Art can tell a story. It can inspire, move or add beauty and interest to a place. The new metal sculpture panels installed on the wall of the shared courtyard at Jemtegaard Middle School and Columbia River Gorge Elementary School provide all of that and more! The piece features beautiful and whimsical details cut as silhouettes into three stainless steel panels to tell the stories of the Washougal area.
“Roots and Wings” was created by New York artist and a native of France, Béatrice Coron, through grant funding from the Washington Arts Commission. “Whenever Washington State funds new construction, by law, half-of-one-percent of funding is set aside for the commissioning of new artwork,” said Marissa Laubscher, Washington State Arts Commission Art in Public Places Project Manager. “Washougal School District applied to ArtsWA for the funded art project through a competitive pooling process. They were awarded a $60,000 project. This budget covered all of the costs associated with the artist selection, design, engineering, fabrication, transportation, and installation of the artwork.”
Coron was on-hand to oversee the installation on March 12 and then spoke to students from both schools in assemblies the next morning. Using a Powerpoint presentation, she described her creative process and the inspiration behind her work on this piece.
First, she explained the name, “Roots and Wings.” “You are so lucky to have your roots in such a beautiful place to enjoy, experience and explore. And your education at school is what will give you wings. They will take you wherever you want to go.”
“When I was awarded this work, the first thing I did was research,” she explained. “I visited and spent two days looking around the area for ideas and inspiration. They were beautiful, warm, blue-sky days. I took many pictures of all the sites and was amazed by the natural beauty here.”
She told of traveling to area vistas to experience the incredible views of mountains and the river. “I climbed Beacon Rock,” she said. “I looked at your trees and animal life and saw all the outdoor activities you enjoy such as camping, skiing, fishing, motocross, horseback riding and hiking. I visited the petroglyphs tunnel downtown and learned about local history including Native Americans, Lewis and Clark, steam boats and farming. There are so many stories tell.” Coron created sketches from her photos and the stories began to emerge.
Coron challenged students to take the time to study each unique panel. “Find stories so you can tell others what you see,” she said. “And be sure to ask them what stories they see.” She was sure to include images of both huskies and otters, the schools’ mascots. You must look closely to find the sasquatch and a Corgi.
The piece also features several silhouetted images of young people curled up reading books. “It is like you begin as a worm and then a cocoon,” she said. “From this reading and education, you will get your wings.” Mounted just outside the main panels, as if escaping, are children with butterfly wings. “Your wings will take you far,” promised Coron.
“Beatrice has captured the spirit of Washougal,” said David Cooke, JMS Principal. “When you look at her work you experience the story of how the local community, resources and natural beauty play a significant role in the positive development of our kids.”
“Washougal School District’s local art selection committee worked with ArtsWA to set the initial goals for this project, selected the artist, and worked with her to provide feedback and context as she designed this artwork,” explained Laubscher. “They were looking for artwork that would represent the natural beauty of Washougal and the Columbia River Gorge and interconnectedness of nature, school, students, and the community.” The committee members included Cooke; Tracey MacLachlan, CRGE principal; Dani Allen, JMS art teacher; Sarah Howe, CRGE Parent; Kori Kelly, Superintendent’s assistant; Stephanie McGarvie, art teacher; Joe Steinbrenner, WSD facilities director and Amy Switzer, CRGE music teacher.
“It was an absolute pleasure to work with Beatrice,” said MacLachlan. “She had such a presence, as we met and got to work with her. Her professionalism as an artist, and her knowledge for her craft was remarkable. The attention to the details and the research she accomplished for the project were unprecedented.”
“Roots and Wings“ joins more than 4,600 artworks in the State Art Collection, which is located in over 1200 schools and state agencies across Washington State. Unlike art collections you might find in a museum, the State Art Collection is chosen by community representatives and is sited in places where people study, live, work, and play.
When Coron was asked by a student to name her favorite art creation, she admitted it was an impossible question to answer. “So, I must say, my next one,” she said with a laugh.
More About the Artist, Béatrice Coron
After briefly studying art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Lyon, and Mandarin Chinese at the Université of Lyon III, Coron experienced life with a series of odd jobs. She has been, among others, a shepherdess, truck driver, factory worker, cleaning lady and a New York City tour guide. Coron has lived in France (her native country), Egypt and Mexico for one year, each and China for two years. She moved to New York in 1985 where she reinvented herself as an artist.
Coron’s works includes illustration, book arts, fine art and public art. She cuts her characteristic silhouette designs in paper and Tyvek. She also creates works in stone, glass, metal, rubber, stained glass and digital media.
Her work has been purchased by major museum collections, such as the Metropolitan Museum, The Walker Art center and The Getty. Her public art can be seen in subways, airport and sports facilities among others.