For about four years now, the Above and Beyond Sculpture Garden has given a group of Blue Springs children an introduction to the arts that they might not otherwise have had.
Give a lot of the credit to art teacher Greta Hoener, who saw a need at James Walker Elementary School and inspired the students, staff and community to create something on a narrow strip of land that she says is truly amazing.
“Many of our students live in duplexes and apartments,” she said. “For many of our students, this has been their first exposure to art.”
One day, for example, she told students that each one should bring a rock from home so they could paint and decorate it.
“Depending on where they lived, some actually brought in slabs of concrete,” she said.
Another time, with snow in the forecast, the children were asked to build and decorate igloos or unique snow sculptures such as upside-down snowmen.
“However, when a business associate and I drove the neighborhoods the next day or two, we saw virtually none,” she said. “The next school day, some students told me they lived in apartment complexes where there was no access to snow. Others said their moms would not allow them to go outside in the snow.”
After she completed her master’s thesis, Hoener said, the sculpture garden became the vehicle by which she was determined to enrich the lives of her students.
That idea eventually grew into a project, which quickly gained support from a garden club, local businesses and community volunteers.
Hoener, a member of the Blue Springs Public Arts Commission, said the school staff, students and community volunteers turned a small 120- by 14-foot patch of land into the Above and Beyond Sculpture Garden. The name, she said, is appropriate since the garden is perched above Walnut Avenue and is visible to everyone driving or strolling by.
The garden is enclosed by a chain-link fence on the south side of the building and is accessible around the clock.
“Everything in the garden has been donated, and much of the work has been completed by volunteers who have graciously donated their time and skills to complete the garden,” Hoener said.
Some sculptures were donated by student artists who formerly attended Fort Osage and Lexington high schools, she said, and other pieces were provided by professional artists.
James Walker, at 201 N.E. Sunnyside School Road, has enough low-income students to be designated a Title I school.
“There are a lot of people who live outside of Blue Springs, who have the perception that all Blue Springs residents are financially well off since they live in the suburbs,” said Mayor Carson Ross, who attended the dedication of the garden back in 2011. “The James Walker area illustrates that this perception is false.
“However, it is important to recognize that the Blue Springs School District is one of the highest-rated school districts in the country. Everyone, regardless of socio-economic status, receives the same quality education and no child is ever left behind.”
James Walker Principal Kelly Flax said the sculpture garden offers students a wonderful opportunity to learn outside the desks, chairs and artificial lighting of a typical classroom.
“It starts to become real to them,” he said. “Their minds and senses come to life to be expressed naturally by every student.”
Fifth-grader Grace Dailey says she enjoys the garden for its color and the art.
“I love it because it is at our school, and our school is the best,” she said. “I can help make it work and I love working in the sculpture garden.”
During initial construction, numerous donations came from the community, including Roberts Nursery, Home Depot and Meyer Construction. Efforts are continuing to maintain and improve the garden.
On what proved to be the last mild weekend before the November cold snap, Hoener and others prepared the garden for winter.
Fund-raising continues as well.
Custom-engraved bricks are being sold for $100 apiece, and before the holidays, students are selling candy canes provided by local Walgreen drug stores and Cosentino’s Price Chopper.
The second phase of construction is to include wind turbines and other clean-energy sources to support the garden’s night-time lighting and a pump for a water fountain.
“Solar lighting off the power grid will operate as a battery-saving device,” Hoener said. “Solar panels will be installed on the roof. Low-level lighting will be installed to run as a conduit beneath the ground with power being supplied by a DC generator.
“Students will be educated on how the wind turbines work, and the turbines will be visible at night to the surrounding neighborhoods.”
The next phase also will extend the garden down the hill to the sidewalk level on Walnut Avenue.
“This will further bring our community together and make the garden more visible to everyone,” Hoener said.