HCCSC students to put hands to project for state’s bicentennial

Karissa Kaiser, 9, a third grade student at Northwest Elementary School, presses a leaf-shaped stamp into a fresh clay tile on Wednesday, April 13, as she prepares her portion of the clay tile mural that will celebrate Indiana’s 200th birthday. About 450 HCCSC elementary school students will contribute to the project, which has been endorsed by the State Bicentennial Commission.
Karissa Kaiser, 9, a third grade student at Northwest Elementary School, presses a leaf-shaped stamp into a fresh clay tile on Wednesday, April 13, as she prepares her portion of the clay tile mural that will celebrate Indiana’s 200th birthday. About 450 HCCSC elementary school students will contribute to the project, which has been endorsed by the State Bicentennial Commission. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published April 18, 2016.

About 450 Huntington County Community Sch-ool Corporation elementary students will put their hands — literally — to a big project in celebration of Indiana’s 200th birthday.

The project is called “We Had a Hand in the Bicentennial.” Third grade pupils will create clay tiles, decorated with different aspects of the Hoosier state. When finished, the tiles will be part of a mural measuring an impressive 31 feet wide by 5 feet tall. It will contain an outline of Indiana and a star in the center to denote the capital, Indianapolis.

The idea for the project was hatched by Northwest and Andrews elementary art teacher Lyn Ocken. She wanted to come up with a design to make Indiana’s birthday special for her pupils in a way that focused on art.

“Last summer I was working on some of my own artwork for the bicentennial with metals,” she explains. “I thought it would be really cool if they (the students) had to go through something for the bicentennial.

“It’s a once in a lifetime thing, so I felt like they needed to have something that we would see for a long period of time — something worth leaving behind.”

Ocken, a veteran educator of more than 21 years, presented her idea to Trace Hinesley, director of special programs at HCCSC and head of the annual ArtsExpress show.

“I told her I had an idea I wanted to do with my schools,” Ocken says, “and she said, ‘Oh, that would be cool if we could do it corporation-wide.’”

With Hinesely’s introduction, the art project then got a boost from the Huntington County Chamber of Commerce, which serves as the bicentennial community coordinator in Huntington County.

Chamber Office Administrator Angie Garcia says various local businesses and other sponsors in the community provided funding.

The project plans were then submitted to the Indiana Bicentennial Commission, which added its stamp of approval by officially endorsing the project.

Each elementary school is doing an entire state, producing seven finished pieces total.

The students first roll out a slab of clay and, using a template, make a square tile. They then add texture to the tiles by imprinting them with stamps, their fingerprints and their names, using pasta alphabet letters. Each tile made by a specific student and has a specific spot on the “map.” Later the tiles will be painted and fired, bringing the mosaic to life.

Since art class lasts only 40 minutes, time to work is in short supply; however, Ocken says the kids have risen to the challenge. Some of the speedier students have made more than one tile, extending their legacy.

Ocken says she’s been happy with how well the students have taken to the project, as well as the quality of the art they have produced.

“I just think it helps them feel a part of something bigger than themselves,” she says. “A lot of times they like to make things and take them home, and it’s theirs.

“We focus so much at school on community, and the only way they can truly understand that is to actually be part of a community and do something that’s not self-fulfilling …

“I just want the kids to be part of the bigger community and be part of the celebration of Indiana, since that’s what they’ll be learning about next year.”

Ocken will lead the third grade pupils at Northwest and Andrews, while the other art teachers will conduct the projects at their respective schools until the tiles of all seven murals have been created, painted and fired.

The teachers will then join forces, with a group meeting planned for May 18, at Horace Mann Education Center to complete the murals. They will use grout to mount and join the tiles together into the finished pieces.

The murals will be unveiled to the community during a celebration of the Bicentennial Torch Relay on Sept. 30 at Hier’s Park.

From there, the seven artworks will travel to be displayed at locations such as the Huntington County Historical Museum, the courthouse rotunda and the Historic Forks of the Wabash. They will then come back to their respective schools, to be placed on permanent display.

Ocken says the impact won’t be lost on the young artists, who will leave their legacy on each tile.

“This could last a hundred years,” Ocken told her students. “This thing that you make could be around for the tricentennial … it probably will last forever.”
Indiana will turn 200 this year on Statehood Day, Dec. 11.