His sculptural creations and collaborations with other artists already have helped to shape the Tampa Bay area landscape. Look no further than Sundial St. Pete, Mazzaro's Italian Market, All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medical, BayCare Health System's corporate offices in Clearwater and along the waterfront in Bradenton.
Now, as president of the nonprofit Warehouse Arts District in St. Petersburg, sculptor Mark Aeling hopes to help secure studio spaces for himself and other artists by raising private money to buy six warehouses and office buildings in the area.
The organization has conducted tours of the old Ace Recycling Center during monthly Second Saturday ArtWalks, and, more recently, for potential investors.
Aeling's own MGA Sculpture Studio is in the complex. The hope, initially, is to convert about 20,000 of the total 50,000 square feet into 30 to 40 affordable studios. Longer-range plans for the Warehouse Arts Enclave call for classrooms, galleries and a metal-casting foundry.
Glass artist Duncan McClellan and the Morean Center for Clay have acquired property nearby, and supporters envision the area as an economic generator.
"It's a huge necessity for the arts community in St. Pete, securing a significant chunk of the area for artists," Aeling said, "so we can keep rents below market cost."
The sculptor's commissions extend throughout the United States, and his work has been shown internationally, but financial uncertainty hit after the economic crash of 2008.
"I went for almost a year without a job," he said.
Aeling, 47, came to St. Petersburg in 2005 from St. Louis. He studied sculpture at Colorado State University and earned his MFA degree at Washington University in St. Louis, having created sculpture and scenery for the Seattle Opera.
His parents had bought a place in Fort Myers. Aeling and a collaborator had a project in Newport News, Va., and they spent three weeks exploring the Eastern Seaboard. He first looked at Jacksonville but extended the trip, visiting Tampa and then deciding on St. Petersburg.
He was encouraged to be creative from an early age. Even as a third-grader, he said, "I felt connected to something greater than myself."
He started as a wood-carver and now works in a variety of materials: resin, metal, glass, concrete, "whatever medium is applicable to the task at hand. The art of it is in the creative process; the idea is often secondary to the process. I am a process freak."
For Ripple Effect, the cast fiberglass installation inside the lobby at BayCare Health, he took inspiration from a vacation to the Tennessee Mountains, where he watched his fiancee's sons throwing rocks into the Ocoee River.
His initial idea for the public art commission, he said, "was weaving community and health care together." After he saw the patterns the stones created in the water, "I went from literally weaving to overlapping."
He sees the Enclave in a similar vein.
"There's truth at the heart of it," Aeling said, "and the numbers work."