A Peaceful Project
Two generations came together in Bayport to make an Art Bench and a lot of memories. A group of Girl Scouts worked with the senior residents of the Croixdale community and a Stillwater artist to design and build the colorful, welcoming place to sit.
Vern and Edie Hophan, two Croixdale residents, were very active in the project. They say working with the Girl Scouts was special.
“It gives you hope for the future when you see some of these young people,” says Edie. “They were really interested, not like their parents dragged them there, and very easy to be around, and joyful. It makes you feel good in this day and age, when you hear so much that’s negative.”
The bench’s title, Kindness is Key, reflects the good feelings that came from the project. Artist Judy Sell led the creation, and explained how the bench lived up to its name.
“Everyone was being so kind to each other. The whole thing was so incredibly peaceful and friendly,” Sell says.
Making memories and mosaics
The collaboration began in earnest when the Croixdale residents and Girl Scouts participated in a storytelling and drawing exercise led by artist Sue Rowe. Many of the drawings made that evening inspired the mosaic designs that adorn the bench. Later, artist Sell led another evening project when the seniors and the girls created “memory jars,” an old folk art from the South. For young and old people working together, it was a way to share the parts of their lives that they remembered best.
Gluing the objects to the jars was also an introduction to the art form that would consume their time while working on the bench.
The ‘Kindness is Key’ bench features intricate mosaic, with tiny pieces of tile glued into patterns to form images. Sell enlarged springtime-inspired drawings by the Girl Scouts and used them as the pattern for the mosaic.
Having recently studied a technique for building benches out of discarded wire chairs and cement, Sell retrieved some chairs sitting on a curb and used them to create the form of the bench, working in a garage at Croixdale that served as the project’s studio.
Vern Hophan stirred a lot of cement, others helped pour water into the mix, and the bench took shape as cement was applied to the chairs. “It was necessary to get even the simplest tasks right,” says Edie Hophan.
It was not a simple task to fill with tile the flowers, trees, butterflies, and splashes of blue flowing across the seat that represents the St. Croix River. The artists young and old spent many hours in the garage, finding just the right size and colored piece to fit into the puzzle.
A welcoming project
The group had all summer to complete the project, and usually worked one morning per week. Croixdale Recreation/Volunteer Director Mary Jo Ducklow recalled the low-pressure project, where everyone was welcome.
“Residents from both independent and assisted living would walk down and help, or just visit, even if they weren’t working on it,” Ducklow says.
To honor the history of Croixdale, which had recently torn down its old buildings and completed construction of a new facility, the bench incorporates all the old keys from the old building.
When the bench was done, it was still in the garage. And it was heavy. Local window and door manufacturer Andersen Windows came to the rescue with a forklift one morning, and moved it to the front of the building.
Edie Hophan says she sits on it frequently, and tells people its story. One winter day several years after the project, she said she was looking forward to some Girl Scouts coming over that night to play games with Croixdale residents.