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Installation Brings Together Students, Arts and Academics

Dan Mushalko

An outdoor art installation that brings together local history, international symbolism, and 12-hundred red flowers is being unveiled this weekend on the Fort Hayes campus in downtown Columbus.  Alison Holm has more.  

Just a few weeks ago, the walkway leading up to the iconic Shot Tower at Fort Hayes on the edge of downtown Columbus was a dusty patch of scrub and weeds.  But though the work of 315 students and four teachers at the arts and academic high school, it's been transformed into a river of scarlet ceramic poppies, swaying on threaded steel stems, just in time for the Memorial Day holiday. 

The installation, called "Their Walk, Our Walk" began last October, as an effort to bring together different disciplines in an integrated project.  Visual Arts instructor Megan Evans was inspired by a display at the Tower of London which used thousands of red poppies to represent Great Britons who fell in World War I, on the 100-year anniversary of that conflict.  She says it was a suitable subject for the former military base, which served as Central Ohio's induction center for soldiers from the Civil War to the Vietnam era.

"People would come for their physicals, they'd be stationed here before they were sent out.... Around World War I, 35-hundred soldiers that ended up going to France to fight, prepared here.  We even found that the Columbus School for Girls would come and teach French to them before they went off to fight in France, so they knew a little bit of the language."

Evans, Landscape Design teacher Mary Ann Shrum, STEAM instructor Allison Vrancken and math teacher Rebecca Woods designed the project so that the students and their teacher were involved in all aspects, from drafting the templates, creating and assembling the scarlet poppies, and laying out the installation.  

"So, the population of about 315 students have worked with the four teachers, and we don't just teach the math part in the math class or the ceramics part in the ceramics class.  You can very easily find Megan Evans doing the STEAM part, or all of us out there digging in the dirt during the landscaping part, the landscaping students using the compass to design the math.... So, each kid worked with each teacher, and each teacher had to work in a different discipline, so it was pretty interesting."

Rowan Henderson-Bernard, a student in Woods' math class, says she's learned a lot from the project this school year.

"I thought, because we were in a math class we were just gonna make the patterns.  And then over the next two weeks we went to the ceramics lab and we got taught how to actually make the poppies and stick them together, and - alright, this is neat; I'm gonna get some ceramics background.  And then they were talking about how many they were gonna make, and they were passing out pictures of the soldiers that passed through here, and they were talking about what Fort Hayes used to be.... It was just really mind-opening to the fact of what we were creating for not only us, but the public."

Designer Evans says the project inspired some fairly philosophical conversations with the students, many of whom were not much younger than the soldiers than once passed through the site.

"As each student created their poppies, they all started pretty much with the same pattern, because we were using the math to create that.  But then as the student shaped the leaves and the petals of the poppy, they each shaped them a little bit differently.  And we talked about how that represents the individuality of each person.  But they almost lose their own identity when they're put out in a massive amount.  And when you look at them from afar, you don't see those individual characteristics, you seem them as a group, and the group becomes powerful."

The installation "Their Walk, Our Walk" will be dedicated Saturday afternoon at 1.  Teachers Evans and Woods say they hope to add to the project in November in time for Veterans Days - a holiday that marks the anniversary of the end of World War I.


A native of Chicago, naturalized citizen of Cincinnati and resident of Columbus, Alison attended Earlham College and the Ohio State University. She has equal passion for Midwest history, hockey and Slavic poetry.
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