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THS sculpture garden gets a big boost

By
JACKIE KOCH

Eight years have passed since students first developed ideas for an art space outdoors on the east side of Tecumseh High School (THS). Those art students have since graduated, but their ideas are alive in the THS Sculpture Garden that has transformed into a celebration of art. With a recent anonymous donation of $30,000, the garden will grow even more.  

Art teacher Christine Obeid has stuck with the project through the years along with fellow committee members, art teacher Jackie Whiteley and retired art teacher Ron Frenzen. The idea originated from former superintendent Mike McAran, who promised to have a sculpture created by artist Tom Rudd and Tecumseh High School students installed at the high school after it was moved from the middle school. In October 2013 Obeid invited the architect who worked on the original designs for the high school to speak with some of her art students. With him was landscape architect Serge Vandervoo. After that meeting students worked with Vandervoo to develop a plan.

In 2014 the Board of Education gave approval for the garden with the stipulation that no district funds could be used. The plan, which included a 12-foot walkway and wheelchair-accessible areas, called for terraced tiers at an estimated cost of $198,600.

The first sculpture in the garden was the Rudd piece, which Ken Thompson of Flatlanders Sculpture Supply refurbished and reinstalled in January 2018. In May of that year the garden received a $10,000 grant from the Stubnitz Foundation for the planting of trees, grass, and mulch, and $10,000 from the Elizabeth Ruthruff Wilson Foundation for a stage. 

A fundraiser in 2019 aimed to raise $50,000 but fell short. However, Thompson donated his “Split Too” sculpture to add to the space along with student sculptures, and a heart sculpture by Jim Bundshuh titled “Love of Community” was acquired through a grant from the Michigan Council of the Arts and Cultural Affairs. The wood sculpture titled “The Chief,” created in 1997 during Appleumpkin, was installed last winter.

The Macon Garden Club designed and planted a pollinator garden for the space. Obeid expressed her thanks for that effort. “If you look carefully among the flowers, you can notice small ceramic sculptures created by art students,” she said. She lauded Superintendent Rick Hilderley, Craig Fulton, the board of education and Community Arts of Tecumseh members for their support, as well.

The committee is thankful for the $30,000 donation, which will be used to finish the third phase, creating concrete seating levels for concerts and other events and adding electrical outlets and more landscaping.  

“I believe that having an ‘arts space’ lets kids know that we value the arts,” said Obeid. “The Sculpture Garden is a multi-purpose area that we hope to see used in learning of all kinds as well as performances in the future.” The THS Sculpture Garden is open to the public, and Obeid said they love to see the community enjoying it.  

“It feels great to have come this far,” she said. “I made a promise to my students in 2013 that I would follow through on the vision they developed for a space devoted to the arts. But it was a team effort and I could not have done it without Jackie Whiteley and Ron Frenzen.”   

Whiteley said that having the sculpture garden has helped show students how art can be viewed for both enjoyment and learning purposes. “We have been able to teach students how even if you create a small thing, when you work together and collaborate, a very large and meaningful sculpture can result from it,” she said. 
 
The garden has had both young and older students work on projects, and advanced placement artists Hunter Johnson and Maria Keunzer had to plan a sculpture, present ideas to the committee for approval, research how their materials would work outdoors, and execute the sculpture, using skills they will need for the future. A mechatronics class taught students how to measure sculptures and recreate them in a scaled-down form, and music and performing arts students use the space for concerts and practicing.

“Often as art teachers we look for ways to connect the arts to the community,” said Whiteley. “The Sculpture Garden allows people from the community and visitors to actually come and interact with the art throughout the year, not just on special occasions. This place truly is a gift for anyone to come and enjoy.”  

She had praise for Obeid. “She was at the high school when this idea was first generated and did most of the groundwork to get it started. As each element was added to the garden and the successes have been seen we continue to carry that momentum forward,” she said. “This recent donation came as a huge surprise, but it could not have come at a better time.” They will continue to add to the sculpture garden and hope to have students involved in maintaining the space. “We are grateful to the community for helping to make this possible.”

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