GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As an almost-century old Grand Rapids school building is set to be demolished, an entry in ArtPrize works to capture its beauty.
The Kensington School building, located at 1031 Kensington Ave. near Curve Street in the Black Hills neighborhood, was first built in 1925. The elementary school eventually became Adelante High school, which closed in 2004. Its halls have been empty ever since.
In May, the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board voted to demolish it and turn it into a green space.
After hearing about the building’s fate, artists Zachary Trebellas and Amber Bledsoe set out to capture the building’s spirit in their ArtPrize entry, A Swan Song to the Kensington School Building, on display at Silva on Ottawa Avenue near Mason Street.
Both artists moved to the Grand Rapids area around 2015. Bledsoe, after graduating with a MFA at Kendall College, said she continued her practice and met other artists in the city.
“It really captured my heart,” she said. “The architecture here and the other artists that I’m able to connect with allowed me to stick around and create beautiful pieces like this.”
Trebellas had done previous pieces exploring shared community culture, like creating pieces about defunct Burton Heights businesses and people’s memories in those spaces.
“It was interesting to think like, ‘Oh, that’s really a theme that keeps coming back,'” he said. “I think that that feels important when we’re about to lose something, and as an artist, I think I have a role to play in that process.”
He had always admired the building while biking around town, and when he read it was set to be torn to, Trebellas said he wanted to find a way to pay tribute to it.
The school building is set to be demolished by Dec. 1, Trebellas said, so they expect it will be torn down sometime in November.
Bledsoe said the “loss of something so beautiful and so monumental in a community” spoke to both artists, inspiring them to connect to create the piece.
They did so with the help of community members, who gathered to create crayon rubbings of the school’s brick.
Decorative pieces found throughout the building were recreated by brushing on molds, allowing them to make detailed casts.
As Bledsoe and Trebellas worked, people came by who were curious about what they were doing. Others shared stories of attending the school, they said.
“People we talked to seem mostly kind of bummed out that it was coming down, but people also were excited for a new park, too,” Trebellas said.
A white piece of fabric is draped over parts of the piece, with smaller crayon rubbings. For a pop of color, foliage pieces, made to look like the moss and weeds growing around the vacant building, are set throughout the piece.
While they didn’t have any personal connections with the building before this piece, their work led to an emotional connection with the school.
“I thought about the people that must have built it in the 20s and it was just interesting, like how we were sort of in communication with their processes,” Trebellas said. “The way that we made the molds are so similar to the way that those elements in the school would have been made in the 20s and we were using a company that’s been around since the 1890s. So we’re really using like similar technology to what they built the school with. … It felt very intimate.”
Also on display with the piece are photos of the Kensington School building. Trebellas said he hopes ArtPrize attendees might stop by the school after looking at the piece to reflect on the artwork and the building.
“I think emotionally we’d like them to kind of walk away tranquil, but also taking in the beauty of the textures of the decorative elements of the building as a structure itself, and walk away feeling like we actually paid tribute to this monument of public education that was a part of the Black Hills community,” Bledsoe said.