Art enhances Natrona's summer program for children
By Braden Ashe
Published: Thursday, June 20, 2013, 1:06 a.m.
If it's true what Pablo Picasso said about “art washing from the soul the dust of everyday life,” then Natrona Comes Together Association President Bill Godfrey has the best broom in this Harrison neighborhood.
According to the association website, Godfrey and the nonprofit organization are “dedicated to improving the quality of life for everyone living in Natrona.”
Lately, that dedication's been focused on improving the Natrona Community Park and Playground area with an emphasis on art and education.
In that vein, the group has established this year a summer children's program and a weekly concert series at the park they helped build three years ago. The group also has revamped the area's aesthetics by building community gardens and commissioning regional artists to adorn the park's bare concrete structures in their signature styles.
The latest bit of artwork has residents in the Natrona neighborhood chirping.
For the past two weeks, Stowe Township artist Steve “Stevo” Sadvary has been transforming one of the park's concrete gable structures into “The Bird House,” a tile mosaic featuring dozens of vibrant birds native to Pennsylvania.
The artwork is the second installment of the association's triad of artistic endeavors in the park this summer. The first is comprised of 10 pillars, each painted by Pittsburgh-area artists Bob Ziller and Laura Jean McLaughlin, that characterize the Natrona neighborhood through 10 decades.
The third and final piece of art, Godfrey said, is expected to feature a bronze statue, although it's unclear yet as to who will sculpt it.
Why the nonprofit is focusing on art, according to the group's president, is that its effect on people correlates directly with the organization's mission.
“There's a lot of healing that needs to happen in this community,” Godfrey said. “One of the best ways to heal is through the arts. We wanted to think outside the box to improve this community and give people the opportunity to be a part of something.”
With what Sadvary anticipates to be a week left in the project, the area's youths have already left their fingerprints on “The Bird House” — literally.
“They drift over from the summer program and help me glue the tiles onto the piece,” the artist said. “It's funny because they leave their little fingerprints everywhere. I love that they're a part of it, though.
“Hopefully, they'll be able to show it off to their grandchildren and tell them they were a part of it. It gives them a sense of pride and ownership, I think, and that bolsters self-esteem.”
In alignment with the group's emphasis on both art and education, “The Bird House” serves not only as a piece of art, but also as an interactive learning tool for children.
Each bird on both faces of the work is accompanied by a number. Children who attend the park can try to determine the species of the birds before checking the answer key, which is tiled into the sides of the concrete gable.
“When (Godfrey) told me what he was trying to accomplish,” Sadvary said, “I wanted to give it an educational aspect, as well.”
A professional artist in his own right, Godfrey approached Sadvary with the idea weeks ago when they were doing freelance work together for a string of local city parks. The artists are longtime acquaintances and graduates of Edinboro University where they shared a favorite art professor.
Godfrey's work can be seen throughout a number of public schools as a product of his freelance workshops. The Natrona Comes Together president also works out of a studio in Natrona and formerly was employed by the Carnegie Museum of Art for 12 years.
“I love being able to be involved professionally in what I'm passionate about and make an impact people's lives,” he said. “That really is a wonderful thing.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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