A really big yellow chair gets new colors

Students decorate community landmark in joint school-village project

Kaylyn Beard, and Audrey Johnson painting the chair for the Village of Middleville

It’s hard to miss the village of Middleville’s adirondack chair — familiarly known as the “Big Yellow Chair” — in the hallway outside the art department at Thornapple Kellogg High School. Standing 84” tall, the chair will need a new nickname after students in Tonya Woods’ independent study class give it a serious facelift.

Kaylyn Beard works on the chair project

As part of a community involvement project by the village, high school students will be the first to redecorate the chair, which will be displayed for a year in its normal spot — but with its colorful new designs — behind the Middleville Village Hall.

“The plan is to have the art program repaint the chair annually moving forward,” said Nichole Lyke, Downtown Development Authority director for Middleville. “It keeps it fresh, and creates a piece of interactive art downtown that the students can then show to family members. It creates a sense of pride and ownership.”

When Lyke was first hired as the DDA director, she heard that Thornapple Kellogg was looking for the chance to have a larger footprint in the community. After working with Megan Lavell at the Thornapple Arts Council and Rob Simon with the Department of Public Works, the community team came up with the idea for the school to take on the chair project.

“Students in this class have the opportunity and freedom to help create their own curriculum and they were very excited about the opportunity to contribute to art in the community in this way,” said Woods, the teacher.

Something for Everyone

When the high school class first started the project, they had to decide on a theme for the chair that would be reflective of the community.

The independent study team chose a Michigan theme so that everyone in the community could relate to their work

“We chose the State of Michigan as our theme because everyone can relate to that and it can bring everyone together,” Woods said.

When the chair is completed later this month, it will depict common state animals and plants such as whitetail deer, turtles, trout and cherry blossoms.

For Kaylyn Beard, it couldn’t have been better. Her independent study focuses on animals and their physiology.

“It was like a perfect fit,” Kaylyn said.

Each student involved has a section they are responsible for. When the project is completed, the whole chair will be covered with original student art.

The opportunity to paint something well-known in the community is a reward of its own, Kaylyn said.

“Everyone knows this chair and has taken pictures with this chair at some point,” she said. “This is artwork that will definitely be seen by the whole community.”

The chair will be on display until early January, with plans for an unveiling when the village kicks off downtown activities and the opening of the new town amphitheater.

Emma Chapman works on painting a turtle on her section of the chair

A New Challenge

For senior Audrey Johnson, who was looking for a new challenge after taking all possible art classes, the size of the chair has been the biggest challenge. In order to get the chair into the high school, the class had to use the school loading dock to fit it through the doors.

“You have to get really creative when you’re working with something this big,” Johnson said. “We have had a lot of fun finding new ways to access the chair.”

Senior Emma Chapman agrees that the size has forced the students to come up with creative solutions.

“You really have to work together on a project like this,” she said. “You’re working in close proximity to each other in order to get the project done.”

Emma is looking forward to getting to see her artwork outside of the classroom when the project is finished.

“It’s exciting to have something like this, something this big, going out into the community,” she said. “I am really excited for everyone to see the finished product.”

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Hannah Lentz
A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit. Read Hannah's full bio or email Hannah.

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