Work has started on a unique project created by Houlton Elementary students, with the help of many adults in the community who all lent their talents to make the kids' vision come to life.
The project is part of the Art Bench Trail, a series of what will now be 10 benches, all designed and created by kids, with support from adults in their communities. This new bench, in Houlton, is the 10th bench, said Anastasia Shartin of The Phipps Center for the Arts.
"They are community projects," said Shartin. "Very deep and broad community involvement goes into each one of the benches."
The one in Houlton is being installed not far from Houlton Elementary, at a trailhead park for the Stillwater Bridge trail system.
Shartin said this particular Art Bench project has been in the works for a long time, but was put off for awhile due to construction on the new St. Croix Crossing Bridge.
Two grades of Houlton kids participated in designing the Art Bench. Last year, as third and fourth grade students, the children learned about the historical, cultural and industrial resources of the area. That tied in nicely with their curriculum, said Houlton Principal Sue Hellmers.
She said fourth graders studied Native American and Wisconsin history while third graders looked at the history of their own community.
This past summer, Art Bench organizers hired John Kalmon, a local architect who is also a former Houlton student.
Kalmon held workshops with the students, taught them about the stages of design, and helped them design their very own Art Bench.
"He really showed them how he used these same sorts of planning tools for his own job," Hellmers said. "So we did a lot of hands-on work."
The students' final design wasn't strictly a bench, so much as a gathering space for up to 25 people. Large rocks form a raised seating area that looks out to a paved patio, with a smaller stage area. The patio includes pavers engraved with the Houlton students' artwork representing different aspects of their community.
Though the design was developed by the kids, many adults helped bring it to life. Dan Shimon of Willow River Company took over where Kalmon left off, when Kalmon moved to Montana in January.
Devon Russell and Rivard Stone, Sandy Madsen and the Master Gardeners, Tom Klatt and the Hudson High School metalshop students, Tamara Traxler and St. Croix County, and Shartin and The Phipps Center for the Arts helped make this project possible.
"The kids honestly have had a complete and total voice in what it looks like," said Hellmers. "They've designed it and it's been really fun to see it come to life these last couple weeks."
Hellmers said the project gives kids the chance to see the process of how things go from idea to reality.
"I think they felt very empowered," she said, "and they have been able to see that their ideas have been very valuable."
Hellmers said Houlton Elementary will use the new bench, but it's also a place community members can gather. She feels it's important that kids are able to come back and see their artwork on display for years to come, and know they had a hand in creating the Art Bench.
Shartin said work on the Houlton Art Bench, including landscaping, is expected to be complete by the time school ends. The Art Bench will become open to the public when St. Croix County opens the trailhead area at which the bench is located.
For a map of the Art Bench Trail, visit www.artbenchtrail.org