Kevin Muente’s paintings in high school.
“I said, ‘Whoa, those are amazing.’ So, I wanted to study under him,” she says.
While at NKU, Gina majored in Fine Arts and Studio Arts, but her degree was tailored toward painting. The artist also expanded her skillset by taking her fair share of ceramics and other art classes.
“We had to take an intro level to pretty much every medium as part of the curriculum, which I think is great because it exposes students to maybe something they wouldn’t have tried,” she says.
While enrolled at NKU, Erardi began one of her most notable displays of public art—a series of murals in nearby Newport, Kentucky, which served as her senior thesis. One of the murals chronicles a young girl through her educational journey. It displays a teacher and a girl next to a chalkboard on one side and then depicts the girl graduating from college on the other. Named “Education Empowers,” it is based on Virinda Garland Doddy, who was the first black graduate of NKU's Human Services program. The mural celebrates all of the educators and students who attended the Southgate Street School, including Virinda. There are plans to add additional murals to celebrate Newport's past. The project, which began in 2019, was originally supposed to be a mosaic, Erardi adds.
Erardi also completed an apprenticeship under Tom Tsuchiya, an artist who has completed bronze sculptures for Major League Baseball and the National Football League, while she was still a student at NKU. Tsuchiya and Erardi would later collaborate on other projects, including a bronze statue of Marian Spencer, which was unveiled during the summer of 2021. Spencer, who served as vice mayor of the Cincinnati City Council, was the first Black woman to be elected to the body and also led the charge to desegregate Cincinnati Public Schools, died in 2019 at the age of 99. The sculpture, located in Cincinnati, features Spencer and two children to symbolize her work with children. One of the children is based on a group of students who illustrated a book about Spencer's life. Real life children have also interacted with the statue.
“It’s so fun to see kids go up to the statue and holds its hands and dance around it,” Erardi says.
Erardi added that the statue is one of her favorite pieces she has worked on.
“She’s a fighter but in a feminine way,” she says. “She uses her womanhood as her power. She was a mother. She was a wife. I really respected her.”
The piece took about two years from fundraising to unveiling, but Erardi says the wait was worth it.
“It was kind of shocking when I saw it,” Erardi says.
While she has worked on numerous projects, there is a lot more effort in creating art that the public may not realize, Erardi says. For example, when working on a sculpture involving a giant wild cat, Erardi looked at anatomy books and taxidermized cats to get a better understanding of the cat’s muscle movements and fur. In terms of public art, there’s also aspects including funding, approval of design and soliciting public feedback.
“It takes so much time,” she says. “There’s so much behind the scenes.”
While Erardi is experienced in numerous forms of art mediums and has an impressive portfolio under her belt, she says her favorite art form is portraiture, emphasizing that stories can be told simply through a person’s body language.
“Telling a story through a gesture or facial expression. People are so expressive, and that shows through painting and sculpture,” she says.