From Design to Installation
By Tom Ferraro
From the onset, my idea for the LMO! trail markers involved a two-step process. I wanted to develop a common platform that all markers would share AND a unique component for each of the ten communities that were participating in the project. I wanted students from each community to engage in a short process that would lead to images based on how they perceived elements of their community. These elements generally related to nature and history.
I first set to work developing the common platform, and spent time researching the history of trail markers. Early man navigated the earth with the aid of the sun, moon and stars. This imagery fit well with a series of work that I had recently completed for my “In the Box” exhibition at the Erie Art Museum. Furthermore, most hiking trails primarily use paint as a means to mark direction, so I wanted paint to be an integral component of the pieces.
I contacted metal artist, Evan Everhart to fabricate a steel I-beam framework for the markers and glass artist Ed Grout to fabricate a 10” diameter glass component to be inserted into a painted limestone slab. A portable model was made, and I painted a scene on it based on observations made at Asbury Woods, one of our most well-used existing trails. I brought the model to students throughout the county along with sheets of tracing paper, plastic cups and markers.
The school I visited first was Clark Elementary School in Harborcreek where I was able to work with the entire fifth grade - about 40 students. I began by presenting a short PowerPoint with images of my work and work by modern artists that I admired and thought could influence the look of the project. The presentation ended with the following assignment:
1. Fold the tracing paper in half vertically
2. Trace the circle of the cup on each side of the tracing paper
3. Draw an image around the circles using the following art elements as a guide:
Color = season
Line = a nature or historical scene of the community
Shape = How do you perceive the shape of your community?
The students produced remarkable drawings. They would hold them to the light and see the light pass through the images, which created a mixture of line, light and shadow.
The student work was brought back to my studio where I laid it out on a table and searched the work for common threads that I would then paint on the trail marker. In every case, the students’ work directed me to a final composition that identifies the heart and soul of each of the ten LMO! communities.
After the success at Clark School, I began my tour of the other 9 trail communities and worked with many different age groups. Each experience had phenomenal results, and each group brought a new dimension to the project. I would like to share just a few highlights of my experience with each group and the ideas that emerged for each marker:
Harborcreek, Clark Elementary School: Many students used trees that seemed to embrace the glass sphere in their compositions. Shapes of paw prints and Lake Erie sunsets also dominated their imagery.
Girard, Girard High School: I met with an advanced drawing class along with a small group of gifted students. They presented a dazzling display of geometric design using school colors of red and yellow. Historical references of the once famous Gudgenville Bridge and Dan Rice home, along with nature references to Elk Creek, emerged in their work.
Corry, After-school Group, Grades 8-12: I met with about 15 students in Corry at their historical museum. They focused on the history of Corry, the impact of the railroad in the development of the community and the natural beauty of the pine trees and Brokenstraw Creek.
Fairview, Fairview High School: This group included two art classes and a photography class. It was the only school that introduced photos into the project. As a lakeshore community, this group focused on the recreational aspect of their waterfront, including world-class fishing at the mouth of Walnut Creek. They also highlighted the farmlands of southern Fairview Township.
Asbury Woods, Explorer Post, Grades 9-12: This was the smallest group I met with. They focused on wildlife, particularly the owl that serves as the logo for Asbury Woods, and the boardwalk, a unique feature of the Greenway Trail.
North East, North East Middle School: Another lakeshore community, these 7th and 8th graders focused on the vineyards that run throughout the township and along the shoreline. One particular student highlighted a bonfire - a common scene in the North East Community.
Erie, Wayne Middle School: I met with a group of students who meet in an after-school program that focuses on academics. While not an “art” group, these students were the most ethnically diverse group that I met. Many have recently immigrated to the United States and their work focused on showing Erie as their new home. They used images of the lake and peninsula, as well as imagery reflective of their diverse backgrounds.
Washington Township, General McLane High School: I met with a small art class whose work focused on imagery from nature and reflected the beauty of the area. Most used images of Edinboro Lake, along with habitat such as geese. There were also references to agriculture in the community.
Waterford, Fort LeBoeuf Middle School: I met with an after-school art club who immersed themselves in the history of Waterford. Their work showed images of the various groups who once controlled the site of the former Ft. LeBoeuf - the French, British and Americans. They also highlighted George Washington’s visit to the area as a British envoy who delivered a letter to the French.
Union City, Union City High School: The students at Union City High School brought a new dimension to the project, focusing on the economic decline of their community caused by the loss of the furniture industry. This led to discussion and images of their remaining economic engine - dairy farming. Cows, barns and images of an idyllic life contrast to the hardships facing this community.