MOUNT MORRIS – Students from the Genesee Valley BOCES Mount Morris Career and Technical Education Center metal trades program have created two large sculptures made of historic iron from the 1875 bridge that spanned the Genesee River at Letchworth State Park.
The two sculptures are of a bear and her two cubs and a bald eagle sitting in a tree.
“It’s children practicing their skills in art, in metal tools, but creating art that will preserve history. And that to me is very unique about it, because it’s really something,” said metal trades instructor Olie Olson. “You know, these things aren’t going away anytime soon, right? So years and years from now , long after I’m gone and most of us are gone, this will exist and be one of the few memories people have of that bridge back.”
The students who worked with the bears were Tyler Jordan from Wayland-Cohocton Central School and Andrew James from Keshequa Central School. Students who worked on the eagle sculpture were Keegan Casagrande and Michael Adkins Jr. from Avon.
A sculpture previously made by students in the Genesee Valley Cooperative Educational Services Board’s metal trades program can be seen in the Upper Falls parking lot at Letchworth State Park, just below the new bridge. The sculpture is an arch made of the same iron as the previous bridge, similar to these two new sculptures.
“It was all stuff that we would scrap or melt down and use for something else and we took it and were able to create these,” Olson said, referring to the sculptures.
The iron was donated by Norfolk Southern, the railroad that owns it, and replaced the 142-year-old Portageville Railroad Bridge, known as the Portage Viaduct, which had reached the end of its life.
The new bridge, which saw its first train pass on December 11, 2017, is a steel and concrete arch bridge known as the Genesee Arch Bridge.
The students used a piece of iron more than 50 meters long from the old bridge to make the sculptures.
The students used the skills they learned in class to create the sculptures.
The details in the two sculptures were made with soapstone and other welding skills that Olson taught the students throughout the program.
“It won’t last forever, but what they’ve done here will last for generations to come, and the kids who worked on it will be able to say that,” Olson said.
Students were able to practice and adapt the skills they had learned, from cutting large and thick pieces of material, to understanding what speed and angle they needed to make the cuts, the types of materials they can cut or weld and understand. the importance of symmetry and balance when it comes to this trade.
Matthew Flowers, executive director of the Genesee Valley BOCES Mount Morris campus, said this practical application of the skills and theories learned in the classroom is an invaluable skill to have.
Flowers said everyone is taught the curriculum in the classroom, but not everyone gets the hands-on experience that students at Genesee Valley BOCES can get.
Olson didn’t like to talk about his role in making these sculptures, instead emphasizing the hard work and dedication of the students.
“Learning to take pride in their work, well, there’s no classroom that teaches that. That pride is what they carry from here into the real world, into the game of life,” Olson said.
Loren Penman, one of the co-founders of the Autism Nature Trail, or ANT that opened last October, was instrumental in acquiring the metal, and Olson talked about how the iron sculptures have remained connected to Letchworth State Park.
The Autism Nature Trail at Letchworth State Park is a designated Americans with Disabilities Act compliant trail and is designed to support and encourage sensory perception while providing enjoyable activities for visitors of all abilities and ages.
The project has raised more than $3.5 million and continues to raise money to be able to provide longevity to a trail that is being actively used. The sculptures will be auctioned in order to return the money to ANT.
Penman said these sculptures were not only a great way to teach students how to give back to their communities, but it was a great way to repurpose materials that would otherwise be thrown away.
“This is art that will preserve history,” Penman said.
For now, both sculptures will be on display at Perry Central School until they are auctioned, along with a sculpture recently made by other students in the metal trades program to celebrate Perry’s involvement in the Autism Nature Trail.
“I don’t know where they will end up, but I hope it will not be hidden. That would be my hope, is that it’s a place where they can be appreciated by everybody and have fun,” Olson said. “It’s really nice to see the students when they’re able to get up there and say — with the auctions we’ve done in the past — the artist is standing next to the work and people are bidding on it and it’s not happening.” No matter what the students do, are getting recognition.”
As an Amazon affiliate I earn on qualifying purchases.