While studying at Princeton University, Jay Lagemann squeezed in every art history class he could between his load of mathematics courses. He was a math wiz — not an artist. But something about ancient sculptures and craftsmanship grabbed his attention more than any equation could.

It wasn’t until the completion of his college degree, and later a PhD in logic from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), that Mr. Lagemann finally gave in to his passion for art and abandoned a halfhearted career in academia.

Artist Jay Lagemann poses with his creations. — Ray Ewing

Now, nearly five decades later, Mr. Lagemann’s sculptures of dancing couples, reading dogs and blue fishermen are found all over the Vineyard and up and down the East Coast. His latest work, a stainless steel sculpture titled Family, which depicts parents, two children and a dog, recently made its home on the Oak Bluffs waterfront.

“It just seemed like it was the right place for [Family],” said Mr. Lagemann, during an interview at his Chilmark home. “With my parents, we summered up here, and went down to Oak Bluffs and the Flying Horses and Giordano’s. We went there as a family to have fun.”

Mr. Lagemann originally created Family in 2009 and publicly displayed it five years later to welcome the Obamas on a trip to the Vineyard. He said that the sculpture is based loosely on his own kin, but is meant to be universal.

“To me, it’s just about the feeling of the sculpture,” he said. “When you look at this piece... I don’t want there to be anything that holds back the natural image or feeling that goes into your brain.”

Jay Lagemann is most known for his Swordfish Harpooner sculpture in Menemsha. — Ray Ewing

Like many of his sculptures, Family is minimalistic and reminiscent of a stick figure drawing pulled straight from a sketch book. Finding his distinctive style and sculpting technique wasn’t easy for Mr. Lagemann, and failure has been a defining characteristic of his artistic career, he said.

“I mean, for like the first 15 years I think I sold one $50 piece,” he said.

Mr. Lagemann became inspired to sculpt while traveling around Europe after graduating from MIT. But as a nomadic young adult without a studio and little art training, he knew that making it as a sculptor was a long shot.

It was around 20 years later, after more traveling around the world, taking sculpting classes here and there and relocating his family to the Vineyard, that Mr. Lagemann created a signature piece that would become an iconic landmark on the Island: the Swordfish Harpooner.

Created for the Chilmark Tricentennial in 1994, the 17-foot-tall bronze sculpture of a fisherman balancing on the tail of a swordfish has stood watch over Menemsha Harbor for nearly three decades.

“I got the idea from when I grew up here in the 50s,” he said. “My best friend in grade school and high school and his family had a 60-foot schooner that they kept in Menemsha in the summer. They bought a harpoon and would go out and harpoon a couple of swordfish.”

“I really hope that my pieces get better over time,” he added. “Though sometimes you look at stuff and think... that elbow’s wrong.”

More of Jay Lagemann's creations at his Chilmark home. — Ray Ewing

As an artist working in the public domain, Mr. Lagemann said he is accustomed to criticism and knows that any display of his work can be met with mixed reviews. But to him, provoking thought and emotion of any kind from observers is the duty of art.

When it comes to Family, he hopes it encourages visitors and Islanders alike to hold their loved ones tightly.

“With this sculpture and its style, it doesn’t matter who you are or what the color of your skin is,” he said. “You’re going to love your kid. That is universal.”