Last year, Mississinawa Valley art teacher Ashley Austerman applied to the Ohio Arts Council for a grant enabling her to bring a professional artist to her classroom to establish an often-requested photography course; the project would also reach out to the community at large, providing various opportunities for engagement with the arts. Mrs. Austerman’s well-thought out plan was approved and received funding; other community entities including Darke County Endowment for the Arts, who granted the amount needed to purchase digital cameras, contributed to the project which was enthusiastically embraced by MV students. Soon, the entire community will be treated to the culmination of students’ efforts: a beautiful mural representing Union City and the surrounding area.
The mural project began when visiting artist Timothy Wells, who earned his M.F.A. from Detroit’s Wayne State University in 2011, asked 3rd- through 12th-grade students about their perceptions of the community, moving them to consider its assets and history as well as changes they’d like to see made. Concepts were developed, assignments were doled out. Ninth-graders researched murals in other places, then chose possible content for a design depicting their community; ideas conceived were given to the Advanced Mixed Media class for further development.
Iconic landmarks, festive events, and “favorite spots” were photographed by students and instructors, then referenced as a mural design reflecting the past, present and future of a community ranging from farmland to city began to take shape. Rough sketches were made, building a narrative describing daily life from morning to night, telling a story which local citizens could relate to and take pride in. Students chose items of interest, drew images, and then collaborated with others to create the final design after conceiving, considering, and reworking 24 different visions for the final product.
Mr. Wells says that all students involved in the project contributed “amazing work,” in just two months creating a finished product combining 45 drawings into one comprehensive image which will be printed on aluminum panels before placement on the South Deerfield Road viaduct walls. (Restrictions necessitated by road traffic as well as the COVID pandemic make actually painting on the walls impossible at this time.) A second mural representing “Mississinawa Valley Pride” will accompany the community-referenced piece; that design features the traditional Blackhawk logo printed over the words of the school’s fight song. A third segment will list project donors and sponsors plus the names of the MV student-artists who created the work of art.
Those participating students are rightfully proud of their creation; Cynthia Morgan, who drew a locomotive and the train depot as well as the local A & W foodstand among other contributions, says, “It was very time-consuming, but it was worth it — and looks cool.” Olivia Davis’s drawings incorporated into the final product include a sign and an Army tank illustrating Harter park; she revealed that the project inspired growth in her artistic ability and motivated her to explore a career in motion graphic design.
Saying that her skills and creativity were boosted through her participation, Lilly Severance drew images illustrating Union City’s Fire and Police Departments as well as scenes evoking Heritage Days festivities. Sara Yount’s drawings reflect the community’s rural component; additionally, she was instrumental in choosing colors blending the images into a cohesive whole.
A still-standing old water tower drawn by Michael Rammel represents Union City, Ohio, while his rendering of Wesley United Methodist Church elegantly exemplifies the architectural treasures found on the Indiana side. Michael often sees the church’s dome sparkling under the moon when he leaves his after-school job, and believes that the image depicts the character and beauty of a town which offers more than meets the eye at first glance. Other contributing artists are Brianna Fennig, Caitlyn Haines, Karissa Hampshire, Josclyn Pollit and Emma Wagner.
This collaborative effort required listening to and respecting the priorities and opinions of others, creating a communal artistic community as well as a piece of art to represent the entire MV community. The final product will soon be installed on the viaduct for all to see, projecting community pride to be cherished today and well into the foreseeable future.
Marilyn Delk is the former executive director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.