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Art Display Experiment On South Hill

By Carl Vest

During the early part of the last decade motorists using Meridian Avenue on South Hill would have noticed some significant happenings.  Probably the most obvious was that the highway was being upgraded, with lanes and sidewalks added.  Perhaps less noticeable was the installation of new bus stops with shelters.  The design of these shelters was significant, however, since each included a visual art display, the result of a program sponsored by several civic groups.  Specifically, the walls of the shelters were glass panels and each was etched with artwork created by students from the two local high schools, Rogers and Emerald Ridge.

The driving force behind this project was Sherri Bails, a South Hill artist.  To add beauty to her local community she had envisioned some public art displays done by local artists.  Sherri noted that South Hill was devoid of such exhibits but that the area was growing and there was lots of art talent to tap, especially through the educational system.

Over a period of several years, working through the South Hill Community Council, Sherri discussed her idea with the Puyallup School District management.  Receiving encouragement, she approached art teachers at the two local high schools, specifically Candice Loring and the late Debbie Munson.  They agreed to work with students to create showcase level artwork.  Eventually 60 students would participate in the program.

A proposal was made to Pierce Transit to put the students work on glass panels and display them in the new bus shelters being built along Meridian Avenue.   The idea was enthusiastically received.  Funds were provided by the Meridian Avenue expansion project.

Themes for the panels were developed by working with the South Hill Historical Society.  Additionally, the Society provided one person to help judge the selection of particular art.  Each design consisted of five panels, four for the back and one for the right side of a shelter.  The themes focused on local scenery such as Mt. Rainier, fir trees, local animals, and other familiar sights.

From the initial pool of 60 drawings, 18 designs were selected, one for each of the new shelters.  The transfer of the student sketches to etched panels was done by a commercial company.  As they were completed the panels were installed in the transit structures.  By April 2007 all 18 winning designs had been engraved and mounted.  Ninety cut panels were made.

Can you visit the shelters and enjoy this art today?  Sadly, no!  Even before the setting up was complete vandals had started destroying those already in place.  Some were ruined by gunfire.  Others were shattered by rocks and other heavy objects.  To stop the destruction Pierce Transit removed the last 30 panels to keep them undamaged.  They are now in storage awaiting a more protected setting for exhibition.

This project brought together a broad coalition of South Hill groups.  They worked together for nearly a decade to improve the overall community.  Their efforts were wiped out in about six weeks by thoughtless, uncaring hooligans.

Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.

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