News and Tribune

October 9, 2012

‘Leafing’ their mark: Jeffersonville High School students help create new public art


JEFFERSONVILLE — Metal shaped and welded for more than three months by Jeffersonville High School students will soon be placed in an island between Nachand Lane and Eighth Street.

The little sproutling coming out of the ground will represent the farm that used to cover the land before the roads were constructed.

Jeffersonville High School Art Teacher Dawn Struck said Sandy Knott commissioned the piece of public art to be placed in Gaither Triangle about a year ago. Knott said the idea sprung out of a neighborhood leadership meeting in Jeffersonville where she was asked to come up with a project that could be done in the neighborhood. Beautifying that island popped into her head.

“That traffic island was an eyesore,” she said. “I thought it was a perfect opportunity to beautify that corner.”

Knott said city pride helped design the landscaping for the island. But she added aside from the beautification work, the island was the perfect spot for something else.

“I wanted some sort of artwork there,” she said. “I would love to add to the public art.”

Knott worked with Struck to commission a piece of art for the site.

Struck said took ideas from students and melded them with some of their own, and they tried to steer away from something that was too literal. But the concept was to still pay homage to the farm that formerly stood on the land.

“It’s shaped like a leaf because it was farmland, my family’s farmland,” Knott said.

When the project is completed, a silver leaf with metal stems protruding from its base will be capped with baseballs to tie the island to nearby Woehrle Field, Jeffersonville’s Little League park.

Construction phase

Struck said she approached welding instructors at JHS with her plan and a few weeks before school started construction began.

Chris Tungate, lead instructor for the welding class, said “we complete a lot of projects for the city.” He explained the class has built gates and hand railings for the city, “but nothing ever quite like this.”

Chad Stengel, a welding instructor, said the welding class has also worked with the school’s art department before to create a project.

“This is our biggest collaboration ever,” Struck said.

Stengel estimated that when the sculpture is finished it will weigh nearly 1 ton.

Struck said the class has taken old pipes and former elementary school gates and repurposed it into the sproutling. To help create the main stem for the sculpture, Steel Dynamics cut and welded the main bend in the stem.

“It’s been a real learning process,” Struck said. “At first, my art kids were excited, but the welders were a little apprehensive. Now they kind of understand what it is and what it’s all about and they’re pretty into it now, too.”

Julian Birke and Keenan Wilson — seniors who have been working on the project — admitted they were a bit apprehensive about the project at first.

“I didn’t know what it was supposed to be,” said Birke, who has been working on the sculpture by adding metal to the base of the “stem” in order for it to be smoothed out into an even surface.

“Everybody that sees this says, ‘what’s that?’” Stengel said. “They ask me what it is and I look back at them and say, ‘you tell me what it is.’ It’s art. It’s whatever you want it to be.”

Birke said he has enjoyed working on the sculpture because it’s just something different.

Wilson — who has been welding the studs with a thread on each pipe jutting out from the main stem so the baseballs can be affixed to the end — agreed.

“It gets you out of your booth and you actually get to see something [coming together],” he said. “Something we’re working on is actually going to be out in the public. You’re actually going to be able to see it.”

They said it feels good to bring the design through the planning stages into actual construction.

“In 20 years we’ll see it and be like, I built that,” Birke said.

For art’s sake

Stengel said he has tried to involve as many students as possible in building the project, with about eight to 10 students working on it.

“Welding is a monotonous thing,” he explained. “You do the same thing over and over and over. You can take a project like this and show them that there’s more to [welding] than sticking two pieces of metal together.

“The students down here have loved it. I think it’s important ... you can do something really pretty with this stuff. This does have a function other than just building barges or whatever you’re building. I think it’s important for them to see this.”

Tungate agreed and said the project has offered students a new perspective on what they can do with welding.

“I can’t wait until it’s up so they can see what they did,” Tungate said. “It’s different to see something when it’s complete, but these kids will have a great idea of what it looked like when it was laying on the floor when it was in pieces. When they see it complete they’ll have a different [perspective] of what it actually took to get it there.”

Struck added that there is less than two weeks left of construction, then the piece will go to Gray & Wells to be painted. It will then be installed with the help of the Jeffersonville Parks Department, hopefully, before the end of the month.

Jeffersonville Parks Director Paul Northam said it will cost the parks department the price of materials, which he estimated at less than $100, to construct a base to have the sculpture installed. The cost will be paid for out of the parks department budget, he said.

“I think things like this make our city unique,” Knott said. “I think Jeffersonville is a neat city ... adding some art to the area is a great thing. That’s going to be a unique piece.”

City Councilman Nathan Samuel, who is chairing an art council for the city, said ideas like this are helping to further the group’s goals.

“I think it’s fantastic this is already started and on-the-way,” he said. “I think this will be one of the steps, or one of the foundations, we can build on. We have a lot of public art around ... that will just showcase the piece and the need for more.”