Sparkling blue skies, puffy white clouds and the gently rolling hillsides of Quail Run Vineyards provide the perfect backdrop for a public art installation of eight gigantic, bright orange metal poppies waving in the spring breeze on towering green stems, says local artist Cheryl Garcia.

Sparkling blue skies, puffy white clouds and the gently rolling hillsides of Quail Run Vineyards provide the perfect backdrop for a public art installation of eight gigantic, bright orange metal poppies waving in the spring breeze on towering green stems, says local artist Cheryl Garcia.

Garcia's dream of providing the fantastical scene to travelers heading to Jacksonville over South Stage Road began last August, and came to fruition Monday morning, as she and her husband, Criss, knelt in the brown dirt and screwed down the last of the 6- to 12-foot-tall poppies onto 18-inch spikes buried in cement footings.

"It's such a wonderful payback to see everyone's smiles as they go by. It lifts my heart every time," Garcia said.

Garcia has spent the past 17 years creating metal sculpture, first in Ashland, where she installed four giant flowers at Walker Elementary School in 2005. Ever since she moved to Jacksonville, Garcia has been searching for the perfect place to offer a public thanks to the community she's come to love.

One day at her East California Street studio, Garcia was sipping a glass of wine and saw what she feared was the beginning of a housing development on the "beautiful green hill" behind her.

"Then I saw the grapes go in," Garcia said. "And that just added to the beauty."

Garcia approached the Hueners, who've owned the land for generations, and the land's new tenants, the Moores, owners of South Stage Cellars. Together they managed to work out an agreement to do a temporary installation last summer, she said.

"Everyone comments on the poppies," Michael Moore said, adding his favorite view of the display is an optical illusion created when drivers top the turn just south of the vineyard. The first series of four poppies, out by the roadway, and the second installation, back down the hillside, appear to be one large cluster of flowers, he said.

Garcia reminisces about drilling down in the dry, packed dirt in August 2010. As the wind and weather wore on, the tallest of the poppies took a slow tumble. Eventually, the 12-foot-tall flower slumped to the ground, in desperate need of repairs, Garcia said.

"People saw me out here and were smiling," she said. "Then they were scowling (as they saw the poppies pulled down for re-installation)."

Criss Garcia said he's actually had passers-by ask how he manages to make the poppies grow so large. His artist wife says she's pondering a whimsical answer.

"I've thought about making a giant (metal sculpture) container of Miracle-Gro and putting it out here," she said, chuckling.

Moore and his mother, Traute, say working with Garcia has been such a positive experience for the winery, and for themselves, that they have made Garcia South Stage Cellars' resident artist.

Garcia's work fills the walls of the winery's tasting room. An avid birdwatcher and nature enthusiast, Garcia's themes are filled with swallows in flight and at rest. In others, birds are singing, soaring and standing on wires. Additional metal sculpture pieces add flair to the back patio and garden.

Garcia loves firing up her torch and free-styling her designs out of recycled scrap metal. The process of creating steel is "so environmentally unsound," Garcia said, that she makes sure most of her materials come from reclaimed scrap she scavenges from a local vendor.

In a few weeks Garcia will change out the work currently on display at South Stage Cellars in anticipation for the "Iron and Wine" event on June 25.

"I'll be doing a demonstration of how I create these pieces — which may include a little fire," Garcia said.

To see more of Cheryl Garcia's metal sculpture, visit www.greatmetalwork.com, call 541-840-6243 or visit South Stage Cellars tasting room at 125 S. Third St., Jacksonville.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.